Friday, July 23, 2010

The Passive Voice Construction Using Se

One of my students yesterday, who is remarkably advanced, had several questions and concerns about the third person reflexive verbs. He noticed that several times in Spanish there are instances of when the se pronoun is mixed with its third person conjugation, but the way the sentence is laid out in Spanish doesn't add up to what he's been taught. For example, wouldn't the sentence

Se habla español.


He/She speaks Spanish to him/herself?

That's a very logical interpretation of the sentence, and actually he's not wrong. However, this use of third person verb manipulation is actually a passive verb usage, and is actually visible in business advertisements where the business owners want to indicate that they're bilingual. We can use the third-person reflexive pronoun se in order to take emphasis off the subject. To do this, we use the third person conjugation of the verb with se in front. So, the sentence above actually means:

Spanish is spoken.

You can do this with practically every verb out there, but bear in mind that there are several translations. However, all translations have one thing in common: they remove emphasis from the subject; hence, they are passive constructions.

Notice these examples:

Los juguetes se regalaron para la Navidad. The toys were given (as gifts) for Christmas.

Los ensayos ya se entregan. The essays are handed in already.

El aúto se vendió. The car was sold.

This type of construction can also be translated to something that means, in a general way, "You...." However, it doesn't refer to the second person "you". It takes on a general meaning, usually used when giving instructions. Plus, it can be interpreted as "One..." (does something). Observe the following examples:

Se sale por esta puerta.

"You leave through this door." or "One leaves through this door."

Se pagan aquí las compras.

"You pay for these purchases here." or "These purchases are paid for here."

This construction is seen all throughout the Spanish language, so be on the lookout! Good luck with it..

Sigue estudiando,

Professor Joel

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