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Hello Spanish language community! I have always been troubled by some seemingly weird usage of "se le".

The scenario: the boss and the owner of a barber shop are trying to hire someone. They have just one candidate, but he demands too high a wage. So the owner and the boss are arguing about whether to hire him:

The boss says: "Que no se le contrata y para eso soy la jefa" ...

The owner says: "Y yo el dueño y se le contrata" ...

The owner says: "Si hace falta, se le contrata solamente para un corte" ...

I looked up in the dictionary which tells me that "contratar" is mostly used as a transitive verb. So I try to determine first what the usage of "se" is in here:

  1. A reflexive pronoun. I think it's unlikely, because usually it's "the owner/manager/boss 'contrata' a worker/employee". Ruled out.
  2. A pronoun required by a pronominal verb. But the dictionary has no such an entry on "contratarse", which I think makes sense. Not this usage.
  3. Passive, as in "Se venden las tartas en la calle"/"On the street cakes are being sold/someone is selling cakes on the street". If it is passive, then what is that "le" doing here? Wouldn't "se contrata él solamente para un corte" be more grammatical?
  4. Impersonal se. I have been informed by many blogs and books that the impersonal "se" always requires a verb conjugated in 3rd person singular form, like: "Se entrevistó a muchas personas hoy"/"Many people were inverviewed today". Might this be the usage here?

And as for the "le", is it an instance of "leismo"? I mean "se lo contrata..." would sound correct to most Spanish speakers?

Any help is appreciated! I wonder which usage that "se" is, and whether "le" is "leismo" in action here.

Another related question: Why is it that in impersonal constructions, "se" almost acts like a grammatical subject? From Diccionario Oxford, it has an entry like this:

se los acusa de subversión - they are accused of subversion

"they" is translated from "los". And if I am allowed to do something blasphemous to linguistics, "se" in its impersonal usage seems to act like a subject pronoun (in English, "one")! "One accused them of subversion" But "se" is an objective pronoun, be it a reflexive pronoun or indirect object. So now the questions is, what is the grammatical subject if you are forced to add one in impersonal constructions like(from Diccionario Oxford): "(What subject here?) se castigará a los culpables"/"those responsible will be punished"?

Thank you so much for any help!!!

P.S. there is a screenshot from the scene if it helps you understand the scenario: enter image description here

2 Answers 2

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The verb phrase:

  • Se le contrata

is an impersonal verb phrase showing "leísmo" ("lo"/"la" should be used instead of "le" because, as you rightly point out, "contratar" is transitive).

As can be read here, this is a case of impersonal "se" because there is no subject (for a passive to exist, there needs to be a subject):

• Si el elemento nominal expresa persona y no va precedido de la preposición a, se emplea también la construcción de pasiva refleja:

     - Se buscan actores para la película.
     - Se contratarán nuevos trabajadores para el proyecto.
     - Se necesitan especialistas en informática.

• Si el elemento nominal expresa persona y va precedido de la preposición a, debe emplearse la construcción impersonal; por tanto, el verbo irá en singular aunque el elemento nominal sea plural:

     - Entre los gitanos se respeta mucho a los ancianos.
     - Se entrevistó a los candidatos para el puesto.
     - Se busca a quienes presenciaron lo ocurrido.

In the case at issue, we have:

  • Se contrata al peluquero / a la peluquera => Se lo/la ("le" with leísmo) contrata.

so it is the second case, that of an impersonal sentence.

Assuming it's a male employee they are hiring, the dialogue should be as follows:

The boss says: "Que no se lo contrata y para eso soy la jefa" ...

The owner says: "Y yo el dueño y se lo contrata" ...

The owner says: "Si hace falta, se lo contrata solamente para un corte" ...

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  • Why not write in the first example, the full, accurate sentence?
    – Lambie
    Jan 18 at 18:08
  • "Se le contrata" can perfectly stand alone as a sentence. I chose to refer to the verb phrase (which as I said can work as a sentence in its own right) because it is shared by all three sentences in the dialogue.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 19 at 13:02
  • Again: "("lo"/"la" should be used instead of "le" because, as you rightly point out, "contratar" is transitive)". is what you say. So, why not include your correction: the one you give? Why not include the sentence: Se lo/la contrata. It is easier to understand with the example written out.
    – Lambie
    Jan 19 at 15:18
  • If I do that, the comment "showing 'leísmo'" will not apply, and I need to make that clear. I made an addition at the end.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 19 at 18:09
  • Allow me to share something with you. If I provide a written explanation, I put the sentence that illustrates that after it. Sentences can be labeled. Cats are nice [plural]. A cat is a nice pet. [singular]
    – Lambie
    Jan 19 at 18:29
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Yes, 3. Impersonal se. 'Contrata' is in the 3rd-person singular form. I think that 'se le contrata' is a dialectal form that express command, just do what I say, just do as I'm saying. That's it. I'm the owner so yes, 'he'll be hired'. It is being assumed as a fact and he/she won't take no for an answer.

The boss says: "Que no se le contrata y para eso soy la jefa" ("No lo(=a él) vamos contratar, soy la jefa y se hace lo que yo digo")

The owner says: "Y yo el dueño y se le contrata" ... (Y yo soy el dueño, así que sí será (él) contratado para el trabajo)

The owner says: "Si hace falta, se le contrata solamente para un corte" ("Si hace falta, sí lo(=a él) vamos a contratar, pero solamente para eso" ...)

Yes, it acts like a subject pronoun, which is why in many cases it is not clear who the subject is. In some cases it is the repetition of the subject, which is redundant.

Se(=ella, él, ellos, ustedes, alguien, nadie conocido) los(=a ellos) acusa(n) de subversión.

Él/ella/ellos/ellas/ustedes acusa(n) a ellos de subversión

They are accused of subversion by him/her/them/you.

  • Cuando se los topa en las ciudades(When you come across them in the cities)
  • Se los iba a llevar con ella (she was going to take them with her)
  • Se los volvió a llevar (He took them back)
  • A nadie se le ocurrió cómo (No one can figure how)

In this case the subject may be the court, the justice, or the judge himself:

  • Se condenará a los responsables por aquellos crímenes.
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  • Thank you for the elaborate explanation!
    – user585684
    Jan 19 at 13:04

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