de qué se trata/de qué trata el documento

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¡Alla Voy!

Senior Member
English - Australian
Hola a todos:

So a quick question. Are tratar y tratarse interchangeable when they mean "to be about"?

El libro se trata de.../el libro trata de/sobre...

I only ask because I believed them to both be acceptable untill I was corrected by my professor when I used "trata de". She said that it can't be used liked that. It has always puzzled me.

Gracias a todos los que contesten. :D
 
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  • SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    Leaving aside regional uses and what your teacher actually meant, the expression se trata de is impersonal, with no subject (similar to se dice que), so we shouldn't add a "subject" (in your example, "el libro"). What we need is "el libro trata de... " or "se trata de...," where "se" occupies the place usually reserved for the subject. And in a question you'd have ¿De qué trata el libro? or ¿De qué se trata? We could have "el libro" and "se" in the same sentence, provided that they are separated by a comma, as in (for example), Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata? But, as is often the case, in speech we ignore our grammar rules.
    Cheers.
     
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    mnguiri

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I thought in Spain I heard both, but I could be mistaken. Isn't it common to ask:
    ¿De qué se trata la peli?
     

    ¡Alla Voy!

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    the expression se trata de is impersonal, with no subject (similar to se dice que), so we shouldn't add a "subject" (in your example, "el libro"). What we need is "el libro trata de ... " or "se trata de ...," where "se" occupies the place usually reserved for the subject.
    Oh that is very interesting and makes a lot of sense. Maybe I have been lead astray? On spanish dictionary it list's trata de as intransitive and se trata de as reflexive.
     

    Sendro Páez

    Senior Member
    Spanish - España
    First of all, we must bear in mind that we are dealing with tratar in its 7th meaning according to DRAE ( http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=tratar ), not its 15th.

    Let's summarise some ideas:
    1. *El libro se trata de álgebra booleana. [This phrase doesn't work if the speaker is trying to state the subject of the book... Well, in fact, it doesn't work at all for me.]
    2. El libro trata de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is stating the subject of the book. Most likely, the only subject of the book. Hablar might have been used instead of tratar.]
    3. El libro trata sobre álgebra booleana. [As no. 2.]
    4. El libro es un tratado de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is stating the only subject of the book.]
    5. El libro es un tratado sobre álgebra booleana. [As no. 4.]
    6. En el libro se trata de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is saying that Boolean algebra is covered in the book. Most likely, as a side subject of the book.]
    7. *¿De qué se trata la peli? [Analogous comment as that on sentence no. 1.]
    8. ¿De qué se trata? [This question means, "What's the matter?" No conversation can be started using this question, because it recalls prior situations, like "I'd like to talk with you."]
    9. ¿De qué trata ese libro? [The speaker is enquiring about the subject, or subjects, of the book. Namely, "What's the subject/matter of that book?"]
    10. En ese libro, ¿de qué se trata? [As no. 9.]
    11. Ese libro, ¿de qué trata? [As no. 9.]
    12. Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata? [I agree with Agró's comment (post #6) on SevenDays's example but, for me...
    "Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata?" is not "That book, what's its matter?"
    "Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata?" is "That book, what's the matter with it?".]​

    Are tratar y tratarse interchangeable when they mean "to be about"?
    No, they aren't.
    On spanish dictionary [WordReference's own dictionary, I guess you mean] it lists trata de as intransitive [due to the presence of "de"] and se trata de as reflexive [I think it's better to say pronominal than "reflexive"].
    I'd stick with SevenDays's explanation on this tratarse de issue. Both WordReference and Collins are slighty misleading because they don't mention, as SevenDays did, the word "impersonal."
     

    ¡Alla Voy!

    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    1. *El libro se trata de álgebra booleana. [This phrase doesn't work if the speaker is trying to state the subject of the book... Well, in fact, it doesn't work at all for me.]
    2. El libro trata de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is stating the subject of the book. Most likely, the only subject of the book. Hablar might have been used instead of tratar.]
    3. El libro trata sobre álgebra booleana. [As no. 2.]
    4. El libro es un tratado de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is stating the only subject of the book.]
    5. El libro es un tratado sobre álgebra booleana. [As no. 4.]
    6. En el libro se trata de álgebra booleana. [The speaker is saying that Boolean algebra is covered in the book. Most likely, as a side subject of the book.]
    7. *¿De qué se trata la peli? [Analogous comment as that on sentence no. 1.]
    8. ¿De qué se trata? [This question means, "What's the matter?" No conversation can be started using this question, because it recalls prior situations, like "I'd like to talk with you."]
    9. ¿De qué trata ese libro? [The speaker is enquiring about the subject, or subjects, of the book. Namely, "What's the subject/matter of that book?"]
    10. En ese libro, ¿de qué se trata? [As no. 9.]
    11. Ese libro, ¿de qué trata? [As no. 9.]
    12. Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata? [I agree with Agró's comment (post #6) on SevenDays's example but, for me...
    "Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata?" is not "That book, what's its matter?"
    "Ese libro, ¿de qué se trata?" is "That book, what's the matter with it?".]
    Thanks so much Sendro. Now it all makes perfect sense. I remember that I wrote something like "el blah se trata de... (en vez de "trata de")

    Thank you for the clarification. I won't make that mistake again! :D
     
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