Tratar/ Tratar de and Tratarse de

There is often confusion about how to use the verb tratar. It is a very versatile verb in Spanish and depending on how and in what context it is used it has different meanings. Here are some of the most common uses of tratar:

Tratar (algo)

The verb tratar can be used as a transitive verb with a direct object straight after the verb (i.e. with no preposition). In this case it means "to talk about/to address".

For example:

En el programa tratarán temas de actualidad muy interesantes.In the programm they'll talk about very interesting current issues.

La obra de Lorca trata el problema de la represión social de la época.Lorca's work addresses the problem of social repression of the time.

Tratar de

  • We can use "tratar de" to express "to be about [something]". There is always a subject when we use it this way; for example:

La película trata de una mujer que tiene problemas con el alcohol.The film is about a woman who has problems with alcohol.

La campaña publicitaria trata de los efectos que tiene el tabaco en la salud.The advertising campaign is about the effects that tobacco has on [our] health.

In these examples the subjects in the sentence are la película and la campaña publicitaria respectively.

Tratar de + infinitive

  • We can also use "tratar de" followed by an infinitive to express "to try to". For example:

El chico estaba tratando de ayudarla, pero ella no lo dejaba.The boy was trying to help her, but she wouldn't let him.

Traté de llegar a tiempo pero no lo conseguí.I tried to get there on time but I didn't manage.

 You must remember to use the preposition "de" in this case.

Tratarse de

We use "se trata de" (pronominal verb with se followed by the preposition "de") as an impersonal sentence.  In this context the verb is always in the 3rd person singular (trata, trataba etc., but not tratan, trataban etc.). This usage can have slightly different meanings:

  • "ser" (to be); referring to something that was mentioned previously. 

For example:

Nuestra ayuda está dirigida a jóvenes sin empleo. Se trata de personas que han acabado sus estudios y no han encontrado trabajo.Our help is aimed for unemployed young people. These are people who have finished their studies and haven't found a job.

This same sentence using "ser":

Nuestra ayuda está dirigida a jóvenes sin empleo. Estas son personas que han acabado sus estudios y no han encontrado trabajo.Our help is aimed for unemployed young people. These are people who have finished their studies and haven't found a job.

Here, "se trata de" is referring to "jóvenes sin empleo" from the previous sentence. Se trata de... is giving extra information about "them".

  •  Se trata de + an infinitive or a clause with "que" = expressing an interest in something. Sometimes it also implies a "need/moral obligation". For example:

En nuestro club somos muy abiertos. Se trata de ayudar a los que necesitan más vida social.We are very welcoming in our club. It is necessary to help those who need more of a social life.

Se trata de que nos reunamos para pasar un buen rato.It's all about us getting together to have a good time.

No se trataba de ganar siempre el primer premio sino de divertirse al participar.It wasn't all about (there was no need) always winning first prize but having fun when taking part.

 

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

La campaña publicitaria trata de los efectos que tiene el tabaco en la salud.The advertising campaign is about the effects that tobacco has on [our] health.
Se trata de que nos reunamos para pasar un buen rato.It's all about us getting together to have a good time.
La obra de Lorca trata el problema de la represión social de la época.Lorca's work addresses the problem of social repression of the time.
En nuestro club somos muy abiertos. Se trata de ayudar a los que necesitan más vida social.We are very welcoming in our club. It is necessary to help those who need more of a social life.
Nuestra ayuda está dirigida a jóvenes sin empleo. Se trata de personas que han acabado sus estudios y no han encontrado trabajo.Our help is aimed for unemployed young people. These are people who have finished their studies and haven't found a job.
Traté de llegar a tiempo pero no lo conseguí.I tried to get there on time but I didn't manage.
Se trata de ser más solidario y ayudar a los necesitados.It is all about being more supportive and help the needy.
Nuestra ayuda está dirigida a jóvenes sin empleo. Estas son personas que han acabado sus estudios y no han encontrado trabajo.Our help is aimed for unemployed young people. These are people who have finished their studies and haven't found a job.
El chico estaba tratando de ayudarla, pero ella no lo dejaba.The boy was trying to help her, but she wouldn't let him.
La película trata de una mujer que tiene problemas con el alcohol.The film is about a woman who has problems with alcohol.
No se trataba de ganar siempre el primer premio sino de divertirse al participar.It wasn't all about (there was no need) always winning first prize but having fun when taking part.
En el programa tratarán temas de actualidad muy interesantes.In the programm they'll talk about very interesting current issues.

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