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Verbs

Why, for what and how do we use passive voice in Spanish?

In Spanish, when we want to highlight the action that is carried out, rather than the person who performs it, we use the passive voice. In the passive sentences, the subject is on whom the action that expresses the verb falls, rather than who performs that action. For example, El científico australiano ha sido galardonado con el Premio Nobel -The Australian scientist has been awarded the Nobel Prize.

We can also use the passive, when we do not want to say who performs the action, when we do not know it or, simply, when it is evident, for example, El ladrón ha sido detenido esta tarde -the thief has been arrested this afternoon- (by the police, who else could do that?)

 

How is a passive phrase built?

The passive voice in Spanish is built by combining the verb to ser conjugated (as an auxiliary verb) and the past participle of the main verb. The past participle always agrees with the subject in gender and number.

The subject of the active voice becomes the agent complement (introduced by the preposition por) in the passive.

Active voice → María ha traducido este libro -María translated this book.
Passive Voice → Este libro ha sido traducido por María -This book has been translated by María.

Sujeto + ser (conjugado) + participio + complemento agente (introducido por por)

Now look at these examples of passive constructions with all verb tenses:

  • Presente de indicativo → Soy culpado de algo que no he hecho (I am blamed for something I haven’t done).
  • Pretérito imperfecto de indicativo → Era seleccionado como director de la empresa (I was selected as the director of the company).
  • Pretérito perfecto → Fui llamado a votar (I was called to vote).
  • Pretérito perfecto compuesto de indicativo → He sido vacunado contra la gripe (I have been vaccinated against the flu).
  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto de indicativo → Había sido aceptado en la Universidad (I had been accepted at University).
  • Futuro de indicativo → Seré convocado para jugar este partido (I will be called to play this match).
  • Futuro perfecto de indicativo → Habré sido admitido cuando pague la matrícula (I will have been admitted when I pay the registration fee).
  • Condicional de indicativo → Sería reconocido como el autor de la novela (I would be recognized as the author of the novel).
  • Condicional perfecto de indicativo → Habría sido incluido en la lista de convocados (I would have been included in the list of summoned).
  • Presente de subjuntivo → Puede que sea seleccionado para la entrevista de trabajo (I may be selected for the job interview).
  • Pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo → Ojalá, fuera/fuese premiado este año (I wish I was awarded this year).
  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo → Si hubiera/hubiese sido castigado, no volvería a cometer ese error (If only I had been punished, I would not make that mistake again).

 

Frequence of the passive voice

The passive is barely used in the oral language, while in the written language it is used a little more often and it usually belongs to a formal register. As we have already said, passive is not really frequent in Spanish and native speakers prefer active constructions and passive reflex calls, built with se + verb in active voice: Here bicycles are rented (= bicycles are rented here).

 

Raquel Díez González / Practica Español

 

Bibliography:

  • Díaz, L. y Yagüe, A.  (2015). “Unidad 18. Voz pasiva”. Elefante. Gramática del español como lengua extranjera. Nivel B. Ediciones Marcoele: Revista Didáctica ELE. Recuperado de https://marcoele.com/elefante/18.pasiva.pdf
  • Nueva gramática de la lengua española. (2009). Recuperado de http://aplica.rae.es/grweb/cgi-bin/buscar.cgi

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