What is "se" in Spanish?

What is "se" in Spanish?

What an interesting word se is! It can be so many things, it's a shape-shifter, and a big nightmare for many of you.

So, if you see it, what can it be?

Reflexive pronoun

A reflexive se would be translated as himself,herself,itself or themselves a lot of the times.

Lucía se lava los pies - Lucía washes her feet / to herself.

However, it doesn't always have a translation, as it can be the case of a pronominal verbs, and those need it for other reasons. Read this post to understand pronominal verbs better

Se preocupan mucho - They worry a lot.

It can also be a reciprocal pronoun translated as "to each other":

Se miran – They see each other

Indirect object

When le/les becomes se to avoid the “le la, le lo, les los, …” combinations, as they sound too similar.
The result is: se lo, se la, se los, se las.

Le pintan las uñas a Marta - They paint Marta's nails

Se las pintan - They paint them to her (We're replacing both the nails and her, so we need both pronouns).

If you don't know what an indirect object is, read this post.

Impersonal SE

We don’t know who the subject is, there is a generalisation that can be translated as "one does/people do".
The verb doesn't change, it's always "it form".

Se come bien en este restaurante – One eats/people eat well in this restaurant

Passive SE

It's a bit like "something is done" we don’t mention the subject either, but in this case the verb can either be "it" or "they":

Se venden muchos apartamentos – A lot of apartments are sold (by people)
We use "venden" (they) because it's "apartamentos" plural.

Se aprueba una hipoteca cada día en este banco - One mortgage is approved each day in this bank.
We use "aprueba" because it's "una hipoteca", singular.

Se cuenta que no sales de casa – People tell that you don’t get out of the house.
We use "cuenta" (it form) because it's an action and that counts as singular.

Common ones:

  • Se busca (wanted/looking for), se vende(we sell), se compra (we buy) se alquila (we rent).

  • Rules and restrictions like "no se permiten perros" (dogs not allowed).

Personal not very academic advice: Don’t get too worked up trying to know if it’s impersonal or passive se. In some cases it’s difficult to know, but in doubt I'd agree the verb (it or they) and call it a day! (wink face)


Identify what type of "se" it is:

  • Laura no se peina el pelo mucho
  • Nos ayudamos cuando tenemos problemas
  • Se alquilan mucho los pisos en Alicante
  • ¿Tienes el regalo? Se lo voy a dar hoy
  • Se vive bastante bien en Finlandia
  • Mi marido se aburre fácilmente con la televisión

Sol refl/recip/pas/ind/imper/refl

Buena suerte y ¡Hasta pronto! :)