I've seen the object "se" used with verbs several times, and sometimes I get confused on the usage. I just want to clarify the ways it is used?

Reflexive: as in se levanta (de la cama) - he raised himself out of bed / he got out of bed.

Indirect object: changing le or les to se when the direct object begins with l, as in les lo da a ellos which should become se lo da a ellos - he/she gave it to them.

Impersonal: when the people are not important, or speaking in general not about particular people? An example could be se encuentra mucho carros en la carretera durante esta hora - One encounters many cars on the highway during this hour.

Are there other uses of se as a verb object?

Quality of translation / sentence construction aside, is there anything I have misunderstood with the above?

1 Answer 1


Your first example is actually borderline reflexive; we call these verbs "pronominal" when they require a reflexive pronoun (which for the third person is se) while the action is not truly reflexive. You can tell this isn't reflexive because we never say se levanta a sí mismo de la cama; the verb levantarse is not understood as reflexive. A truly reflexive usage would be e.g. se miró [a sí mismo] en el espejo ("he looked at himself in the mirror"). This is a fine point, though; syntactically the result is the same.

(In case you were wondering, we do say se levanta por sí mismo de la cama; the preposition changes everything. Instead of por sí mismo one can say por sus propios medios. In every case it means "by his own means/strength, without help". It's not reflexive.)

Some really non-reflexive verbs also employ this pattern, like caerse (you can tell they're non-reflexive because they're intransitive; a verb that can only take a subject and no object can of course never be reflexive). These are also termed "pronominal" verbs.

Your example about "impersonal se" is grammatically wrong; this is not impersonal, but the so-called pasiva refleja (reflexive passive) construction, which requires agreement between the verb and the subject: se encuentran muchos carros en la carretera a esta hora. The literal translation would be either "many cars are found..." or "many cars find themselves...".

Impersonal sentences always have the verb in the third person singular, and they're often difficult to distinguish from the reflexive passives. There are tests that you can do to decide which one is it. If there's a subject, by definition it's not impersonal. See this question and its accepted answer for details.

  • Interesting, I have been using edX for learning spanish in a more organised manner, and they claim that all verbs forms like se levanta are reflexive... I have not thought about this in real terms of subjects and objects, but I will look into that now. Muchas Gracias!
    – rask004
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 12:59
  • 1
    This is a bit contested I think, but in Spanish grammar studies they tend to be called pronominal and that's how they appear in dictionaries (e.g. the DLE marks them prnl.). It's easier to lump them with the reflexives but sometimes the reflexive meaning is just not there.
    – pablodf76
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 16:06

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