Using the Passive 'Se' in Spanish Video

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  • 0:00 Passive Voice
  • 0:56 Passive Voice in English
  • 2:05 Passive Voice in Spanish
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Zehel

Ashley has a M.A. in Spanish as well as a B.S. in Foreign Language Education. She has taught K-12 and now teaches college level.

The pronoun 'se' has a few uses in Spanish, including the use of the passive voice when the person doing an action is not identified in a sentence. Let's discover how to use this pronoun in other contexts.

Passive Voice

Have you ever seen those commercials where it says, Se habla español, and then right underneath it, 'We speak Spanish'? Have you ever thought to yourself, 'Why doesn't that say hablamos español'? This is a common use of the passive voice in Spanish. Se habla español actually means 'Spanish is spoken.'

The pronoun se is used in Spanish with nouns conjugated in the third-person singular and third-person plural forms to express an action that doesn't have a defined subject. For example, you may use se if you want to say what food is served at a restaurant, what classes are taught at a university, or what types of things are sold at a store. You don't necessarily know who is doing the serving at the restaurant, the teaching at the university, or the selling at the store, so no person is identified in these types of statements.

Passive Voice in English

In English, we use the indefinite subjects 'you,' 'they,' and 'one,' or a past participle when we are not placing a specific person as doing the action in a sentence. This is how we use the passive voice in English.

For example:

  • They serve good food at that restaurant.
  • Good food is served at that restaurant.

In these two sentences, it is not clear who is doing the action of serving the good food. The emphasis instead is on the food.

Let's look at another example:

  • At my university, you take four semesters of general education courses first.
  • They make you take four semesters of general education courses.
  • Four semesters of general education courses are taken first.

Here, the person taking the general education courses is not defined. The general education courses are the main idea.

Here's our final example:

  • They sell women's clothes at that store.
  • You can get women's clothes at that store.
  • Women's clothes are sold at that store.

It is not certain who is doing the selling, but rather we focus on the women's clothes.

Passive Voice in Spanish

Compared to the many ways to use the passive voice in English, Spanish has a simple way that covers them all.

Simply place se before the verb conjugated in the third-person singular or plural form. This means that with the passive voice, the él, ella, usted and ellos, ellas, ustedes forms are the only ones used, no matter the tense.

Here is a quick review of third-person singular and plural endings with some of the more common Spanish tenses.

Let's look at third-person singular and plural endings, as well as some examples.

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