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Grammar Basics



Spanish 101A

Spanish 101B

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In English, you'll hear statements like

  • "You shouldn't smoke in a hospital"

  • "They say she is very pretty"

  • "One never knows when he will turn up."

These are "impersonal expressions". In other words, we don't really have anyone specific in mind when we say "They say..." or "One" or " You". We mean people in general. This is what we mean by "impersonal".

Spanish has a slightly different format for expressing this Impersonal voice. Spanish adds the pronoun se in front of verbs to make general statements. Impersonal voice using se will use a singular verb since the se can be replaced by uno ("one").

Here are some examples:

How does one say "icecream" in Italian? ¿Cómo se dice "helado" en italiano?
You say (one says) "gelato". Se dice "gelato".
How do you spell "Valencia"? ¿Cómo se escribe "Valencia"?

Notice that the Plural Impersonal (unknown "they") does not use the se :

They say that vegetarian pizza is healthy. Dicen que la pizza vegetariana es saludosa.
They open the stores at 9:00am. Abren las tiendas a las nueve de la mañana.

The "Passive se" is what we call in English "the passive voice".

An Active voice is when you have a subject doing something with an active verb. In English a Passive voice has an object having something done to it with or without an identified subject.

The Passive Voice in English uses a form of "to Be" with a Past Participle.

Let's look at some examples in English:

An Active Voice Construction

A Passive Voice Construction

Sra. Verde teaches me Spanish. Spanish is taught to me (by Sra. Verde)
I purchased the dress. The dress was purchased (by me)
I drove my father's new car. My father's new car was driven (by me)

The Passive Voice in Spanish is normally formed by using se + the third person singular or plural conjugation of a verb, similar to what we did with the Impersonal se. In Spanish there is not a subject - identified or not!

Let's look at some examples in Spanish and English:


An Active Voice Construction

A Passive Voice Construction


Los dependientes del almacén hablan ruso. Se habla ruso en el mercado.


The department store clerks speak Russian. Russian is spoken in the shopping center.


David escribe el libro en italiano. Se escribe el libro en italiano.


David is writing the book in Italian. The book is written in Italian.


La heladería vende una gran cantidad de helado. Se vende una gran cantidad de helado.


The ice cream store sells a large quantity of ice cream. A large quantity of ice cream is sold.


Mis amigos comieron la torta. Se comió la torta.


My friends ate the cake. The cake was eaten.


Los choferes pagan las multas los lunes. Se pagan las multas los lunes.


Drivers pay the fines on Mondays. The fines are paid on Mondays.