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Comer, beber, tomar, tragar...

Our previous lesson focused on the proper use of reflexive pronouns. We discussed when and how to use them and how the meaning of what we say is affected by them. We also mentioned that there are some Spanish verbs that can be used with or without reflexive pronouns, and that the verb comer (to eat) and other "ingestion verbs" are excellent examples.
 
In theory, verbs like comer (to eat), tragar (to swallow), beber and tomar (to drink), etc., can either be used with or without reflexive pronouns. For example:
 
Yo como la zanahoria = Yo me como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot)
Nosotros bebimos el tequila = Nosotros nos bebimos el tequila (We drank the tequila)
Tú tomas la leche = Tú te tomas la leche (You drink the milk)
Ella traga la pastilla = Ella se traga la pastilla (She swallows the pill)

However, this equivalence is not 100% accurate. Most Spanish speakers would more likely use the second option with reflexive pronouns than the first one without them. Saying yo como la zanahoria may not be wrong, but it's surely more common to say yo me como la zanahoria.
 

Cuando te comes una seta venenosa...
When you eat a poisonous mushroom...
Caption 23, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
 
Nos bebemos la Coca Cola
We drink the Coca-Cola
Caption 85, Zoraida en Coro - Artesanos


On the other hand, sometimes you cannot use a reflexive pronoun at all—for example, when you don't use an article before the direct object. There's a difference between saying yo como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot) and yo como zanahoria ("I do eat carrot" or "I'm eating carrot"), right? But you can never say yo me como zanahoria.
 
So, you can say yo bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol), but it's more normal to say yo me bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol). You can also say yo bebo alcohol ("I do drink alcohol" or "I'm drinking alcohol"), but you can never say yo me bebo alcohol. Got it?
 
What about if we use indefinite articles (un, una, unos, unas)? Well, it's the same. You can't use reflexive pronouns when you don't use an article before the direct object. For starters, and by definition, you cannot use indefinite articles before nouns that describe an undetermined amount of something, like leche (milk). You don't say tomé una leche (I drank a milk)—you say tomé leche (I drank milk). But with countable nouns like pastilla (pill), you can say una pastilla (a pill) and la pastilla (the pill). So in Spanish you could say ella traga una pastilla , but it's even better to say ella se traga una pastilla (both meaning "she swallows a pill"). What you can never say is ella se traga pastilla. Here's a challenging example that combines the use of tragar (to swallow) with a reflexive pronoun, the reflexive verb pudrirse (to rot), and a pronoun (lo) playing the role of direct object:
 

Lo que uno se traga se pudre.
What one swallows rots [Keeping things to yourself is bad for you].
Caption 15, Yago - 8 Descubrimiento - Part 1

 
To make it simpler, you can substitute the pronoun lo with a proper direct object. Since this is a figure of speech, let's say we are talking about miedo (fear). The expression could be: el miedo que se traga se pudre (the fear one swallows rots). So it's two sentences combined: uno se traga el miedo (one swallows fear) / el miedo se pudre (fear rots).  
 
Now, a tricky question for you. Is it correct to say ella traga pastilla, since we just said that yo como zanahoria (translated either as "I do eat carrots" or "I'm eating carrot”) is correct? The answer is no, it's not correct to say ella traga pastilla. This is because nouns like zanahoria (carrot) can be used either as a countable noun (if you use an article) or an uncountable noun (if you don't use an article). But the singular pastilla (pill) is always a countable noun in Spanish: it's always one pill. The only way to refer to an indeterminate amount of pills in Spanish is by using the plural pastillas (pills). So in Spanish you could say ella traga unas pastillas, but it's even better to say ella se traga unas pastillas (both meaning "she swallows some pills"). But you don't say ella se traga pastillas. 
 
If you want to express that a certain girl does swallows pills regularly, you could say ella traga pastillas. That's correct, but you must know that, just like in English, Spanish prefers the use of the verb tomar (to take) for this particular expression: ella toma pastillas (she takes pills). But you can correctly say yo trago miedo ("I swallow fear" or "I'm swallowing fear") because miedo (fear) is an uncountable noun.
 
You also can't use a reflexive pronoun if you don't use a direct object at all with these verbs—for example, when you just use an adverb with the verb instead of a direct object. You can say yo bebo hoy (I drink today) but you can't say yo me bebo hoy (that would mean something that doesn't make sense, unless you are writing poetry: "I drink myself today").
 

Los españoles comen a las dos de la tarde.
Spaniards eat at two in the afternoon.
Caption 6, La rutina diaria - La tarde


Another example: you can say nosotros comemos despacio (we eat slowly), but you can't say nosotros nos comemos despacio (unless you mean "we eat each other slowly"!). You can use reflexive pronouns again if you add a direct object. The second option in the following examples is the more common:
 
Yo bebo rápidamente el tequila = Yo me bebo rápidamente el tequila  (I drink the tequila quickly).
Nosotros comemos despacio el atún = Nosotros nos comemos despacio el atún (We eat the tuna slowly).

Grammar
Caption 85
Intermediate
Caption 15
Adv-Intermediate

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