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Ethical datives are clitics (or, object pronouns) that go along with a verb to indicate the person getting affected by the action involved. For example in English, we say things like:

I'm gonna buy me some shoes.

Cry me a river.

But they are merely a colloquial option in English. On the other hand, Spanish almost mandates it in most contexts. My question is how does one identify scenarios where ethical datives must be used and where they shouldn't? For example, comer takes it:

Me comí una enchilada.

But ir doesn't:

Voy al banco.

Is there any rule of thumb or any guidelines to follow?

P.S.: In case there's any regional angle to the usage of dátivos éticos, I would be more keen on exploring the Latin American usage.

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    You can say Me voy al banco. It is not mandated. You can also say Comí una enchilada. – Joze Oct 2 '15 at 8:03
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According to Merriam Webster:

Definition of ETHICAL DATIVE : a colloquial use of the dative of a pronoun for a person to whom it imputes a vague concern with the matter in question

Spanish has something similar but not for first person, which explains the OP's confusion as he only came up with first person examples. As said in the examples, the phrases:

Comí una enchilada

Me comí una enchilada

are equivalent and the use of Me in the second has no special meaning of concern or involvement.

However in the following sentences:

Ponte el abrigo, no te vayas a quedar frío

Ponte el abrigo, no te me vayas a quedar frío

The use of Me does convey involvement (i.e. I would be emotionally affected if you are cold). The concern does not necessarily have to be the speaker's, as in:

Que tu hijo se ponga el abrigo, no se vaya a quedar frío.

Que tu hijo se ponga el abrigo, no se te vaya a quedar frío.

This form of indirect object, which is how dative is called in Spanish, can be used anytime you want to express concern or involvement of either the speaker or a third person in the outcome of an action that doesn't directly affect them. If the action does affect them, the emphasis is lost as it becomes simply a reflexive verb.

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As a general rule that you can use is to switch the possessive article in English for an object pronoun:

I cut my hair. ( Me corto el pelo )

As for the example you used, both "Voy al banco" and "Me voy al banco" are correct.

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  • This does not explain constructs like "me comí" – TheLearner Oct 2 '15 at 13:06
  • As stated, it can be used as a general rule – felix Oct 2 '15 at 13:59

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