How to Use ‘Se’ Accidental in Spanish Conversation
What exactly is the se accidental in Spanish? Since “accidental” describes something unplanned or unexpected, it makes you wonder—is this an error on the part of native speakers or does it refer to the meaning of the verb in use?
Read on to find out.
After you read this article all about using se accidental in Spanish conversations, you’ll dramatically improve your ability to tell descriptive anecdotes about the unforeseen. You’ll also get access to a simple, easy-to-remember formula that you can reference as often as you need by bookmarking this page. Lastly, you’ll get Spanish reading practice with some examples that clarify meaning.
What is se Accidental?
Se accidental appears to clarify that an action or result is unintentional, unplanned or unexpected. This situation goes for forgetting a deadline all the way to breaking a piece of art.
Spanish speakers use the se accidental as a reflexive pronoun attached to a verb. While you may be familiar with reflexive pronouns that refer to an action being performed upon itself, in this case of se accidental, the reflexive pronoun morphs the verb into passive voice. (Don’t worry, we’ll go over this in depth!)
To get a detailed refresher on reflexive pronouns, check out The Key to Reflexive Pronouns in Spanish.
To learn more about the passive voice construction and how this works with se accidental, you can get a detailed lesson on How to Master the Passive Voice in Spanish or simply keep reading for a solid overview.
Passive Voice Construction in Spanish
The passive voice is the one that makes emphasis on the verb over the subject, whereas the active voice focuses on the subject. The cause of the action as well as its performer are unknown or unimportant.
|Active Voice||Passive Voice|
|El camión recogió la basura. (The truck collected the garbage.)||La basura ha sido recogida. (The trash has been collected.)|
In Spanish there are two ways to construct sentences with passive voice:
- passive voice
- passive se
Passive voice is used in formal contexts, both spoken and written, while passive se is more colloquial.
|Passive Voice||Passive se|
|La basura ha sido recogida. (The trash has been collected.)||La basura se recogió. (The trash was collected.)|
Spanish Passive Voice: The Object Becomes the Subject
The construction of passive voice starts by changing the object of the active voice to the subject of the passive voice.
El camión recogió la basura. Object: la basura
The truck collected the garbage. Object: the trash
La basura ha sido recogida por el camión. Subject: la basura
The trash has been collected by the truck. Subject: the trash
As you can see, the subject of the active voice becomes the passive agent at the same time. In order to do that, we connect it through the preposition por.
Auxiliary verb + participle of main verb
We use the auxiliary verb ser (in any tense) and then add the participle of the main verb of the active sentence. This last one has to be a match to the passive subject in terms of gender and number.
La basura ha sido recogida por el camión.
Recogida: Feminine, singular.
La basura: Feminine, singular.
Indirect Object Pronouns
The indirect object pronoun (I.O.P) is a person that is acted upon by something or someone else indirectly. While the direct object pronoun responds to the question of “what” or “whom,” the I.O.P is a response to the questions “to whom,” “for whom,” and “by whom.” It indicates who the action happened to. In making use of the se accidental in its passive construction, the word se precedes the indirect object pronoun. In this case, it specifically answers the question “by whom?”
Se rompió la pantalla.
The screen broke.
Se nos rompió la pantalla.
The screen was broken by us.
Below is a list of indirect object pronouns to use with approximate translations that more or less suit the context of the accidental se.
PRO TIP! The pronoun le that can be used when addressing “he,” “she,” “it,” as well as the formal “you.”
|Indirect Object Pronoun||English Translation|
|Le||By him, by her, by itself, by you (formal)|
|Les||By them, by you all|
How Se Accidental Refers to an Accident
The se accidental signifies an unexpected action, but it’s very different from how we would say it in English.
The English construction looks like this:
Tú rompiste la silla por accidente.
You broke the chair by accident.
By reading this, you know that a chair was broken, that the subject is to blame (you) and that it was an accident. How do you know it was an accident? Because it specifically says so.
