One of the more difficult Spanish concepts is to distinguish between se and le in Spanish. Both are used with reflexive verbs, or those that end in se like afeitarse.

Seem difficult?

It shouldn’t be as this guide will walk you through the various uses of se in Spanish. Besides this, it will go into great detail on other related concepts like using direct object pronouns such as lo and la.

le, lo, and Se In Spanish

Ellos se ducharon ayer – They showered yesterday. Se is used as it shows that they showered themselves.

This word is also used when talking about actions towards pronouns. So, if you want to say “I forgot my computer (it)” it could be se la olvidé mi computadora.

Alternatively, you could use se me olvidó la computadora. If you have the la or lo as the direct pronoun meaning it, conjugate the verb in the first person. Olvidé is the first person past tense way to say I forgot.

On the other hand, olvidó is the third person past tense of olvidar and refers to the computer. Always use the me before lo if you choose to use this method.

Other Common Examples

Se is also used to refer to if something occurs at a certain place. You’ve probably seen signs saying “se habla español” or “se regalan mascotas“. These phrases mean Spanish is spoken here and pets are being given away here, respectively. Think of se in these cases as something is occurring here and it’s more passive than saying hablamos español or we speak Spanish.

Notice how regalan is plural as there are more than one pet or mascotas. It would be regala if it was just referring to one pet.

Le Uses And Meaning

Se Uses And Meaning

Le is an indirect object pronoun and is used when a third person wants to perform an action or does something outside of themselves. So, ella le gusta al cine is she likes the movies. It would be le gusta because she isn’t doing something to herself.

Le can also be used when referring to an action someone does for someone else. Maria le compró una camisa a su novio is Maria bought a t-shirt for her boyfriend. The le refers to the boyfriend but le can refer to either a boy or girl.

Les is the third person plural and is used in a few different ways. So ellos les gusta jugar tenis is they like to play tennis. Les can also be used similarly to an action that someone does for multiple people. Andy les ayudó los estudiantes con su tarea is Andy helps the students with their homework. Les refers to the students.

Se vs. Le/Les

One concept that always confused me and still does occasionally is when to distinguish between se vs. le. This is extremely important to know especially when learning the many uses of se in Spanish.

Here a few general guidelines.

  1. Se ALWAYS comes before a direct object pronoun. You will NEVER see a sentence with “le lo.” Instead, Spanish speakers use “se lo” and “se las“.
  2. Se is used when referring to an action someone does on themselves. Le is used when someone does an action on or for a separate person. The phrase, what is your name or como se llama, literally means what do you call yourself. Since the third person calls themself his or her name it would be se not le.
  3. Some verbs like gustar, interesar, fascinar, and importar use le. This is because they don’t refer to someone doing something to themselves. So, A Juan no le importa sobre la tarea means Juan doesn’t care about the homework. It refers to the homework, not Juan.
  4. Reflexive verbs like afeitarse, ducharse, cortarse use se as the person is doing something to themselves. For example, Bob se afeita cada dia means Bob shaves every day.

Lo, La, Las, Los

Lo, La, Las, and Los are direct object pronouns and work in tandem when learning the uses of se in Spanish. These verbs can mean it or him (lo), her (la), them (los or las). A prior example was se la olvidé mi computadora or I forgot my computer. The la refers to computadora as it’s a feminine word. If it were, I forgot my coat or el abrigo it would be se lo olvidé mi abrigo.

Las is the feminine third person plural form while los is masculine. I touched my pets would be se las toque mis mascotas and las is used as mascotas is feminine. Se los enseñé los chicos a nadar is I taught the boys how to swim and would use los as boys are masculine.

Lo or La can be used instead of le if the speaker wants to be specific with gender. So, la amo means I love her and le amo doesn’t have a gender distinction.

Use of Lo Que vs. Que

Que is a pretty common Spanish word that means what, that, etc. However, it can be tricky to know when to use que vs. lo que. This is helpful to master as it’s related to the many uses of se in Spanish.

Check out this example:

“Me dices que estás pensando” – You tell me that you are thinking.

“Me dices lo que estás pensando” – You tell me what you are thinking.

Que means that and add a lo que to mean what. Add an accent to que when asking a question like qué haces esta noche or what are you doing tonight?

Wrap Up

Spanish has many tricky rules, especially when it comes to se, le, lo, las, lo que and more. It can be easy to make common mistakes like having “le lo” or using se instead of le. Knowing the basic rules around these grammar concepts will help you speak fluidly and reach fluency in no time!

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