What is the meaning of the pronoun "le" in this sentence?

El coche no anda porque se le descargó la batería

Is it a sympathetic dative which expresses that the battery belongs to the car? All the examples of sympathetic dative mentioned in All about datives, or: What's that funny "le" or "me" doing in there? associate a thing with a person, so I do not know if a whole-part relationship can also be expressed with it.

  • Alan, you've been asking a big amount of questions. Please make sure you go and read the answers carefully so you get the big picture. Sometimes it is better to do so than asking for similar topics over and over again.
    – fedorqui
    Nov 29, 2019 at 11:39
  • @fedorqui Thanks for the tip, but I have already read the explanations carefully. However, sometimes it is still not obvious to me what form of dative is used in a sentence and whether it is required or optional. I think other foreigners will have the same difficulty. Nov 29, 2019 at 12:18
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    Possible duplicate of All about datives, or: What's that funny "le" or "me" doing in there? -- but that's not the only question that addresses the material in your question. Dec 1, 2019 at 6:40
  • @aparente001 I have created this question right after reading the question you linked to, therefore obviously it didn't answer my question. In the sentence above, there is a relationship of association between 2 things, not a thing and a person as in all examples mentioned in the linked question. I was not sure if the sympathetic dative could be used in such a case. Dec 1, 2019 at 21:40
  • It's helpful to include that information within the question. Sorry about all this voting to close and so on. I'm really glad you're writing questions. I want to work with you on making sure that they're well posed. // Thanks for clarifying what you want to understand better. (You might want to edit your question and add that clarification.) The car and the battery are two separate entities. "Le" refers back to the car. When there's only one entity, things are different. Example: El coche no anda. La batería se descargó. In that last sentence there's only one entity. (I think of ... Dec 1, 2019 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


“Se le descargó la batería” looks like an extension of the idea of the sympathetic dative, which is normally found with people and their inalienable possessions. I have no idea whether a linguist would say it's a proper sympathethic dative, but it follows the principle.

The verb is pronominal intransitive descargarse "to discharge; to become discharged". The pronoun le is the third person singular indirect object pronoun, and refers to the car.

As I said this looks like a sympathetic dative but it might be only similar to one, because it's only borderline compulsory to use it. It's not un-idiomatic to use the possessive pronoun instead in this case, so the following alternative sounds OK:

El carro no anda porque se descargó su batería.

Contrast with a certified sympathetic dative with a similar structure, like “Él usa peluca porque se le cayó el pelo”; nobody would naturally say

Él usa peluca porque se cayó su pelo.

So the structure is like a sympathetic dative, but possibly because we're talking about an inanimate object and a mere mechanical part that can be detached, the connection is not felt that strongly and we can also use the basic, non-sympathetic syntax instead. (I still find the sympathetic form more natural in this case, and that is how I would express the idea.)


Yes, it means the car ran out of gas.

"le" always come with "se"

"Se le cayo el disfraz" - He dropped his costume

"Se le acabo el timpo" - He is out of time"

"se le" + verbo en pasado is used in informal Spanish, and almost always with negative situations

"Se le acabo el dinero" "Se le acabaron sus opciones"

  • "se descargó la batería" = "the battery has discharged". Nov 29, 2019 at 10:02
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    On the face of it your comment that "le" always comes with "se" is saying something you probably did not intend to say. Can you edit your answer to clarify exactly what you mean?
    – mdewey
    Nov 29, 2019 at 14:09

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