With the se accidental in Spanish, its usage implies the fact that it was an accident and no other words are necessary to specify this.
Se te rompió la silla.
The chair was broken by you.
Although you know that you broke the chair, it seems as if the chair broke itself, and somehow you are not to blame.
Accident vs Intent
Let’s see more examples that show the nuanced insinuation that the use of se accidental has in comparison to verb constructions without it.
Derramaste la leche. (nuanced meaning: it was intentional)
You spilled the milk.
Se te derramó la leche. (nuanced meaning: it was an accident)
The milk was spilled (by you).
Olvidaste la nota. (nuanced meaning: it was intentional)
You forgot the note.
Se te olvidó la nota. (nuanced meaning: it was an accident)
The note was forgotten (by you).
Se Accidental Formula
Now, let’s focus on the se accidental formula. It has 4 elements:
Se + indirect object pronoun + conjugated verb + noun (subject)
Here is a list of common verbs associated with accidents that you’ll want to add to your vocabulary:
|To burn||Quemar / incendiar|
|To leave behind||Dejar atrás / quedar|
|To run out||Acabarse|
|To get dirty||Ensuciar|
|To drop||Tirar / dejar caer|
Examples Sentences in Spanish with Se Accidental
In the example sentences below, you’ll see how the indirect object pronoun answers the question “by whom is the action done?” Not only does it substitute the original pronoun, but it also takes away the blame from the subject. Again, this is a passive voice construction where the subject receives an action (verb) performed by another party.
See these examples:
Se te rompió la pantalla.
The screen was broken by you.
Se me cayó el cuaderno al agua.
The notebook was dropped in the water by me.
Se les quemó la foto.
The photo was burned by them.
Se nos perdió el dinero.
The money was lost by us.
Se le derramó la leche.
The milk was spilled by her.
Se le olvidó su mochila.
The backpack was forgotten by him.
Se te acabó la carne.
The meat was run out by you.
Se me ensució el zapato.
My shoe got dirty.
Se nos quedó la muñeca.
The doll was left behind by us.
Se les manchó la pintura.
The painting was stained by them.
Se me dañó el teléfono.
The phone was damaged by me.
Se me olvidaron las llaves del coche.
The keys were forgotten by me.
Did you notice? We conjugate all these verbs in third person to match the subject, which is the object upon which the action was performed.
The only way to know to whom it happened is with the indirect object pronoun.
Why Use the Se Accidental?
1) To sound like a native speaker
The se accidental is one of the forms of language that can really divide a beginner Spanish speaker from an advanced one. Native Spanish speakers use it frequently as part of their daily conversations. Especially because the active voice can sound like an accusation and the se accidental prevents it from happening.
2) To take away the blame
As we discussed, the conjugated verb agrees with the subject, which is the object upon which the action occurred.
Instead of saying rompí la silla (I broke the chair), you say se me rompió la silla (the chair was broken by me).
This form of speech allows the person in question to excuse him or herself from the blame, emphasizing the fact that it was an accident. Somehow, this person had nothing to do with what happened!
3) To better understand Spanish language and Hispanic culture
The se accidental gives you a taste of courtesy and social interaction in Spanish. It shows how important it is not to point blame towards other people and ourselves. It is used even when you are not sure if the other person had intent or was an accident.
Se te cayó la flor.
The flower was dropped by you.
We are not sure if this person threw it on purpose but we never assume so.
Practice Se Accidental with Native Speakers!
If you want to excuse yourself while telling a fun anecdote or an unexpected event, don’t hesitate to use the se accidental! Since se accidental is a form of Spanish that does not have a counterpart in English, the smartest way to practice is with a native speaker. You can take a 1-on-1 Spanish class with a certified native Spanish-speaking teacher at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Become one of our 24,000 monthly active students worldwide and become highly proficient in your Spanish fluency. Sign up for a free trial class to practice reflexive verbs, indirect object pronouns, and se accidental with one of our friendly teachers from Guatemala!
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