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“Se” Passive and “Se” Impersonal

Written by tutor Roberto C.

If you want to learn how to use the “se” in the impersonal and passive voice, it means that you are a dedicated learner who has come this far into the study of your new language and that you are already familiar with the concepts of transitive and intransitive verbs, direct and indirect objects and above all, you understand how the passive and impersonal sentences look like in English. Am I right? If this is not the case, I suggest that you go back and study these few topics... go ahead; it will be a healthy review. If you’re ready to proceed into your brave quest, then let me help you through this topic:

The "Se" Passive

To build a sentence using the passive voice with “se” in Spanish use:

SE + VERB (3rd person singular or plural)

Examples:

  • Aquí se habla Español
  • Se prohibe estacionar en esta calle
  • En todas partes se cuecen habas
  • Se necesitan vendedores bilingues

Some technical stuff: All verbs in the passive voice are transitive. This fact has two implications:

  1. The pronoun “lo”, “la”, “los” or “las” may replace the direct object.
    Example: “Aquí se lo habla” (el Español)
  2. The direct object may be transformed into a passive subject.
    Example: “Estacionar es prohibido en esta calle”

The “Se” Impersonal

To build a sentence using the impersonal “se” in Spanish use:

SE + VERB (3rd person singular)

What?? So, what is the difference between the impersonal and the passive voice? Is it just the fact that the verb goes in third person singular? Then, “se habla Español” is in the impersonal, or in the passive voice? This is too confusing! This can’t be happening! HELP!!

Do not panic... Let me explain:

The impersonal accepts intransitive verbs (this is a clue). The Passive voice uses transitive verbs only. The difference is in the context: If the verb takes a direct object, then it is passive. The impersonal does not take a direct object.

Examples:

  • En el avión no se fuma
  • En Colombia se baila mucho
  • Anoche se cantó con alegría
  • En WyzAnt se aprende mucho

Depending on the context, a sentence may be impersonal or passive:

“En Colombia se baila mucho la Cumbia.” Since “la Cumbia” is a direct object of the verb “bailar”, this sentence is in the passive voice.

“En Colombia se baila mucho.” Since there is no direct object for the verb “bailar”, the sentence is an impersonal one.

Passive and Impersonal "Se" Practice Quiz

Decide if the following sentences are in the passive or the impersonal voice:

En WyzAnt se aprende mucho Español

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be A.

El partido se jugó anoche

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be A.

Se dice que el maestro no viene hoy

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be B.

No se puede nadar de noche

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be B.

Se entregaron tres premios

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be A.

En la casa de Juan se come mucha comida chatarra

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be A.

Se discrimina en esa tienda

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be B.

Se puede vivir bien si se trabaja duro

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be B.

No se detenga en este sitio

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be B.

En el zoológico se ven muchos animales

A. Passive
B. Impersonal
The correct answer here would be A.
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