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I’m trying to understand the grammar of this sentence:

Los siete años que pasaron en la escuela estuvieron marcados por diversos incidentes desagradables a los que nunca se los pudo vincular de manera fehaciente.

It’s from a book I’m reading. Specifically I’m struggling with the grammar of “se los pudo vincular”. What is the function of “se” here, what is “los” referring to, and what is the subject of “pudo”, if any? My best guess is that it’s the impersonal se and that “los” refers to the people who spent 7 years at the school but I’ve never seen the impersonal se used with object pronouns before.

Here is the original English text, for reference (I’m reading a Spanish translation):

“Their seven years at the school were marked by a number of nasty incidents to which they were never satisfactorily linked.”

The author is talking about linking the events to a group of people who spent 7 years at the school.

2 Answers 2

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Revised answer considering the note added by OP:

Los siete años que pasaron en la escuela estuvieron marcados por diversos incidentes desagradables a los que nunca se los pudo vincular de manera fehaciente.

This comes from:

  • Nunca se pudo vincular a determinadas personas con los incidentes de manera fehaciente.

This is an impersonal "se", the most "transparent" translation being:

  • It was never possible to truthfully link those people with the incidents.

In this sentence, there is no subject and "los" (which refers back to some people mentioned before in the text) is the direct object.

According to RAE, when the noun phrase that the action refers to is a THING rather than a person, passive "se" should be used, for example:

  • Los siete años que pasaron en la escuela estuvieron marcados por diversos incidentes desagradables que nunca se pudieron vincular de manera fehaciente. (passive "se") (... marked by a number of nasty incidents that could never be related to each other)

If the noun phrase that the action refers to is a person and the preposition "a" is used, as is the case in the paragraph in question considering the note that has been added, then impersonal "se" is to be used:

  • Se pudo vincular a los supuestos causantes con los incidentes (impersonal "se")

Having answered OP's question as to how that "se" should be interpreted and parsed, I'd now like to answer the question in the title. Different forms of "se" can indeed be used with direct and indirect objects (I marked in bold what "se" might be considered to be equivalent to in the English version):

  • Se los encontró culpables. ("se" is impersonal, and "los" is a direct object) (They were found to be guilty by somebody)

  • Se le cayó la billetera ("se" is a quasi-reflexive dative meaning "possession", and "le" is an indirect object) (He/She dropped his/her wallet)

  • Se la devolvieron ("se" is an indirect object, and "la" is the direct object) (They returned it to him/her/them)

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  • Thanks a lot for your detailed answer. I think you might have actually misinterpreted the passage though, which is understandable given it’s just a snippet of text without context. The reason “a los” is used is because the author is talking about linking the incidents to a group of people. Here is the original English text: their seven years at the school were marked by a number of nasty incidents to which they were never satisfactorily linked. “Their” refers to a group of people who spent 7 years at the school. Does this change the rest of your answer?
    – David Webb
    Commented May 1 at 23:40
  • Yes, it does. You can find my revision above.
    – Gustavson
    Commented May 2 at 0:34
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It refers to the incidents and the fact that they could not be linked to each other. In other words:

Los siete años que pasaron en la escuela estuvieron marcados por diversos incidentes desagradables, incidentes que nunca pudieron ser vinculados de manera fehaciente.

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  • The author is actually talking about linking the incidents to a group of people, not to each other. Here is the original English text: “Their seven years at the school were marked by a number of nasty incidents to which they were never satisfactorily linked.” “Their” refers to a group of people who spent 7 years at the school.
    – David Webb
    Commented May 1 at 23:43

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