How To Use "Se" In Spanish To Express Something Involuntary

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In this lesson we will study something that is useful but not often taught in Spanish classes. I am speaking about how to use “se” in the Spanish language, especially how to use what’s known as “se involuntary.” Native Spanish speakers often use this construction to indicate than an action or outcome was involuntary or even accidental.

In this case “se” serves to express that someone has no responsibility for an outcome. In this case the “Se” is used before the verb and the verb is conjugated according to the object in question. Please note that these translations are not literal but rather what each person would most likely say in English and in Spanish.

Example: “Se cayó la televisión” (The TV fell), “Se ensució toda la casa” (The house got messy), “Se rompieron las tazas” (The cups broke).

This “Se” allows me to say, or pretend that I do not know who did it or how it happened. If instead we want to prove that I had responsibility, but it wasn’t “voluntary” about what happened, I use an Indirect Object (Me, te, le, nos, les) between the “Se” and the verb.

Situation 1: Lets say I was trying to open the door of the house, but I did it too strongly and broke part of the key. In Spanish, to indicate that I broke the key, but it wasn’t voluntary, I could say: “Se me rompió” (It broke on me). This is an involuntary action, unlike “Rompí la llave” (I broke the key).

Situation 2: Lets say you are eating pasta, but as your take the fork to your mouth to take a bite, you drop some pasta sauce on your shirt, dirtying it. I could say to you: “Se te ensució la camisa.” In English, there is not really a direct translation for this that indicates the person did something by accident or involuntary. It is more in the tone of our voice in English. Just know that in Spanish, “Se te ensució la camisa” would be different than saying: “¡Ensuciaste la camisa!” (“You dirtied your shirt!”), which would mean you dirtied your shirt on purpose and with intent.

Let’s now learn some vocabulary words that you can use to demonstrate whether something is voluntary or not.

Voluntary: “A propósito”, “adrede”, “queriendo”

Involuntariess: “Sin querer”, “No me di cuenta”

For additional practice, I recommend that you read Dorothy Richmond’s learning Spanish books which are available at If conjugating the numerous Spanish verbs tenses is one your problem areas, you may want to follow the advice that I have given some of my private students and invest in the Verbarrator software which also help reduce your American or native English speaking accent when speaking the Spanish language.

write by Tryphena

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