Él hizo lo que se le dijo

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by PiotrB, Jun 3, 2017.

  1. PiotrB New Member

    USA
    Polish-Poland
    Hola!

    I found this sentence “Él hizo lo que se le dijo.” translated as “He did what they told him.”
    But it seems to me that it is more like “He did what he was told.”

    Also, I am confused on whether “Él” is associated with “se dijo” or “le”.

    For example, if I want to translate “He did what they told him.” would it be “Él hizo lo que se le dijeron.”?

    I would appreciate any help.

    Gracias

    Saludos
     
  2. Agró

    Agró Senior Member

    Alta Navarra
    Spanish-Navarre
    He did what he was told (to do).:tick:

    Él hizo lo que se le dijeron.:cross:
    Él hizo lo que le dijeron.:tick:
     
  3. PiotrB New Member

    USA
    Polish-Poland
    Gracias!!

    So, now I’m surprised that the original sentence was’t just “Él hizo lo que le dijo.”

    In fact, that use reflexive “decir” surprised me, since the only application I saw was in the sense of “he told himself”.
     
  4. Agró

    Agró Senior Member

    Alta Navarra
    Spanish-Navarre
    "Él hizo lo que le dijo" would be "He did what he/she told him to".
     
  5. PiotrB New Member

    USA
    Polish-Poland
    Gracias!!

    It makes sense now.
     
  6. Langosta Azul Member

    Minneapolis, MN
    English - United States
    That "se" is not reflexive. It's an impersonal "se." An impersonal se is a pronoun (best just to imagine it like yo, tu, nosotros, etc.) and is actually the subject of the sentence. It's used a boatload in Spanish where we would use an unknown general person like "they" or "one." Se when used this way always takes the third person singular.

    So Él hizo lo que se le dijo is correctly translated as "He did what the told him." It could also be (more clumsily) "He did what one told him" or "He did what was told to him."
     
  7. SevenDays Senior Member

    Spanish
    In the translation of "Él hizo lo que se le dijo" that you saw, the focus is on meaning and not on structure (because English doesn't have a direct equivalent of "se"). What "se" does in Spanish is hide the agent, the "who" behind the "telling." In hiding the agent, se blocks the appearance of a "subject" for "dijo," and this becomes an impersonal construction, where "se" is a sign of impersonality (and not "subject"). In English, you can transmit the same idea, using either a passive voice construction (He did what he was told) or an active voice construction (He did what they told him), where "they" is generic and doesn't refer to anyone in particular.

    Going from English to Spanish adds a wrinkle. If you literally translate "they" as "ellos," you introduce the agent, and that means you can't use "se:" Él hizo lo que ellos le dijeron." This can be reduced to Él hizo lo que le dijeron because the subject "they" is expressed morphologically in the verbal suffix -ron of dijeron. If you add se, you eliminate "they" and its verbal referent -ron (the verb now appears in the 3rd person singular, typical of impersonal constructions): Él hizo lo que se le dijo. As usual, language gives you choices.
     
  8. PiotrB New Member

    USA
    Polish-Poland
    Gracias!!

    Great explanations! As is sometimes the case, it helps to translate it to Polish, which also uses the reflexive third person for an impersonal statement. Now that you gave me the name for this form, I found this:

    Impersonal Se vs. Passive Se | SpanishDict

    All of this helps me a lot.
     

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