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What does 'se' mean?

This word is used A LOT in Spanish.

It is one of the -self words. It can mean himself, herself, itself, yourself, yourselves or themselves.
There are many verbs that use it for example levarse = to wash oneself.
se lava = he washes himself (but you can say "lavo el coche = I wash the car")
se lastimó  = he hurt himself (the verb is lastimarse = to hurt oneself) - if this form of the verb looks unfamiliar to you, it is in the preterite tense.
se quieren = they love one another (they love themselves)
¿Cómo se llama? = How do you call youself? (what's your name?) - 'Cómo' means 'how')

Here, these are examples of something called 'reflexive verbs' or 'pronominal verbs'. Don't get scared by grammatical words, it is just a name for a manner of speaking.
Here is a reminder of those -self words:
Reminder of
the subject pronouns
Reflexive form Meaning of the reflexive form
yo (I)me myself
tú (you familiar)te yourself (familiar)
nosotros (we)nos ourselves
vosotros (you all - familiar)os yourselves (familiar)
él (he)se himself
ella (she)se herself
usted (you)se yourself (polite / formal)
ellos / ellas (they)se themselves (males or females)
ustedes (you all)se yourselves (polite / formal)
so to use the other words:
me lavo = I wash myself
me llamo Eric = I call myself Eric
te lastimaste = you hurt yourself (again, this verb is in the preterite tense)
nos queremos = we love one another
¿vais a casaros? = are you going to marry one another?

There are some verbs that only use this form and there are some that can optionally use it:
Voy a casar a mi hija con alguien rico = I'm going to marry my daughter off to someone rich
Van a casarse = they are going to marry each other (themselves)
voy a lavar el coche = I'm going to wash the car
me lavo las manos = I am washing my hands (las manos = the hands - you don't need to say 'my' here because it is obvious who's hands are being washed)

Another use is to not refer to anyone for example, you could see a sign:
se habla inglés aquí = "English is spoken here" or "one speaks English here" or "people speak English here" - note that 'one' in English sounds posh but not in Spanish.
se puede ver mucho aquí = one can see a lot here
whereas if I missed it out:
puede ver mucho aquí = he / she / you can see a lot here

¿A cuáles de los profesores se ha enviado un correo electrónico? = To which of the teachers have been sent an email? (notice the insertion of 'se' here because you aren't referring to anyone, you are not saying "to which of the teachers have YOU sent an email?")
se come bien aquí = one eats well here / people eat well here
se duerme bien aquí = one sleeps well here / people sleep well here
se aquila = for rent (a sign outside a building)
se compran videojuegos = video games are bought
se necesita fontanero = plumer wanted (fontanero is used in Spain an another word is used in Latin America)

This form is easy, think of the he / she or they form and put 'se' in front of it but be careful, some verbs already use 'se' like levantarse = to get (oneself) up so you have to use 'uno' because you can't have two 'se' right next to each other:
si uno se levanta tarde, no se dormirá bien esta noche = if one gets up late, one will not sleep well tonight (or in modern Engligh: if you get up late, you'll not sleep well tonight)
if you said 'si se levanta tarde' then this could refer to someone in this example as this can mean "if he gets up late ..."

This form is used with consuming words, learn, see, eat drink etc. to put emphasis on how much is consumed only if you mention how much is taken:
Me bebí una botella de vino = I drank a (whole) bottle of wine
Me vi la película entera = I saw the (whole) film
This is optional but usual to use this me / se form.

This is used with many (not all) verbs with objects. Abrir means 'to open' and is a good example:
Abro la puerta = I open the door
se abra la puerta = the door is opening (the door opens itself)
This last sentence has to be said this way because if you miss 'se' out then it could mean 'he opens the door'. You have to say the door opens itself also because if you just said 'la puerta abra' then this means 'the door opens ... something' and obviously doors can't open things.
se abre la tienda a las nueve = the shop opens (itself) at nine o'clock
Creo que el agua se ha enfriado = I believe that the water has gotten cold (has cooled itself)

You replace 'le' with 'se' when you use another word beginning with L otherwise it would be harder to pronounce, like a tongue-twister:
Se lo dijé = I told it to him (you can't use le with another word like lo or las)
Quiero dárselos
Se los quiero dar
} I want to give them to him (le + los = se los)

To summarize:

This form is used to:

I have another article that shows the change in meaning with or without this 'reflexive' use.

Remember that this word sounds EXACTLY like sé which means "I know" from the verb saber = to know facts.
Also watch out for some Spanish people who text or write on the internet something without accents on their words (texts do seem to be changing our languages)

[ENGLISH]Have you found an error or do you want to add more information to these pages?
You can contact me at the bottom of the home page.

[ESPAÑOL] ¿Ha encontrado un error o tiene información adicional?
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