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Tldr: Why does es ella quien nos llena el auto mean it is she who fills the car for us, and not it is she who us our car she fills?


Sorry this is a bit more of a blog post, tldr above. Every time I feel like I understand the reflexive in Spanish, another curve ball comes along and I begin to doubt whether I even understand it at all.

As a native English speaker, who speaks Portuguese (conversationally) as a second language, PT (Brazilian) was considerably easier to pick up, as the language seems considerably closer to English than Spanish. Take for example:

Eu gosto de voce: I like you.

In this sentence, the 'direction' (maybe there is an official grammatical word for this which I don't yet know), is to the right, ie. I (eu) I am doing the liking (gosto) of you (de voce).

It took a while to figure out (when learning Spanish), that gustar is a reflexive, whereas it isn't (doesn't seem to be?) in Portuguese:

Yo te gusto: I like you.

So: I (yo) yourself (te) I am pleased by (gusto), with reflexives like these, one has to almost 'think backwards' to 'remember' who the subject is in the conversation: te (yourself).

Anyway, maybe it only seems like having to 'think backwards' because I've been socialised within a paradigm (English) which causes me to think in a certain 'direction' and in fact my 'direction of thought' is backwards to native speakers of Latin languages. Not sure how to assess that.

So anyway, back to the actual question:

Why does 'es ella quien nos llena el auto' mean it is she who fills the car for us, and not 'it is she who us our car she fills'?

It is the usage of nos here which is really throwing me, and more so by the fact that Google Translate shows this: the car fills us when omitting es ella quien and searching for just nos llena el auto.

Any clarity would be greatly appreciated :) Thanks.

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    I do not think your translation into English of yo te gusto is correct. Theuseage of custar is a problem for anglophones I agree but the subject is the thing which is liked and the indirect object the person who is doing the liking. as in me gustan las manzanas = I like apples. Think of it as gustar = is pleasing to.
    – mdewey
    Nov 29, 2021 at 14:07
  • Many European languages have these seemingly "inverted" structures where the expected subject is marked like an indirect object. It's been a while, but I think Portuguese has tended to deviate from the Romance norm in not having so many of them, and also fewer instances of sympathetic datives. This is also the case with English (whereas German, for example, uses these structures even more frequently than Spanish).
    – pablodf76
    Nov 29, 2021 at 22:01
  • The answer at least in part is because you seem to be trying to translate word for word, instead of by grammar rules
    – Traveller
    Nov 30, 2021 at 15:49
  • It makes no difference whether the translation is correct. The OP does not know these forms, which is why he is asking the questions.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2021 at 17:00

3 Answers 3

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This usage of nos is a sympathetic dative (and not reflexive). There is a very detailed explanation in the linked question, but the idea is that a dative is a type of indirect object, which is the second object of a ditransitive verb, i.e., of a verb that has two objects. A common example of a verb with two objects is dar:

  • Ella nos da el auto (she gives us the car).

With dar, the meaning of the two objects is clear: the direct object is the object being given ("el auto"), and the indirect object is the recipient ("we", which becomes "nos"/"us" in dative form).

In Spanish, many verbs can be used as ditransitive even though they normally have only one object (the direct object). This is done by adding an indirect object that refers to a person that is affected by the action in more or less direct ways. There are several classes depending on how this person is affected, and the sympathetic dative is the case in which the owner of the direct object ("el auto" in this case") is added to the sentence as an indirect object ("nos"), indicating that the action on "the car" has an effect on ("us"), its owner.

  • Ella nos llena el auto (she fills us the car up / she fills up the car for us / she fills up our car).

So this nos just means that she fills up our car, and this has an effect on us because we are grateful, or we do not have to do it ourselves, etc. Such datives are very common, and there are many examples in the linked question.


Regarding gustar, this is a somewhat special verb because it has only one object, but it is an indirect object. The verb gustar behaves similar to the verb to please in English, so the subject is what is liked, and the indirect object is who likes it. So

  • El auto me gusta (I like the car, think of "the car pleases me").
  • Tú me gustas (I like you, think of "you please me").
  • Yo te gusto (you like me, think of "I please you").

This means that all these pronouns are not reflexive either, as they do not refer to an action done by a subject on itself.

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  • fills a car is not really idiomatic. To fill up a car or gas tank. And if I were learning Spanish, your explanation is much too complicated, in my opinion. Most learners have no clue what ditransitive means.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2021 at 17:03
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Eu gosto de você. is not reflexive. It is like English: I like you.

The Spanish verb for that use of "like", I like you, is reflexive but it also starts with the object liked: I like you becomes You please me: Me gusta.

Me gustas. This is literally: You are pleasing to me.

Yo te gusto is therefore: You like me. Literally: I am pleasing to you.

The gimmick is to use: X is pleasing to Y. or: X pleases Y.

I suggest you find some exercises to do with this gustar and the pronouns until you get it down pat. Bear in mind the plural: No me gustan los tomates.

Now, the car thing is a bit different. And this can be tricky but there is some light through the forest.

llenarse el coche means: to fill up one's tank [of a car or truck, etc.].

This is like:

  • cortarse el pelo [to get a haircut]
  • lavarse los dientes [to brush one's teeth].

Here's the point with these reflexive verbs: in English, you say my car, your car, etc. Whereas in Spanish, the my and your are given in the reflexive pronouns, me and se. (note: sometimes with se, you have to specify: de ella/ellas ou de él/ellos as se doesn't make that clear. But that is more advanced for now.]

  • Me llené el auto. [I filled up my tank.]
  • Me corté el pelo. [I cut my hair. [meaning: had a haircut]]
  • Me lavé los dientes. [I brushed my teeth.]

So: es ella quien nos llena el auto. We know that the infinitive is: llenarse el auto, right? So, third person singular: She fills up our tank: [Ella] nos llena el auto. See how that works?

Now, the "es ella" part is just another way of saying the same thing: It was she who filled up our car. Because: nos llena el coche is the third person singular with the indirect object nos for our: fill up our car.

I suggest you practice conjugating llenarse el auto as a way of getting used to this. Systematic exercises are necessary to learn this or you will become hopelessly confused.

bear in mind: fill up the car can be llenarse el auto but more properly is llenarse el deposito [the tank].

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Tldr: Why does es ella quien nos llena el auto mean it is she who fills the car 
for us, and not it is she who us our car she fills?

Your second translation is not proper English. That answers the question as stated. Perhaps you need to come up with some other alternative translation that is proper English. I don't mean to be picky. I'm sure I make mistakes in English conversation all the time. It's just that in this context asking about a translation needs to focus on an allegedly possible translation.

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    The OP used those literal translations on purpose as he/she does not understand how this works.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2021 at 16:55
  • I think I’ve been misunderstanding ‘reflexive’ to be te/se as well as me. More reading needed! Thanks for the help and suggestions
    – timhc22
    Mar 28 at 15:02
  • Gee, I have the same understanding or misunderstanding you do. Mar 31 at 22:54

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