When are the object pronouns le/les replaced with se?

  • 1
    I have removed the second sentence from your question... it would make for a better question all on its own.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 4, 2014 at 10:30

2 Answers 2


The indirect object pronouns le & les change to se when preceding the direct object pronouns lo, la, los & las.

I give it to him- Se lo doy.

(can't be Le lo doy)

She tells her mom the truth--She tells it to her. Se la dice.

Se is also used "impersonally" when it means "one" (in general).

One can buy milk here= Se puede comprar leche aquí.

  • To say "se" means "one" is inaccurate. "Se puede" is the reflexive construction. "Milk is sold here" would be "La leche se vende aquí" which is the same verb construction, but there's obviously no "one" to be translated in this case.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 3, 2014 at 19:53
  • 1
    @Flimzy Se puede comprar leche aquí it's perfect valid, and for me what I'd use in a normal conversation, I think is a differences between cultures Aug 4, 2014 at 1:46
  • @Toni thanks for answering. Can you also tell more about passive voice usage like in the sentence Flimzy mentioned "Milk is sold here" or "The door is being opened by me" etc?
    – Amit Dash
    Aug 4, 2014 at 5:05
  • @EmilioGort: Of course it's valid. I'm not saying it's not. I'm saying that 'se' doesn't translate to 'one'.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 4, 2014 at 9:26
  • @Curious: What do you want to know about such sentences?
    – Flimzy
    Aug 4, 2014 at 9:27

As @toni mentioned the use of le/les or se depends on the type of the Object Pronouns (direct vs. indirect ):

DO Pronouns: me, te, lo/la, nos, os, los/las

IO Pronounce: me, te, le, nos, os, les

When both are used in the same sentence, like here:

Ella te los dan.
She gives them to you.
IO: te
DO: los

Él me lo dice.
He tells it to me.
IO: me
DO: lo

change the first pronoun to 'se' if both start with an 'l':

Incorrect: No le lo tengo.
Correct: No se lo tengo.
I don't have it.

Incorrect: Él le los muestra a ella.
Correct: Él se los muestra a ella.
He shows them to her.

In such cases you should always try to avoid ambiguous meanings, like:

Él se los muestra. To whom??? - "a ella"

Here se can refer to Él, Ella or even Ellos or Ellas.

Additional examples (mind I'm not native and can be wrong):

Mi gato está loco por su cola. Siempre se le persigue!
My cat is crazy about its tail. It always chases it!
IO: le
DO: se

Mi gato tiene un pelaje bueno. Los cazadores lo persiguen para matarlo.
My cat has a nice fur. Hunters chase it to kill it.
DO: le
DO: matarlo

  • Or even usted or ustedes, adding to the potential confusion. Aug 2, 2014 at 13:54
  • @Nat thanks for answering. Can you also tell more about passive voice usage like in the sentence "The door is being opened by me", "The mouse is chased by it (a cat)"? etc.
    – Amit Dash
    Aug 4, 2014 at 5:06
  • @Curious I would rather translate the two sentences you gave with Present Participle (Gerund): "El gato está persiguiendo al ratón. (El ratón está persiguiendo por el gato.)", because they imply continuous actions. You could actually use DO/IO by saying "The cat chases it" -> "El gato se le persigue.", but you'll need to have "the mouse" mentioned and defined earlier in the speech. Aug 4, 2014 at 14:21
  • Note for anyone reading this old thread: Nat's comment has problems (but his answer looks good to me). Oct 25, 2017 at 2:43
  • Except for "No se lo tengo," which makes no sense to me. Better: "No se lo doy." Jun 29, 2018 at 4:19

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