Easy Learning Spanish

Impersonal verbs - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

What is an impersonal verb?
An impersonal verb is a verb whose subject is it, but this ‘it’ does not refer to any specific thing; for example, It’s going to rain; It’s nine o’clock.

1   Verbs that are always used impersonally

  • There are some verbs such as llover (meaning to rain) and nevar (meaning to snow), that are only used in the ‘it’ form, the infinitive, and as a gerund (the -ing form of the verb). These are called impersonal verbs because there is no person, animal or thing performing the action.
Llueve.It’s raining.
Está lloviendo.It’s raining.
Va a llover.It’s going to rain.
Nieva.It’s snowing.
Está nevando.It’s snowing.
Nevaba.It was snowing.
Estaba nevando.It was snowing.
Mañana nevará.It will snow tomorrow.

2   Verbs that are sometimes used impersonally

  • There are also some other very common verbs that are sometimes used as impersonal verbs, for example hacer, haber and ser.
  • hacer is used in a number of impersonal expressions relating to the weather:
Hace frío/calor.It’s cold/hot.
Ayer hacía mucho frío/calor.It was very cold/hot yesterday.
Hace sol/viento.It’s sunny/windy.
Va a hacer sol/viento.It’s going to be sunny/windy.
Hace un tiempo estupendo/ horrible.It’s a lovely/horrible day.
  • hacer is also used in combination with que and desde in impersonal time expressions, to talk about how long something has been going on for or how long it is since something happened.
Hace seis meses que vivo aquí. or Vivo aquí desde hace seis
I’ve been living here for six months.
Hace tres años que estudio español or Estudio español desde hace tres años.I’ve been studying Spanish for three years.
Hace mucho tiempo que no la veo or No la veo desde hace mucho tiempo.I haven’t seen her for ages or It is ages since I saw her.
Hace varias semanas que no voy por allí or No voy por allí desde hace varias semanas.I haven’t been there for several weeks or It is several weeks since I went there.
  • Note the use of the present simple in Spanish in the above examples where in English we’d use the perfect tense or the past tense.
  • hacer is also used impersonally in the expression (me/te/le) hace falta, which means it is necessary (for me/you/him).
Si hace falta, voy.I’ll go if necessary.
No hace falta llamar.We/You/I needn’t call.
Me hace falta otro vaso más.I need another glass.
No hace falta ser un experto.You don’t need to be an expert.
No hacía falta.It wasn’t necessary.
  • Note that not all impersonal expressions in Spanish are translated into English using impersonal expressions.
  • haber too can be used impersonally with the meaning there is/there are, there was/there were, there will be, and so on. It has the special form hay in the present. For the other tenses, you take the third person singular (the ‘it’ form) of haber in the appropriate tense.
Hay un cine cerca de aquí.There’s a cinema near here.
Hay dos supermercados.There are two supermarkets.
No hay bares.There are no bars.
Había mucho ruido.There was a lot of noise.
Había muchos coches.There were a lot of cars.
Hubo un accidente.There was an accident.
Hubo varios problemas.There were several problems.
¿Habrá tiempo?Will there be time?
¿Habrá suficientes sillas?Will there be enough chairs?
  • Note that you should always use the singular form (never the plural), no matter how many things there are.
  • haber is used in the construction hay que with an infinitive to talk about actions that need to be taken.
Hay que trabajar más.We/You need to work harder.
Hay que ser respetuoso.You/We/One must be respectful.
Habrá que decírselo.We’ll/You’ll have to tell him.
  • ser can be used in certain impersonal constructions with adjectives, for example:
  • es/era/fue + adjective + infinitive
Es importante ahorrar dinero.It’s important to save money.
Fue torpe hacer eso.It was silly to do that.
Sería mejor esperar.It would be better to wait.
  • es/era/fue + adjective + que + verb
Es cierto que tengo problemas.It’s true that I’ve got problems.
Es verdad que trabaja mucho.It’s true that he works hard.
  • Note that when they are used in the negative (no es cierto que...; no es verdad que...), these expressions have to be followed by the subjunctive.
Grammar Extra!When impersonal expressions that don’t state facts are followed by que (meaning that) and a verb, this verb must be in the subjunctive.For this reason, the following non-factual impersonal expressions are all followed by the subjunctive:
Es posible que...It’s possible that ... / ...might...
Es posible que ganen.They might win.
Es imposible que...It’s impossible that... / ...can’t possibly...
Es imposible que lo sepan.They can’t possibly know.
Es necesario que...It’s necessary that.../ ...need to...
No es necesario que vengas.You don’t need to come.
Es mejor que...... be better to ...
Es mejor que lo pongas aquí.You’d be better to put it here.
  • ser is also used impersonally with de día and de noche to say whether it’s day or night.
Era de noche cuando llegamos.It was night when we arrived.
Todavía es de día allí.It’s still day there.
  • basta con is used impersonally:
  • with a following infinitive to mean it’s enough to/all you need do is
Basta con telefonear para reservar un asiento.All you need do is to phone to reserve a seat.
Basta con dar una vuelta por la ciudad para...You only need to take a walk round the city to ...
  • with a noun or pronoun to mean all you need is or all it takes is
Basta con un error para que todo se estropee.All it takes is one mistake to ruin everything.
  • (me) parece que is used to give opinions.
Parece que va a llover.It looks as if it’s going to rain.
Me parece que estás equivocado.I think that you are wrong.
  • Note that when (me) parece que is used in the negative, the following verb has to be in the subjunctive.
  • vale la pena is used to talk about what’s worth doing.
Vale la pena.It’s worth it.
No vale la pena.It’s not worth it.
Vale la pena hacer el esfuerzo.It’s worth making the effort.
No vale la pena gastar tanto dinero.It’s not worth spending so much money.
Grammar Extra!se is often used in impersonal expressions, especially with the verbs creer, decir, poder, and tratar. In such cases it often corresponds to it, one or you in English.
Se cree que...It is thought or People think that...
Se cree que es un mito.It is thought to be a myth.
Se dice que...It is said or People say that...
Se dice que es rico.He is said to be rich.
Se puede...One can.../People can.../You can...
Aquí se puede aparcar.One can park here.
Se trata de...It’s a question of .../It’s about ...
No se trata de dinero.It isn’t a question of money.
Se trata de resolverlo.We must solve it.
Key points
  • Impersonal verbs and expressions can only be used in the ‘it’ form, the infinitive and the gerund.
  • Impersonal expressions relating to the weather are very common.
  • Although in English we use there is or there are depending on the number of people or things that there are, in Spanish hay, había, hubo and so on are used in the singular form only.
  • Some very common ordinary verbs are also used as impersonal verbs.

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