Accidental Reflexive

Voz media

The reflexive construction, used mainly with pronominal verbs, can also be used passively to describe accidental and unplanned occurrences, a construction known as voz media (middle voice), because it falls between the active and passive voices.

Se me olvidó el libro.   I forgot the book.
Se le cayó la pluma.   He dropped the pen.

In this type of passive reflexive construction, the reflexive pronoun se precedes an indirect object pronoun that indicates the subject, and the verb, rather than being conjugated to agree with the subject, agrees with whatever noun follows the verb.

Se me olvidaron los libros.   I forgot the books.
¿Se te perdieron las llaves?   Did you lose the keys?
Sí, se me cayeron ayer.   Yes, I dropped them yesterday.

The accidental reflexive construction indicates that the action was unintentional. In addition, because the subject is only referred to by an indirect object pronoun, this passive construction gives the sense that the subject is not to blame – he or she had nothing to do with the accident.

    Literal meaning
Se le cayó la pluma.   The pen got dropped by him.
Se me olvidaron los libros.   The books got forgotten by me.
¿Se te perdieron las llaves?   Did the keys get lost on you?
Sí, se me quedaron.   Yes, they got left behind on me.

Compare this to the passive voice:

Se cayó la pluma.   The pen fell.
Se perdieron las llaves.   The keys got lost.
Se quedaron los libros.   The books got left behind.

The following verbs are commonly used in the accidental reflexive construction. Note that some of them have a somewhat different meaning depending on whether they are used normally or reflexively:

Normal meaning   Meaning with se
acabar to finish, complete   acabarse to run out of
caer to fall   caerse to drop
ocurrir to occur, happen   ocurrirse to dawn on, occur to, get the idea
olvidar to forget   olvidarse to forget
perder to lose   perderse to lose
quedar to remain, be left   quedarse to leave behind
quemar to burn   quemarse to burn
romper to break   romperse to break

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 More about Spanish pronominal verbs