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Passive II in Spanish

As stated in lesson passive I, there are more than one ways to express passive structure in Spanish. The applications of the reflexive verbs and “se” followed by a verb conjugated in  third person singular/plural  are more common  ways to express passive formations than the formal passive constructions. This is especially the case when no agent is to be used. Otherwise, the formal passive construction might be preferred.

Use of “se“

This way of passive expression does not have any equivalent in English. That’s why you may find it a little tough at the beginning. The passive type with “se” is usually used for generalizations. Note that in this use, “se” is not used as reflexive; it is the substitute for “ser”. Similarly, the verb following se, substitutes the past participle of the formal passive formulation. The verb following “se” must be conjugated either in third person singular (él, ella, usted) or in the third person plural (ellos, ellas, ustedes).

For example

Aquí se habla ingles English is spoken here

Note that most of the time; the same meaning can be expressed by using the third person plural form of the verb in active sentence. These types of expressions are used frequently in Spanish.

Hablan ingles aquí They speak English here

Another example

Se toma mucho cerveza en Alemania (A lot of bier is drunk in Germany)

Have a look at the example sentence “Aquí se habla ingles”. This is a sentence whose verb is conjugated in the present tense indicative. Therefore, the third person singular form of the verb hablar is used.

The third person plural form should be used for example in the following case

Se venden libros aquí Books are sold here

In the above example, still “se” is used. However, because libros is plural, the third person plural form of vender in the present tense indicative is used this time.

On the other hand, “se” can be used theoretically in any tense.

For example

Se vendió it was sold

More examples follow

Se vendió el coche the car was sold

El coche se ha vendido the car has been sold

Los coches se han vendido the cars have been sold

Los coches se habían vendido the cars had been sold

Se venderá el coche the car will be sold

As you see “se” together with the third person singular form is used to give a passive sentence if the subject is not a person. If it is the case there is another way to go. You may use the reflexive formulation explained below

Use of the reflexive

In Spanish reflexive verbs are used very common. Often you can use them to substitute the passive formulations as well.

Notice the difference:

Se considera loca she considers herself crazy

Se la considera loca she is considered crazy

A Carlos se le admira Carlos is admired

A Sandra se la adora Sandra is adored

How to avoid the passive voice

As stated in the first part of the passive construction lessons, the use of passive voice is less common in Spanish than in English. Therefore, when it is possible you should avoid using it. For this, you can do the following. Prefer the formulation with “se” as explained above whenever possible. Use the active voice whenever possible, if an agent is given. Instead of saying “se dice (it is said)”, you can use dicen que (they say)”.


Impersonal use of se

“Se” is used as impersonal as well apart from its passive use. It is very similar to the passive construction. In this case, it is always used with the third person singular of the verb. Some examples of typical uses follow

Se dice it is said

¿ Cómo se dice? How do you say?

Such as ¿ Cómo se dice “pen” en español? How do you say “pen” in Spanish?

¿ Cómo se escribe? How is it spelt?

No se sabe it is not known

¿Se puede nadar aquí? Is it possible to swim here?

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