16.4 More about the Impersonal se

When the object of an active sentence is a person and the impersonal se construction is used, the personal precedes what is the subject in English:

Se despidió a Blanca. Blanca was fired.
Se robó a los turistas. The tourists were robbed.
Se mató al asesino. The murderer was killed.

Note that in the above construction the verbs are always in the singular, as opposed to those with non-human subjects, in which the verb is singular or plural, according to the subject and in which the verb usually precedes the subject:

Se vendieron las llantas. The tires were sold.
Se habla albanés allí. Albanian is spoken there.
Varios dialectos se oyen. Various dialects are heard.

In the first group of examples, the a -always grammatically necessary- helps avoid ambiguity. Without the a, the first example could mean “Blanca said good-bye” (despedir = to fire, to dismiss, despedirse de = to say good-bye to).

In a passive sentence in Spanish, the indirect object of the active sentences cannot be the subject. See the examples below:

Active sentence in English: Active sentence in Spanish: Passive sentence in English: Equivalent of Passive Sentence in Spanish:
They gave me a gift. Me dieron un regalo. I was given a gift* Se me dio un regalo.

As you never see the literal translation of the English in correct Spanish [the me of the active sentence cannot be the subject –yo– of the passive sentence], Spanish inserts an indirect object pronoun after the se to come up with the equivalent of the passive sentence in English.

*The other passive sentence in English, “A gift was given to me,” could be expressed by the passive voice with an indirect object pronoun: Un regalo me fue dado. 

Study these further examples and their translations:

Se le dijo la verdad por fin. She was finally told the truth.
Se nos contará lo que pasó. We will be told what happened.
Se les preguntó si querían ir. They were asked if they wanted to go.

The same construction is also used when the direct object of the active sentence in English is the subject of the passive sentence.

Active sentence in English: Active sentence in Spanish: Passive sentence in English: Equivalent of Passive Sentence in Spanish:
They will punish him. Lo castigarán. He will be punished. Se le castigará.

See these similar examples and their translations:

Se le verá brevemente en la película. He will be seen briefly in the film.
Se la oirá cantar. She will be heard singing.
Se les recompensará. They will be remunerated.
Se las llevará al baile en limusina. They (female group) will be taken to the dance in a limousine.

With this particular construction, the combination se lo or se los does not occur.

Vocabulario básico 


elogiar- to praise


la impresora- printer
la informática- computer science
el mensaje- message
la pantalla- screen
el teclado- keyboard


fronterizo- border, frontier


navegar la red- to surf the net
trabajar en red- to work online

Last revised on June 28, 2021.