Easy Learning Spanish

The passive - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

What is the passive?
The passive is a verb form that is used when the subject of the verb is the person or thing that is affected by the action, for example, Mary is liked by everyone; Two children were hurt in an accident; The house was sold.

1   Using the passive

  • Verbs can be either active or passive.
  • In a normal or active sentence, the subject of the verb is the person or thing doing the action described by the verb. The object of the verb is the person or thing that the verb most directly affects.
Peter (subject) wrote (active verb) a letter (object).Ryan (subject) hit (active verb) me (object).
  • Provided the verb has an object, in English, as in Spanish, you can turn an active sentence round to make it a passive sentence by using to be followed by a past participle. In this case the person or thing directly affected by the action becomes the subject of the verb.
A letter (subject) was written (passive verb).I (subject) was hit (passive verb).
  • To show who or what is responsible for the action in a passive construction, in English you use by.
I (subject) was hit (passive verb) by Ryan.
  • You use the passive rather than the active when you want to focus attention on the person or thing affected by the action rather than the person or thing that carries it out.
John was injured in an accident.
  • You can also use the passive when you don’t know who is responsible for the action.
Several buses were vandalized.

2   Forming the passive

  • In English we use the verb to be with a past participle (was painted, were seen, are made) to form the passive. In Spanish, the passive is formed in exactly the same way, using the verb ser (meaning to be) and a past participle. When you say who the action is or was done by, you use the preposition por (meaning by).
Son fabricados en España.They’re made in Spain.
Es hecho a mano.It’s made by hand.
Fue escrito por JK Rowling.It was written by JK Rowling.
La casa fue construida en 1956.The house was built in 1956.
El cuadro fue pintado por mi padre.The picture was painted by my father.
El colegio va a ser modernizado.The school is going to be modernized.
  • Note that the ending of the past participle agrees with the subject of the verb ser in exactly the same way as an adjective would.
  • For more information on Adjectives, see Adjectives.
  • Here is the preterite of the -ar verb enviar (meaning to send) in its passive form.
Subject pronounPreterite of serPast ParticipleMeaning
(yo)fuienviado (masculine)
enviada (feminine)
I was sent
(tú)fuisteenviado (masculine)
enviada (feminine)
you were sent
enviado (masculine)
enviada (feminine)
he was sent
she was sent
you were sent
we were sent
we were sent
you were sent
you were sent
enviados (masculine)
enviadas (feminine)
they were sent
they were sent
you were sent
you were sent
  • You can form other tenses in the passive by changing the tense of the verb ser.
Future:serán enviadosthey will be sent.
Perfect:han sido enviadosthey have been sent.
  • Irregular past participles are the same as they are in the perfect tense.

3   Avoiding the passive

  • Passives are not as common in Spanish as they are in English. Spanish native speakers usually prefer to avoid using the passive by:
  • using the active construction instead of the passive
La policía interrogó al sospechoso.The suspect was interrogated by the police.
Su madre le regaló un libro.He was given a book by his mother.
  • using an active verb in the third person plural
Ponen demasiados anuncios en la televisión.Too many adverts are shown on television.
  • using a reflexive construction (as long as you don’t need to say who the action is done by)
Se fabrican en España.They’re made in Spain.
Se hace a mano.It’s made by hand.
La casa se construyó en 1956.The house was built in 1956.
Todos los libros se han vendido.All the books have been sold.
  • using an impersonal se construction
Se cree que va a morir.It is thought he will die.
TipActive verbs often have both a direct object and an indirect object.He gave me (indirect object) a book (direct object).In English, both of these objects can be made the subject of a passive verb; I was given a book. or A book was given to me.In Spanish, an indirect object can never become the subject of a passive verb.
Key points
  • The passive is formed using ser + past participle, sometimes followed by por (meaning by).
  • The past participle must agree with the subject of ser.
  • Passive constructions are not as common as they are in English. You can often avoid the passive by using the third person plural of the active verb or by using a reflexive construction.

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