Olvidar vs Olvidarse: What’s the Difference in Meaning?
Olvidar vs olvidarse are two different Spanish verbs used to say that you don’t remember something. Both can be translated as versions of the English verb “to forget.” However, they’re not the same and shouldn’t be used in the same contexts.
Today’s post is an opportunity to introduce or reinforce grammar knowledge. The root of the olvidar vs olvidarse debate lies in the existence of something called “reflexive verbs.” So, I’ll explain what this type of verbs are. I’ll first explain what pronominal verbs are and how transitive and intransitive verbs work.
Finally, I’ll introduce you to the meaning of olvidar vs olvidarse, explain how to use them, and provide some useful examples. By the end of this lesson, you’ll be an expert in a wide variety of Spanish verbs, and a master of expressing all the things that you forget, forgot, or don’t want to forget in Spanish.
Olvidar vs Olvidarse: What’s the Difference?
Olvidar vs olvidarse—which verb should you use? Although both of these action words convey the idea of “orgetting, they work in different ways. So, what’s the difference between them? And how do you know when to use one versus the other?
Well, the olvidar vs olvidarse debate is basically a discussion about the different types of verbs that exist in Spanish. I’m not talking here about the regular vs irregular verbs classification. This is a deeper differentiation, one that involves transitive, intransitive, pronominal, and reflexive verbs.
The first thing that you need to know is that olvidar is a transitive verb. These are verbs that take a direct object pronoun. In other words, you need “something” to olvidar or to forget. That “something” is your direct object.
Olvidé mi cita.
I forgot my appointment.
Olvidaste tu paraguas.
You forgot your umbrella.
Olvidamos nuestros libros.
We forgot our books.
In the examples above, mi cita, tu paraguas, and nuestros libros are the direct objects that show us that olvidar is a transitive verb. Now, let’s see the intransitive ones.
Olvidarse, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb, which means that it has no need for a direct object. Intransitive verbs stand by themselves; they don’t need to act on a noun or pronoun.
Se olvidaron de mí.
They forgot about me.
Me olvidé de darle de comer al perro.
I forgot to feed the dog.
Te olvidaste de pasar por mí.
You forgot to pick me up.
Two things here: First, notice how the preposition de (of, from, by) comes after the verb. This is due to olvidarse being an intransitive verb. Second, notice the pronoun in bold before the verb. This is a feature of pronominal verbs, and olvidarse is one of those, too.
According to the Real Academia Española, a pronominal verb is a verb that is “constructed in all of its forms with non-accented reflexive pronouns that don’t hold any syntactic function and that agree with the subject.”
If you want to know more about this topic, I recommend reading Pronominal Verbs. The article does a great job of explaining what they are, how they work, and all the types of pronominal that exist—including the widely used reflexive verbs.
I haven’t forgotten about our olvidar vs olvidarse discussion, I’m just taking a quick detour to help you grasp the concepts that lie behind the distinction between these two verbs.
The point here is that olvidarse is a reflexive verb. These verbs are one type of pronominal verb, and they express an action done by the subject to that same subject.
Reflexive verbs are easily identified by their distinctive -se ending, instead of the typical -ar, -er, and -ir endings of most infinitive verbs in Spanish. Just like olvidarse.
Olvidar vs Olvidarse: How to Use Them
Now that you’re familiarized with transitive, intransitive, pronominal, and reflexive verbs, let’s focus on each side of our olvidar vs olvidarse debate.
As a transitive verb, olvidar has a simple formula that includes the subject, or the person who forgets, and the direct object, which is the “thing” forgotten.
When using olvidar, remember that you can’t simply forget, you need to forget something.
Olvidé mi pasaporte.
I forgot my passport.
Olvidamos los boletos de avión.
We forgot the plane tickets.
Carlos olvidó su maleta.
Carlos forgot his suitcase.
In the examples above, the subjects are: yo (I), nosotros (we), and Carlos.
On the other hand, the direct objects are: mi pasaporte, los boletos de avión, and su maleta.
It’s a simple formula that’s easy to replicate.
Finally, you use the negative command form of olvidar to warn someone not to forget something.
No olvides tu toalla mañana.
Don’t forget your towel tomorrow.
No olviden sus fotografías.
Don’t forget your pictures.
No olvide mi regalo.
Don’t forget my present.
That’s it! You’re now an expert in the Spanish verb olvidar.
On the other side of our olvidar vs olvidarse discussion, the situation is a bit more complex. As you remember, olvidarse is an intransitive, pronominal, and reflexive verb. This means that it requires both reflexive pronouns and the preposition de after the verb to work properly.
Use this verb when you (or the subject of the sentence) forgot to do something.
Although it requires more elements to work, you can see that it also follows a straightforward and repeatable pattern: Reflexive pronoun + olvidarse + de
María se olvidó de recoger a Juanito.
Maria forgot to pick up Juanito.
Me olvidé de comprar leche.
I forgot to buy milk.
Te olvidaste de llamar a mamá en su cumpleaños.
You forgot to call mom on her birthday.
¡No olvides practicar!
“Don’t forget to practice!” The best way to master olvidar vs olvidarse is by practicing these verbs a lot. Use them in real-life conversations with native Spanish speakers, and soon you’ll stop thinking about intransitive verbs and reflexive pronouns. Soon, you’ll start using the olvidar vs olvidarse verbs naturally, and you won’t have to say “lo olvidé.”
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified, native teachers from Guatemala and start using your newly acquired knowledge about the olvidar vs olvidarse situation.
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