12.1 Se Construction for Unplanned Occurrences

With a limited number of verbs, mainly those that follow, Spanish often uses a construction based on the impersonal se, followed by an indirect object pronoun, then the verb (most often in the preterite tense) to express unplanned occurrences, communicating a level of subtlety that is not always present in English.

Impersonal se construction:

Se acabó el dinero. The money ran out/was exhausted.

Impersonal se + Indirect Object = Unplanned Occurrence

Se nos acabó el dinero. The money ran out on us.

By using the impersonal se + indirect object pronoun, the speaker or writer shifts blame away from the person involved. (In English, a stark example of this may be seen in “Dad, I wrecked the car” [blame accepted] versus “Dad, the car got wrecked [while I happened to be driving it”] [blame shifted].)

Study this construction in the sentences that follow. Although it does not affect the translation, note that the verb agrees with the grammatical subject. As perros (first sentence) is plural, so is the verb. Coche (second sentence), as a singular noun, takes a singular verb.

¿Se te escaparon los perros? Did the dogs get away from you?
Se les descompuso el coche. The car broke down on them.
Se nos olvidó la cámara. We accidentally forgot the camera.
Se nos quedaron dos maletas en casa. We accidentally left two suitcases at home.
Se le rompió un plato. A dish got broken “on him.”
Se les murió su querido vecino. Their dear neighbor died “on them.”
Se le cayó la bandeja. She accidentally dropped the tray.

Vocabulario básico

Verbo:

cortar(se)- to cut (oneself)

Sustantivos:

la bandeja- tray
la conferencia- lecture, talk (false friend)
el ordenador- computer (Sp.)
el platillo- saucer
la red- net, network, Internet

Adjetivo:

querido- dear

Expresión:

a lo mejor- at best, most likely

Last revised on June 23, 2021.