Unit 15: Past perfect subjunctive, word families, relative pronouns, and passive voice

15.6 The Passive Voice

You have already seen the passive voice in Spanish in this text. It does not present particular comprehension problems as it corresponds well to the English passive voice. As the impersonal se often replaces it, its use is much less frequent, especially when compared to English. Nonetheless, the passive voice in Spanish is becoming more popular, especially in Latin America. Its formation is as follows:

subject + form of ser + past participle + por + agent (of action)

El hotel     fue                dañado             por     el tornado.
The hotel  was               damaged          by      the tornado.

The past participle agrees in number and gender with the noun, as it now functions as an adjective:

Los problemas fueron estudiados por el comité. The problems were studied by the committee.

The passive voice, although it frequently appears in the preterite, may occur in any tense:

La inocente había sido encarcelada por la policía. The innocent woman had been imprisoned by the police.
Esta cuestión ha sido analizada por muchos economistas This issue has been analyzed by many economists.
Serán casados por el rabino mañana. They will be married by the rabbi tomorrow.

Although the use of the passive voice implies the existence of the agent, at times it is not expressed, but rather understood.

Fui despedido de mi trabajo. I was fired from my job. (by someone known, or not important to mention)

There is a tendency with a small number of verbs to replace the preposition por with de in the passive voice. This does not alter the meaning:

La científica era admirada de todos. The scientist was admired by all.
El gerente fue acompañado de dos asistentes. The manager was accompanied by two assistants.

The preposition de is also seen in “resultant state” conditions expressed with estar. Note the differing translations. This should cause little or no comprehension problem; whenever the de does not translate well literally, simply use “by” or the most logical preposition:

Las calles estaban cubiertas de nieve. The streets were covered with snow.
La casa estaba rodeada de árboles altos. The house was surrounded by tall trees.

Occasionally one sees what may be called the “estar passive” (passive voice using estar). An example is: Los dos países están gobernados por presidentes izquierdistas (“Both countries are governed by leftist presidents.”) Such infrequent examples should not present comprehension difficulties.


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