I am having a hard time knowing when to use a reflexive pronoun before a verb. I understand when they are used before reflexive verbs but I often see them in front of non reflexive verbs too.

For example, here is a paragraph from a story I had to read for my Spanish homework.

La tradición de día de los muertos tiene su origen en una celebración indígena. Se celebra principalmente en Mexico y Estados Unidos


  1. Why do you have to put "Se" in front of celebra- "Se celebra"?
  2. How does this change the meaning compared to if you just wrote "celebra"?

Another example, What is the difference in meaning between: Sí te puedes y sí puedes


  • It is impossible to use a reflexive pronoun with a non-reflexive verb, as the simple act of using a reflexive pronoun makes the verb reflexive. Although in this case, it's not actually reflexive.
    – Flimzy
    May 19, 2014 at 13:11
  • Related: spanish.stackexchange.com/q/1078/12
    – Flimzy
    May 19, 2014 at 13:40
  • You know what I mean... Verbs that are traditionally listed with a se at the end of the infinitive. The verbs related to personal care or daily routines.
    – GinaV
    May 19, 2014 at 16:21
  • There are indeed many verbs which are commonly reflexive, but there's no magical "reflexive" property inherent in any verb. Even the commonly reflexive verbs can be done to other people "Yo bañé al bebé."
    – Flimzy
    May 19, 2014 at 16:23
  • I see what you mean. I get really confused if "se" is plural or singular
    – GinaV
    May 19, 2014 at 16:39

5 Answers 5

  1. It is necessary to show the correct use of 'celebra' in a passive voice:

    • With se: (se celebra = es celebrado/celebrada) -> (it) is celebrated

Se celebra principalmente en Mexico y Estados Unidos.

It is celebrated mainly in Mexico and USA.

  1. Without 'se', 'celebra' turns into active voice = (he/she/it celebrates)

A deeper explanation can be found here (Real Academia Española, in Spanish)

  • Indeed the refexive celebra has the effect of a passive voice, but it is not a passive voice.
    – c.p.
    May 19, 2014 at 6:19
    – GinaV
    May 19, 2014 at 16:11

Se celebra translates to They celebrate which is how we, English speakers, would say it.

For instance, Aquí se celebra Navidad en Pascua

Here, they celebrate Christmas on Easter

Not they as in 3rd person plural, but rather, they as in the people here.

When we are giving instructions we tend to say things like

You mix the milk in with the eggs

Se mezcla el leche con los huevos

You soak the bread in the mixture

Se moja el pan en la mezcla

You cook the bread

Se cocina el pan

In my opinion, the best real world example to understand this passive se is this:

¿Cómo se dice 'something' en español?

It translates semantically as

How do you say 'something' in Spanish?

but literally as :

How is 'something' said in Spanish?

Cómo dice...

This translates to something indicative

How does he/she/it say ... ?

Where there is a pronounced subject in the sentence.


Exactly, in this case Se celebra would be in passive voice, what is called pasiva refleja. You could use celebra or celebran if you have a subject:

(Él) celebra su cumpleaños este viernes.

Could you put some example for the case Sí te puedes and sí puedes?. I would say you need a comma: Sí, te puedes + sentence, or sí, puedes. Otherwise it is probably not correct.

Sí, te puedes ir a la hora que quieras.

¿Puedo coger uno? Sí, puedes.

  • Thank you. I get confused with knowing if se is singular or plural because it's for both.
    – GinaV
    May 19, 2014 at 16:26

This is the key: "celebra" cannot be alone. You need a subject who is doing the celebrating.

Rafael y Carolina celebran su aniversario de casados.

When there is no subject (indefinite, or too many, such as a whole country), you use "se".

"Este miercoles se celebra la Independencia de Venezuela"


For this instance I often take the "se" to mean the royal "one" like in English.

Se celebra principalmente en Mexico y Estados Unidos

One celebrates mainly in Mexico and US.

It can then work for You plural, they or a single person.

If you left out the se/one it doesn't sound right "celebrates mainly in Mexico and the US" who does?

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