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I recently came across the phrase "No se toca" over at Reverso. Had I not seen so many instances of this (both at Reverso and in a regular Google search), I would have thought that it was some sort of translation mistake. In fact, there are far more instances of "no se toca" than there are of "no se toque" at least on web pages (about 20 times more) and books scanned by Google:

Granted, many of these might be instances of passive voice rather than the imperative, but the examples at Reverso clearly show that this combination of words is closely related to the command and that it is more commonly translated as such. Is this considered standard Spanish? Will I find other exceptions to standard rules of command conjugation?


¿Si alguien necesita aprender a decir "No tocar" como orden formal, qué debería usarse: "No se toca", o "No se toque"?

Recientemente me topé con la frase "No se toca" en Reverso. Si no hubiera visto tantas instancias de ésta (tanto en Reverso como en una búsqueda regular de Google) habría pensado que era algún tipo de error. De hecho, hay muchas más instancias de "no se toca" que las que existen para "no se toque", al menos en las páginas web (aproximadamente 20 veces más) y libros escaneados por Google:

[Véanse arriba.]

Concedido, muchas de estas podrían ser en voz pasiva, más que el imperativo, pero los ejemplos en Reverso muestran claramente que esta combinación de palabras está estrechamente relacionada con el mandato y que es más comúnmente traducida en ese sentido. ¿Es esta traducción considerada español estándar? ¿Encontraré otras excepciones a las reglas estándares de conjugación de órdenes?

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    En mi opinión, la forma más correcta es el impersonal: "no tocar", pero si se ha de usar una de las que propones, es más natural "no se toca". Es una frase que se suele decir mucho a los niños. Si quieres usar el subjuntivo, está bien, pero puede ser más natural usarlo con un "que" delante: "que no se toque" – FGSUZ Jun 24 '18 at 21:32
  • I think one problem here is that you think this is an exception to a rule and I don't think it is. "No se toca" is just a common expression to inform that something should not be touched. It is not and order. – DGaleano Jun 25 '18 at 18:27
  • ...and regarding the question. Yes, it is standard Spanish. There are two common translations to "don't touch":one is "no (lo) toque" usually as a spoken command, and two, "no tocar" usually as a sign near some object that should not be touched. – DGaleano Jun 25 '18 at 18:35
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The translation for

"no se toca"

should be

"is not for touching"

as "no se toca" leans more towards the idea that something specific should not be touched. Also, it is a Declarative, not an Imperative, making "don't touch" invalid.

"Don't touch" should be just translated as "no tocar", but it will change depending on who you are giving the command to.

So answering your question

"No tocar" and "No se toca" and "No toque/toques" are three completely different cases.

"No tocar" is the Formal impersonal(general) Command (no one can touch it)
"No toques" is the Informal personal Command (only you can't touch it)
"No toque" is the Formal personal Command (only you can't touch it)
"No se toca" is the item specific Formal impersonal Declaration (the item is not for touching)

Examples:

No tocar el jarrón -- this is likely to be found on a sign/placard

don't touch the jar

No toques el jarrón --this is the informal way you command someone

(you) don't touch the jar

No toque el jarrón -- this is the formal way you command someone

(formal you) don't touch the jar

El jarrón no se toca -- this is the formal way to tell someone

the jar is not for touching

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    Great. I was just commenting about it. It is not for touching is the perfect translation. "No se toca" is not imperative but to inform that something should not be touched. +1 – DGaleano Jun 25 '18 at 18:29
  • First of all, great answer, @Mike! I don't think you've chimed in on any of my previous questions, so (and without any disrespect or lack of appreciation for previous responders) nice to see someone new attempt a crack at an answer. Furthermore, I loved your answer because it corresponds with my understanding of imperative and impersonal passive constructions. In other words, it immediately made sense to me. – Lisa Beck Jun 27 '18 at 19:28
  • That said, did you see all the translations at Reverso where "no se toca" is translated as "Don't touch"? IYO, then, are these translations incorrect? I'm beginning to think that the translations aren't necessarily "incorrect." A better way to describe them might be "imprecise" or "loose" translations. Please comment if you agree/disagree/have something else to add (especially those who work in translation/interpretation, but also native/near-fluent speakers). – Lisa Beck Jun 27 '18 at 19:30
  • i don't see them as incorrect, but they don't fall on the correct speech level i think this is because translations can be broader, one example that i find totally wrong is "la gente no se toca lo suficiente" for me the correct translation is "people are not touching enough". in this case is because , again: we are not giving orders, we are informing. – Mike Jun 27 '18 at 20:48
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    yup, I've seen that page in the past and i don't trust it, some of the translations are plain horrible – Mike Jun 28 '18 at 4:12
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Let's paint the scene. You are a guard at a museum, or you are a parent guiding a small child, during a visit to someone's house or office. In both cases, a gentle but firm way of getting your idea across is indeed

No se toca.

In many cases the specific object is spelled out, e.g.

No se tocan los cuadros.
La estatua no se toca.
Estos vasos no se tocan, son frágiles.

This is gentler than "No toques" because it makes clear that the constraint is for everyone, not just for the one person. It's a gentle, firm way of explaining what is done, what is not done, what behavior is expected in the particular situation.1

It's also possible to say

Prefiero que no toques ______ .

