Available on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

Transcript 1
Quiz 1
Quiz 2

Passive and Impersonal Reflexives

Mouse-over Spanish text fragments in red to see English translation

"Se" Passive reflexive

Passive reflexive sentences are those sentences introduced by the reflexive pronoun "se" and consist of a subject in third person, singular or plural, and a verb that agrees with it in number. These kind of sentences can only be made from transitive sentences, sentences that use a transitive verb and can be turned into passive sentences, i.e.:

Los legisladores aprobaron las reformas. (transitive sentence)
Las reformas fueron aprobadas por los legisladores. (passive sentence)
Se aprobaron las reformas. (passive reflexive sentence)
Lawmakers aproved the reforms.
The reforms were approved by the lawmakers.
Reforms were approved.

The main purpose of a passive reflexive sentence is to hide the subject so the action focuses on the verb and not the person who performs the action. Let's see this in another example:

La gente oyó unos gritos horripilantes en la calle.
Unos gritos horripilantes fueron oídos en la calle por la gente.
Se oyeron unos gritos horripilantes en la calle.
People heard a horrifying scream on the street.
A horrifying scream was heard on the street by people.

What's more important in this sentence is that "a horrifying scream was heard" regardless of who heard it or where it was heard.

"Se" Impersonal reflexive

Impersonal reflexive sentences are those sentences that do not have an explicit or implicit subject, unlike the passive reflexive sentences, in which we do not want to mention the subject, although there is one. In these kind of sentences, the verb is always in the third person singular and it does not have to agree with the object that goes after it. Impersonal reflexive sentences can be made from any type of verb, i.e.:

Se puede fumar.
Smoking allowed.

En esta biblioteca no se puede estudiar.
One can't study in this library.

Se alquila habitación.
Room for rent.

The main purpose of an impersonal reflexive sentence is to make a general statement without revealing who should perform the action.

Differences with the passive reflexive:

  • The verb is always singular
  • The verb can be an intransitive verb
  • There is no agent object
  • The subject is universal; that means no one knows who performs the action specifically although it could be performed by anybody