Check out our updated Community
Dan H.
Confusion about Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Here's something that drives me absolutely bonkers. Maybe other Spanish learners out there can share with me their secrets for how they've come to grips with spotting and understanding reflexive verbs. Below is the opening paragraph of an article that appeared today on Yahoo! Noticias en Español. The verb in question is "incautarse," which means "to seize."

Sevilla (España), 4 sep (EFE).- La Policía Nacional española y los servicios de Aduana se han incautado en Sevilla de 900 kilos de cocaína procedentes de Colombia que estaban ocultos en cajas de bananas, según un comunicado del Ministerio de Hacienda emitido hoy.

Here's where I get confused - many, if not all, of the generally available lessons/explanations of reflexive verbs always teach that the action of the verb must, by definition, fall back on the subject in question. In the case of the paragraph above, the Spanish police and the customs service are the subjects performing the action. But in the context of the article, they're seizing cocaine - they're not seizing themselves. All of the generally available lessons/explanations of reflexive verbs always cover verbs like "bañarse" or "afeitarse," and the golden nugget of wisdom imparted in these lessons is that the subject is doing something to themselves. Apparently that golden nugget is more like a McDonald's Chicken McNugget - satisfying in the moment but inauthentic with the potential to mess you up.

If nothing else, someone help me understand why this verb must be used in a reflexive context in the paragraph above. There is a non-reflexive verb called "incautar," which also means "to seize." Does the sentence fall apart gramatically or fail to make sense if we don't use "incautarse?"

Sorry for the complexity of the question. I appreciate any help that anyone out there can offer up. Thanks!

PS - anyone hungry for chicken McNuggets?
Sep 4, 2016 5:29 PM
Comments · 4

In Spanish, there are verbs that are pronominals, but not reflexives. If the object of the actions is oneself, probably the verb is reflexive. In other case, it's pronominal. The pronouns used are the same, but it not refers to the subject (reflexive), neither to the Complemento Directo or the Complemento Indirecto. 

All reflexive verbs are pronominals, but not all pronominal verbs are reflexive. Examples NOT reflexive (well, not estrictly reflexive):

Se hundió el techo.

Se detuvo al culpable

La policía se incautó...

I think it can be a high level gramatical question, even for spaniards. I don't know if it is worth make a great effort with it.

September 5, 2016

Buenos días,

Habiendo leído tu duda sobre el comentario del periódico, te puedo decir que ese texto no ha debido pasar por edición puesto que está mal expresado, la policía no se puede incautar de algo, de droga en este caso, debería haber puesto la policía ha incautado...También se podría haber expresado en forma pasiva pero entonces el sujeto de la oración no debería aparecer, debería haberse escrito de la siguiente forma: Se han incautado 200 kg de cocaína durante una operación policial.

Espero haberte servido de ayuda, un saludo

September 9, 2016

Hi Dan,

Verbs that end in 'se' are pronominal verbs and are not necessarily reflexive.

Acordar - to agree. Acuerdo - I agree.

Acordarse (pronominal, not reflexive) - to remember. Me acuerdo - I remember.

Besar - to kiss. La beso en la mejilla - I kiss her on the cheek.

Besarse - (reciprocal, not reflexive)  Los niños se besan - The children kiss (each other).

Comer - to eat. lo comió - he ate it.

Comerse - (emphatic, not reflexive) Se lo comió - he ate it all up - he guzzled it down.

Read a bit about pronominal verbs here

And the uses of 'se' here

Here's a link to a previous discussion.

Best of luck, I don't understand it all either.

September 4, 2016

...Se incautaron...

I think that is not reflexive,.but impersonal. Another way to say it is using pasive voice.

...fueron incautados... (2.1. La palabra se sirve hoy para formar dos tipos de oraciones: impersonales y de pasiva refleja.)

September 4, 2016
Dan H.
Language Skills
English, Spanish
Learning Language