Preferiría que no tocaras ______ .

Notice how the subjunctive is introduced with "que." However, a museum guard would not say that; and your host might say that to the adult, but not to the small child.

If you want to use the imperative, which you certainly could do -- it would not be grammatically incorrect -- it would be without the "se":

No toque (formal) / No toques (informal)

If you were to say, in the formal, "No se toque," that would mean "Do not touch yourself." Perhaps you were intending to include a direct object pronoun. In that case, the correct pronoun would be "lo": "No lo toque / No lo toques."

And that could certainly be said. (It sounds a notch less gentle.)

More generally: yes, "No se toca" is indeed standard Spanish; here are some examples of behavioral expectations given with some other verb form than the imperative:

Eso no se hace.

Cada quien lleva su propio plato a la cocina.

A bañarse, se ha dicho.

Ya es hora de acostarse.

Hay que dar las gracias.

¿Te despides, por favor?

As you can see, there is plenty of variety available, that will help you avoid sounding like a drill sergeant (barking orders).

Note, all of the above examples that I gave in the informal (tú) can also be expressed with the formal (usted). The museum guard, for example, would probably use the formal, at least with adults.


1 Editorial comment: this is one of the things that makes Spanish a more user-friendly language, culturally speaking, in my personal opinion, than another second language of mine, German, which says that riding your bike while your dog runs alongside, on a leash, is verboten (forbidden). In Spanish this would be No se permite (not allowed), although in Mexico, at least, there are much fewer rules, in general, than in Germany, and so frankly I can't even imagine anyone ever saying this.

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    I'm looking for an answer that provides less rambling and provides more explanation from a grammar and usage point of view, not a "here are all the possible variants" point of view without English translations or grammatical explanations. Is there a native teacher or Spanish teacher who can give this question a better answer? Thank you in advance if you can. – Lisa Beck Jun 25 '18 at 3:53
  • @LisaBeck - I've tried to bring the grammar points to the forefront with the help of some boldface. I found a rambly phrase and deleted it. Hopefully someone else will contribute something more tuned to what you were after. However, please feel free to ignore the footnote, and also feel free to point out any aspects of your question I might have missed and I will try to address them. – aparente001 Jun 25 '18 at 4:14
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Both are correct. However, the difference in declension for this statement arises from using a different mode of address

  • "No se toca"
  • "No lo toque"

are both instances of the formal mode of address, the first being a passive voice as no explicit subject is the recipient of the order not to touch.

The second one is an imperative proper using an implicit subject (it's understood between parties to the conversation what is not to be touched, the sentence itself carries insufficient information to make such a determination which would have to be inferred from context by an uninvolved third party) while this sentence makes clear that one of the participants in the conversation is not to touch that preciously agreed to object)

  • no lo toques

Could be easily mistaken for a plural of several touches except the plural forms don't agree between lo and toques.

Los toques would be a proper plural except that it's nonsensical to negate a set of touches, rendering necessary a different explanation for the meaning of such a phrase.

In this case we are looking at the informal mode of address, opposite to the formal no lo toque that final /s/ in the declension diffuses the rigidity and deference of the first case and conveys trust and familiarity between the parties to the conversation regarding the agreed rule not to touch an understood object.


Often modes of address bring subtle but important changes to some phrases. Some may even have different intended meanings depending on the mode of address.

It is a difficult subject to convey in translation since there is no such concept in the English language. This makes for interesting challenges to students of Spanish as a foreign language and is one of the most difficult aspects to translate. In English, most of the time formality is resolved on verbosity, thus simple phrases are thought of as informal while verbosity approaching legalese has a "formal" sound to it.

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  • @walen - I believe that was addressed in my answer. – aparente001 Jun 27 '18 at 7:49
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    @walen I'm afraid that as I stated, the sentence does not carry enough information as to what is not to be touched, which must be Inferred from context. While it's true that at first reading "no se toque" could be interpreted as "don't touch yourself" it could also be referring to another subject, such as in an electronics manual stating "Cuidado: no se toque el cátodo bajo ninguna circunstancia" (warning: the cathode is not to be touched under any circumstances). If you wish to avoid this potentially embarrassing ambiguity, the proper sentence would be: "No se toque Usted". – hlecuanda Jun 27 '18 at 15:56
  • @hlecuanda - That example you came up with is interesting! (With the cathode.) But it does feel a little far-fetched; and for me, "No se toque Ud." still reads to me like the same person doing the touching and receiving the touching.... – aparente001 Jun 27 '18 at 16:59
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    @aparente indeed, the intended meaning of "No se Toque usted" Is exactly that, that's why you feel it means that.. It's the "Usted" at the end that renders this meaning, without it, it's up for grabs, (no pun intended) or to be inferred from context, just exactly what exactly is not supposed to be touched. It could be said that "No se Toque" Is a statement fragment. Here is an example of the use in this fashion exactly: cronista.com/clase/dixit/… – hlecuanda Jun 28 '18 at 5:17
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    And here is another fun example with yet another meaning for "Toque" not as in touching, but as in "Playing music" perfectly valid too, and also makes for fun constructs for Spanish learners: "Piden que no se toque el pasodoble 'Valencia' en la Ofrenda por ser demasiado español" intereconomia.com/economia/politica/… – hlecuanda Jun 28 '18 at 5:20

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