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When Le(s) becomes Se in Spanish

Although the Spanish pronoun se is most typically associated with reflexive verbs or passive or impersonal constructions, there is a case in which the indirect object pronoun le actually converts to a se! Let's find out what it is. 


Direct/Indirect Object Prounouns: A Quick Overview

While a lot can be said about the topic of direct and indirect object pronouns, we'll provide you with a very brief overview.


Direct Object Pronouns

Direct object pronouns (me, te, lo, la, nos, os, los, las) replace a direct object to convey the idea of "me, "you," "it," "we," and "them." Their form depends upon whether what is being replaced is masculine or feminine and singular or plural. For example, if instead of saying "I have the apples" (Tengo las manzanas), you wanted to say simply "I have them," you'd use the feminine plural las to agree with las manzanas to say, "Yo las tengo."


Indirect Object Pronouns

Indirect object pronouns let us know "to whom" an action happens. If you wished to say, for example, "I gave the apple to him," you'd say Yo le di la manzana since le is the indirect object pronoun that corresponds to the subject pronoun él (he). The indirect object pronouns and their corresponding subject pronouns are: me (yo), te (), le (él, ella, usted), nos (nosotros/as), os (vosotros/as), and les (ellos/as, ustedes).


Combining Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns

So, what if you want to both replace a direct object and indicate "to whom" something happens? You'd then use both a direct and an indirect object pronoun, starting with the latter. Let's see a couple of examples from our Yabla Spanish library: 


Y tengo acá las revistas. Si quieres te las enseño después. Y...

And I have the magazines here. If you want I'll show them to you later. And...

Captions 77-78, Gonzalo el Pintor Vida - Part 2

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Here, Gonzalo uses las to replace the feminine plural noun las revistas (the magazines) and te to indicate that he will show them "to you." Let's see one more example. 


Y yo voy a la huerta a buscar los tomatitos ya que nadie me los trae.

And I'm going to go to the garden to look for the tomatoes since no one's bringing them to me.

Caption 32, Muñeca Brava 41 La Fiesta - Part 5

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In this case, the speaker uses the masculine plural los to replace the masculine plural los tomatitos (the tomatoes), and the indirect object pronoun me (to me) to reflect that "no one's bringing them to me."


When Le(s) Becomes Se

It seems pretty simple, right? The "problem" arises when the required indirect object pronoun is le or les. For example, if you wish to say, "I'm giving it to them," referring to el lapiz (the pencil), would you say: "Yo les lo doy"? The rules of the Spanish language state that whenever the indirect object pronoun in question is le or les, those words change to se to avoid the awkwardness of having two words that begin with "l" in a row. The correct manner of saying this would thus be Yo se lo doy. Let's look at a few more examples from our Yabla Spanish library. 


Voy a escribirle una carta y se la mando con el Señor Viento.

I'm going to write her a letter and I'll send it to her with Mister Wind.

Captions 56-58, Guillermina y Candelario El Mar enamorado

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Él... él se los dio a mi marido

He... he gave them to my husband,

Caption 76, Málaga Lourdes y la talabartería en Mijas Pueblo

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La quiero ver... con moñito y todo se lo regalo. -Bueno...

I want to see you... with a bow and everything, I'll give him to you. -Well...

Caption 14, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta - Part 7

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Pronoun Placement With Infinitives

Remember that, as with all direct and indirect object pronouns, se lo, etc. are typically placed directly before the verb. However, in the case of infinitive verbs, they are attached to the end of the infinitive to form a new word (with the appropriate placement of a written tilde according to the Spanish accent rules). Let's see a couple of examples:


Señor, esa información no puedo dársela yo.

Sir, I can't give you that information.

Caption 60, Confidencial: Asesino al Volante Capítulo 1 - Part 8

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El problema es que no era capaz de decírselo.

The problem is that I wasn't capable of telling it to him.

Caption 44, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 13 - Part 5

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We hope that this lesson has shed a bit of light on those cases in which the indirect object pronouns le and les change to se. Don't forget to write us with your questions and suggestions.


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