In Spanish "se" is used in verbs/sentences that imply that something happens by accident or unintentionally. Between "se" and the conjugated verb is an indirect object pronoun (me, te, le, nos, os, les) to indicate who/what the accident happened to.
Let's have a look at some examples:
See how the verb romper (to break) is conjugated in the 3rd person singular (matching with el reloj) and "me" is between "se" and the verb, expressing that it happened to me.
See how this time the verb caer (to drop) is conjugated in the 3rd person plural (matching with "los libros") and "le" is in between "se" and the verb, expressing that it happend to "him" or "her".
Typical verbs that are used to express unintentional or accidental occurences are:
- romperse (to break)
- caerse (to drop)
- olvidarse (to forget)
- acabarse (to run out of)
- perderse (to lose)
- quemarse (to burn)
- quedarse (to leave behind)
Here are more examples:
This type of structure has a specific effect which is taking the "blame" away from the person and emphasises the accidental nature and/or how unexpected the action is. These two sentences for example mean the same but have a different effect:
He perdido mi móvil.
I lost my mobile phone.
Se me ha perdido mi móvil.
I (accidentally) lost my mobile phone / My mobile got lost.
In the first sentence, we put the "blame" on "I", however in the second sentence it looks like the blame is on "the mobile".
Also bear in mind that generally these verbs used in the accidental "se" move away from their original meaning when they are used with se. For example:
- caer (to fall) but caerse (to drop)
- acabar (to finish) but acabarse (to run out of)
- quedar (to remain) but quedarse (to leave behind)