I have the following sentence below.

si Alison no le hubiera dicho al jefe del banco que se callara yo lo habría golpeado


if Alison had not told the bank chief to shut up I would have hit him

The three bold sections are to do with my question. Also forgive me for my lack of technical terminology.

So the lo I get and wrote correctly at the time. As I see it (could well be wrong) there are two parts to the sentence (broken out below).

1) si Alison no le hubiera dicho al jefe del banco que se callara

2) yo lo habría golpeado

So in the second part we know that we are talking about the boss of the bank so we can substitute it with a lo and its masculine.

However I don't understand the use of le or que se

Is the se something to do with being reflexive?

2 Answers 2


I'll answer your three questions, one by one:

  1. le is just a duplication of the indirect complement, al jefe del banco. It is not strictly necessary, but in Spanish this duplication is very usual.
  2. This sentence uses indirect speech; this is, rather than repeating what someone said, you paraphrase it. In this case, you have to introduce the indirect speech clause with que, since it is a subordinate clause.
  3. In Spanish we are quite fond of reflexive constructions; I'm afraid this is one of the most difficult aspects for non-native speakers. The verb callar can be used by itself as intransitive, but you will find it more often as pronominal (i.e. in the reflexive form). I mean, callar and callarse mean more or less the same. So, yes, se is here a reflexive pronoun, but it has no real reflexive meaning, since callar here is intransitive.

As an extension to the third bullet, callar and callarse are, in fact, slightly different. Callar means just not speaking, while callarse means to shut up. If I say cállate to someone, I'm making a stronger request than if I just say calla. The latest may just mean don't say what you're about to say, or I'm asking the other person to keep quiet for a moment because I'm trying to listen to something else, or I'm trying to think about something.

  • 1
    I'm thinking maybe we should do a list of common verbs that change meaning when pronominal, for reference.
    – pablodf76
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 11:29
  • @pablodf76 hasn't that already been done in this site? It rings a bell...
    – Charlie
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 11:32
  • This doesn't really go against your answer, @Gorpik, but I'll add that callar as a transitive verb can mean to silence, too. I suspect but don't have stats to prove that this meaning is more common than most of the ones that the RAE provides, which is, to say the least, a huge omission. Maybe they wanted to include it but were callados by the powers that be. Commented May 11, 2018 at 19:10
  • @MichaelWolf - Sounds like a question you could pose! Commented May 12, 2018 at 2:47
  • @aparente001 What question is that? :) About the RAE's deficiencies or looking for actual stats regarding that specific transitive use of callar? Commented May 12, 2018 at 23:38

I think Gorpik's answer deals nicely with your question, but I'd like to add something that wouldn't fit in a comment.

In your English translation you have

"if Alison had not told the bank chief to shut up..."

while in Spanish we say

si Alison no le hubiera dicho al jefe del banco que se callara...

The expression se callara is a form of callarse, a pronominal verb that means "to shut up", as already explained, so I'll leave that aside.

Que introduces a subordinate clause and it's equivalent to the English that in e.g. "I told you that you should be early", only it's not optional.

Your confusion might stem from the fact that the English structure that you use for reported speech in this case is totally different from that used in Spanish. In English you can

  1. tell someone that s/he must do something
  2. tell someone to do something

These two are roughly equivalent, but most of the time you will use number 2. In Spanish, however, there's no exact equivalent to number 2 that uses our verb decir, since decir doesn't work exactly like English "tell". For something close to the English "tell so. to do sth.", you would have to use mandar:

si Alison no hubiera mandado al jefe del banco a callarse...

The structure is, as you see, mandar a alguien a hacer algo, which nicely mirrors the English translation "to tell someone to do something".

  • I find this a helpful supplement. And I think it might be clearer if you also include a literal translation such as "If Alison hadn't said to the bank manager that he should shut up [censor himself], etc." Commented May 12, 2018 at 2:52

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