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I'm taking my very first steps into learning Spanish. I was watching the first episode of Extr@ en español where one person tells another:

¡No se lo digas a nadie!

Why is 'se' used here? To my knowledge, 'decir' is not a reflexive verb.

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    Cuando usás el "se", es porque estás haciendo referencia a una tercera persona, en una conversación con alguien. En cambio cuando no usás "se", es solo no decir algo, infiderentemende de si se lo decís a alguien, o algo. – Lobo-Eze Oct 6 '17 at 23:26
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The pronoun "se" has many usages and "reflexive ones" is only one of those. I can count up to 7 usages of "se".

... and the one you are looking for is "variant of le". Basically, the structure "le lo" must be changed to "se lo", but the meaning is the same.

"No lo digas" = don't say that
"No se lo digas" = don't say that to him/her

Because it's like saying "*no le lo digas" but in a correct way.

  • What exactly do you mean with "the structure le lo"? – Mauricio Martinez Oct 6 '17 at 22:08
  • Well, you know that "it" can be translated as "lo" when it's a DO, and "to him" is "le" when it is IO. So the way to say "I said that to him" should be "Le lo dije", but the thing is that it sounds bad and so "le" becomes "se", and the sentence is "se lo dije". – FGSUZ Oct 6 '17 at 22:25
  • I like the simplicity of your answer. // Please add: "No lo digas" is "Don't say it!", and "No se lo digas" is "Don't say it to him." – aparente001 Oct 7 '17 at 3:06
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    It is very common to have a double OI in the sentence, one in the form of the pronoun and while the other is explicit. Here they explain that it is to specify to whom are you referring in particular, or to emphasize. – Alicia Oct 7 '17 at 9:17
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    "no le digas" combined with "no lo digas" make "no se lo digas", i think this example will make it clearer than "no le lo digas". – Brian H. Jan 18 '18 at 11:56
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As explained in the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, the pronoun se has several functions; one could very well say it's several different pronouns. You already know se as a reflexive third person pronoun, but this is different: here se replaces the regular dative third person pronouns, le and les (singular and plural), because of a rule that requires that when the accusative third person pronouns la, lo, las, los are present already.

What this means in effect is that you cannot have le and lo (or les and los, or le and las, or les and lo, etc.) together next to the same verb. That is, if the verb has both a direct object and an indirect object and both are third person, you will have to use se for the indirect object.

The following are examples of how you would convert one sentence with the indirect object expressed in full into a sentence with the indirect object turned into a pronoun, so you can see how the change goes:

  • No le₍₁₎ digas eso₍₂₎ a ella. = No se₍₁₎ lo₍₂₎ digas a ella.
    ("Don't say that to her." = "Don't tell her that.")
  • Les₍₁₎ dimos ayuda₍₂₎. = Se₍₁₎ la₍₂₎ dimos.
    ("We gave them help." = "We gave it to them.")
  • No debes mencionarle₍₁₎ el asunto₍₂₎. = No debes mencionárse₍₁₎lo₍₂₎.
    ("You mustn't mention the matter to him/her." = "You mustn't mention it to him/her.")
  • Ellos les₍₁₎ construyen casas₍₂₎. = Ellos se₍₁₎ las₍₂₎ construyen.
    ("They build houses for them." = "They build them for them.")

You might find it easier to remember because le lo (etc.) sounds a bit cacophonic.

Note: in the first example the indirect object pronouns (le and se) are redundant because there's already a full indirect object (a ella), but still they must be present. It would be ungrammatical to say *No digas eso a ella. This holds whether there's a direct object or not, and whether or not that direct object triggers the change of le into se (i. e. you must also say No le digas a ella, not *No digas a ella).

  • In the first example, why would you use 'se' when there's 'a ella' at the end of the sentence? – Jawad Oct 7 '17 at 5:10
  • That's another rule, I'm afraid. The pronoun is redundant but still it must be present. A couple of former questions deal with this (check out this one). I'll edit the answer to include that. – pablodf76 Oct 7 '17 at 14:21

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