Passive Voice in Spanish: Examples & Practice

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

The passive voice is not as frequently used in Spanish as in English. However, there are some cases in which we need to use it, as well as the ''se'' construction, which expresses the same idea. In this lesson, we will analyze them in detail.

Use of the Passive Voice

Generally, when we speak, we mention the 'doer', that is, the person or object that performs an action. For example, in the sentence, Tom va a clase de español dos veces a la semana ('Tom has Spanish lessons twice a week'), 'Tom' is the subject or doer of the action.

However, there are other cases in which we don't need to mention who carries out the action expressed by the verb because it is irrelevant, we don't know it, it is already implied or simply because we prefer emphasizing the object for being more pertinent. In all these cases, we are going to make use of the PASSIVE VOICE.

In his Spanish lessons, Tom has learned about a famous Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, and one of his masterpieces, Cien Años de Soledad ('One Hundred Years of Solitude').

Tom's teacher says that Cien Años de Soledad fue escrita por García Márquez en 1967 ('One Hundred Years of Solitude was written by García Márquez in 1967'). She has used the passive voice in order to emphasize the novel, placing the author's name in the background.

Tom and his classmates have also learned that García Márquez fue otorgado con el Premio Nobel de Literatura en 1982 ('García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982') and that, very recently, un nuevo billete de 50,000 pesos con su imagen ha sido puesto en circulación por el Banco de la República ('A new 50K-peso note with his image has been released by the Bank of the Republic').

Have you noticed any regular pattern in the use of the passive voice? Let's take a look at the following rules.

Passive Voice Formation

These are the steps in order to transform an active sentence into passive:

Active Voice Passive Voice
Subject (doer) + Verb + Object Object in the active voice + SER + participle + (POR + agent/=doer in the active voice)
García Márquez escribió la novela Cien años de soledad. La novela Cien años de soledad fue escrita por García Márquez.
  • The typical object of the sentence in the active voice will now become the subject in the passive voice, thus coming to the foreground.
  • In order to form the passive, we need to conjugate the verb SER ('to be'), which will work as an auxiliary verb, in the appropriate tense. Notice that it will agree with the subject in person and number.
  • The 'content' verb, escribir ('to write') in this case, will become a participle and it will agree in number and gender with the subject.

In this sentence, the subject, novela, is a feminine singular word, so the participle takes the ending in accordance to it. If, instead of novela, we had said libro ('book'), the participle would have been escrito instead.

  • Finally, we will add the agent (García Márquez in this case), introduced by the preposition por.

Now, let's say we want to express that this novel was translated into more than forty languages. By following the previous rules, we would say:

La novela fue traducida a más de cuarenta idiomas.

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