This is the second of my brainstorms about the four intractable problems I identified last week, trying to wrestle with the subject by putting it into a post, because explaining something to someone else is usually a pretty good way of learning it yourself.
Quite often in Portuguese, the word “Se” crops up in unexpected places, hanging around verbs. In some cases, it just means “if” and that’s easy enough to spot, but when it’s acting as some sort of pronoun things get a little weirder. Here’s a breakdown of some of the related grammar:
As a word meaning “If”
As I said, this is the odd one out, really. In this case, the word happens to be hanging around the sentence and maybe the verb will have to change as a result but in this case it’s not really strongly interacting with the verb, so you can just translate it in your had as “if” and move on. If you’re at B2 level and don’t already know about the subjunctive imperfect, go and have a read. Otherwise, forget it.
As a reflexive pronoun
Se is one of the pronouns used in the construction of reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs are just verbs in which the subject and the object can be the same thing. For example, “I can dress myself”. I am the one who is doing the dressing, and I am the one being dressed, so it’s a reflexive verb. In Portuguese and other romance languages, reflexive verbs seem a bit counter-intuitive.Sometimes they are used in situations you wouldn’t expect and sometimes they mean “each other” instead of “oneself”.
Of course, it’s not always “se”. The complete set of pronouns looks like this:
Here are some examples of reflexive verbs:
|lembrar||to remind||lembrar-se||to remember|
|amar||to love||amar-se||to love one another|
|apaixonar||to fall in love||apaixonar-se||to fall in love with each other|
|deitar||to lay (something) down||deitar-se||to lie down|
|levantar||to lift||levantar-se||to get up|
|pentear||to comb||pentear-se||to comb oneself|
|banhar||to bathe (someone)||banhar-se||to have a bath|
|chamar||to call (someone)||chamar-se||to be called/named|
|lavar||to wash something||lavar-se||to have a wash|
|sentar*||to put someone in a sitting position?||sentar-se||to sit down|
|sentir||to sense something||sentir-se||to be conscious of something|
|voltar||to turn, return, re-do||voltar-se||to turn around|
|servir||to serve||servir-se||to help oneself to|
|vestir||to dress someone||vestir-se||to get dressed|
|**||suicidar-se||to kill oneself|
|cortar||cut||cortar-se||to cut oneself|
*sentar apparently exists but it’s not used often
**suicidar doesn’t seem to exist as a non-reflexive verb, for reasons that are probably pretty obvious….
Of course, by sod’s law, within hours of publishing this post, I see this:
…and now I’m ready to suicidar(-me) too.
—update to the update–
My teacher says it’s just bad grammar. What lessons do we learn from this? Don’t trust Twitter for lessons in correct use of language.
And here are a few that need pronouns with them (to call back to this post)
|aproveitar-se de||to take advantage of|
|convencer-se de||to convince oneself about|
|lembrar-se de||to remember about|
|esquecer-se de||to forget about|
|queixar-se de||to complain about|
|rir-se de||to laugh about|
|decidir-se a||to decide|
|dedicar-se a||to dedicate oneself to|
|acostumar-se com||to get familiar with|
|parecer-se com||to resemble|
|surpreender-se com||to be surprised by|
As some other kind of pronoun
Hm… Now I was going to write a whole section on “se” being used as another kind of pronoun but I had a look at the examples and decided that they were all specimens of either those ones *points up* or these ones *points down*. OK, cool, well that’s one piece of confusion that has been expelled by writing this post, so… bonus!
As part of a sentence in the passive voice
Passive voice is when you use a phrase like “it was done”, “mistakes were made”, “a murder was committed” instead of the more direct “He did it”, “We made a mistake” or “Someone committed murder”. I quite like this form of words and use it in writing but some people find it vague and evasive, and for that very reason it’s popular in political speech and PR briefings.
In portuguese there are two ways of writing the passive voice and one of them looks a lot like the reflexive verbs I mentioned above:
“O livro publicou-se” means “the book was published” but you could equally read it as a reflexive verb “the book published itself” which it didn’t of course, but you can see how the connection is made. Another way of expressing the same thing in Portuguese looks much more like an English construction: “O livro foi publicado”
- Em Portugal bebe-se muito café (A lot of coffee is drunk in Portugal)
- Fala-se Inglês (English is spoken here)
and in the negative…
- Não se fala Espanhol no Brasil