Unit 6: Pronouns (Part 1), imperfect tense, adverbs

6.5 The Impersonal se

Spanish very frequently uses the reflexive pronoun se to render a sentence impersonal. This is a completely different usage from those presented in sections 6.1-6.4. One of the most common usages, with which you may be familiar, is Se habla español, which translates as “Spanish (is) spoken.” This construction is used so often because Spanish tends to avoid the passive voice. (See section 15.6.) In the impersonal se construction, the verb, always in the third-person singular singular or plural, agrees with the subject. Note that a form of “to be” is usually present in the English translation. 

Se habla inglés. English is spoken.
Se enseñan varias lenguas allí. Various languages are taught there.
Se venden carros usados. Used cars (are) sold.
Se dice que es buena persona. It’s said he’s a good person.

The impersonal se may also be translated as the subject pronoun “one,” or in colloquial English as “they” or “you”:

Se estudian muchos cursos aquí. One studies (They study) many courses here.
Se hablan varias lenguas en Suiza. They speak (One speaks) several languages in Switzerland.
Se trabaja mucho allí, ¿verdad? You work (One works) a lot there, right?

If the verb is already reflexive, uno/-a or una persona is added before the reflexive pronoun to render the sentence impersonal.

Uno se acuesta tarde en aquella casa. They go (One goes) to bed late in that house.

 

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Spanish for Reading and Translation by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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