‘Comer’ vs ‘Comerse’

Quick answer – both ‘comerse’ and ‘comer’ mean ‘to eat’ in Spanish. ‘Comerse’ is used when specifying the quantity of items consumed and to emphasize that something has been eaten in its entirety. ‘Comer’ will be your go-to in most other situations.

You may have wondered why in Spanish we say things like ‘Me comí una torta’ (‘I had a sandwich’) or ‘Nos comimos el pastel’ (‘We ate the cake’).

There’s something there that looks like a reflexive verb, right?

But it’s not like we’re eating ourselves …

So, why do we use these forms?

It’s actually quite simple: the ‘me’ and ‘nos’ are used to emphasize that the action referred to has been completed!

‘Comer’ vs ‘comerse’

So, how do you know when to use comer and when to use ‘comerse’?

A good rule of thumb is that we use ‘comerse’ when the number of items of food that have been consumed is specifically mentioned.

For example –

Juan – ¿Qué comiste?

Laura – Comí tacos.

Juan – What did you have for lunch?

Laura – I had tacos.

Nadia – ¿Tienes hambre?

Noé – No, me comí seis tacos en la cena.

Nadia – Are you hungry?

Noé – No, I have had six tacos for dinner.

In the first example we do not know how many tacos Laura has eaten. In the second example we know Noé had six tacos, so ‘comerse’ is the verb of choice!

REMEMBER: when we say how many items of food we’ve chowed down on, we use ‘comerse’. When the specific quantity isn’t mentioned, we normally use ‘comer’.

We also use ‘comerse’ when talking about eating something in its entirety, whether the quantity has been specified or not.

For example –

Bruno llega a su casa, abre el refri y ve que ya no hay pastel!

Bruno – ¿Te comiste el pastel?

Bianca – Sí. Tenía mucha hambre.

Bruno – ¡Te pasas!

Bruno gets home, opens the fridge, and sees there’s no cake left!

Bruno – Did you eat the whole cake?

Bianca – Yeah, I was really hungry.

Bruno – You’ve gone too far this time!

Bruno llega a su casa, abre el refri y ve que todavía hay pastel!

Bruno – ¿Comiste pastel?

Bianca – Sí, un poquito.

Bruno gets home, opens the fridge, and sees there’s some cake left.

Bruno – Did you have some cake?

Bianca – Yes, a bit.

Is ‘comerse’ a reflexive verb?

No, it’s not! Reflexive verbs are those where the subject and the object are the same.

For example –

me baño = I bathe (myself)

se peina = she does her hair

nos vestimos = we get dressed (on our own!)

The ‘se’ in ‘comerse’ is what we call an intensive ‘se’, which indicates that something was done till the point of completion.

Other verbs (‘beberse vs. ‘beber’, etc.)

We also use the intensive ‘se’ with other verbs related to consumption, for example: ‘tomar’ (‘drink’), ‘beber’ (‘drink’) and ‘fumar’ (‘smoke’).

For example –

Me tomo cuatro tazas de café al día.

I drink four cups of coffee every day.

Tomo mucho café.

I drink a lot of coffee.

Ana y yo no tomamos.

Ana and I don’t drink. (alcohol, obviously)

Hay que comprar cervezas. Nos tomamos todas.

We need to buy some beers. We drank all of them.

¿Tú fumas?

Do you smoke?

Antes, me fumaba una cajetilla todos los días.

I used to smoke a full pack of cigarettes every day.

¿Te fumaste mis cigarros?

Did you smoke all of my cigarettes?

Is it mandatory to use ‘comerse’?

To be honest, not really.

It’s used for emphasis and therefore not using it cannot be considered a mistake per se. 

I would, however, strongly advise you to use it whenever you mention the number of items consumed OR if you’re talking about consuming something in its entirety, otherwise you run the risk of your sentence sounding unnatural.

The only situation in which I consider it appropriate NOT to use the intensive ‘se’ (i.e., ‘comerse’) is when talking about habits or things we do regularly.

Let’s have a look at some examples –

(Me) Tomo seis vasos de agua al día.

I drink six glasses of water every day.

(Se) Come 300 gramos de pescado en la cena.

She eats 300 grams of fish for dinner.

(Me) Fumo una cajetilla cada semana.

I smoke a pack of cigarettes every week.

Comer‘ / ‘comerse‘ conjugation

 PresentPreteritePresent subjunctiveImperative
comescomistecomascome / no comas
el / ella / ustedcomecomiócomacoma / no coma
nosotros/ascomemoscomimoscomamoscomamos / no comáis
vosotros/ascoméiscomisteiscomáiscomed / no comáis
ellos / ellas / ustedescomencomieroncomancoman / no coman

 PresentPreteritePresent subjunctiveImperative
yome comome comíme coma
te comeste comistete comascómete / no te comas
el / ella / ustedse comese comióse comacómase / no se coma
nosotros/asnos comemosnos comimosnos comamoscomámonos / no nos comamos
vosotros/asos coméisos comisteisos comáiscomeos / no os comáis
ellos / ellas / ustedesse comense comieronse comancómanse / no se coman

Final thoughts

Pronouns in Spanish are a real challenge.

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious when to use them, but sometimes it’s not obvious at all! To further complicate matters, there are a lot of different types of pronouns and some of them have very specific uses (and often allow us to express interesting nuances).

The key is to study them little by little, not all in one sitting.

Oh, and definitely give our article on se‘ vs ‘le a quick once over if you wanna get stuck into more Spanish grammar!

Carlos is a Spanish and English teacher. He studied Language and Literature and has a diploma in teaching Spanish as a foreign language from the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico.

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