Spanish Lessons


Getting Impersonal

An impersonal statement is one that has no determinate subject. In English you'll hear impersonal expressions like "you shouldn't point your finger at people" or "one would think the airlines would have to close down." 

Spanish has a different way to express the impersonal voice, though. To make general statements Spanish adds the pronoun se in front of verbs. Let's see some examples:

 In the new episode of Yago - Pasión Morena we hear a distressed Yago stating a very basic and general principle indeed:

No se mata lo que se ama.
You don't kill what you love.
Caption 64-65, Yago - 11 Prisión - Part 7

Of course, to express this idea in Spanish you can also do as in English and simply conjugate the verb in the second person:

No matas lo que amas.
You don't kill what you love.

However, in Spanish the use of se is much more common, expressive and emphatic.

Actually, in Spanish it's also possible to use the word uno (one) instead. In this case you must use the third person:

Uno no mata lo que ama.
One shouldn't kill what ones loves.

Here are another two examples from our catalog, both using the verb decir (to say):

Bueno y se dice que la mujer tiene un sexto sentido
Well, and one says that a woman has a sixth sense
Caption 16, Club de las ideas - Intuición - Part 1
Ay, ¿cómo se dice? -Las imperfecciones.
Oh, how do you say it? -The imperfections.
Caption 18, Maquillaje - Con Cata y Cleer - Part 1

And then with the verb hacer (to do, to make):

... se hace como un... té.
... one makes like a... tea.
Caption 12, Recetas - Capirotada - Part 1

Take note, both the Spanish impersonal and singular passive voice use the same construction. You can clearly see it by comparing the above example with the following one using the same verb hacer (to do, to make):

¿Esto se hace en otros puntos de... de Europa?
Is this done in other parts of... of Europe?
Caption 59, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 13

Luckily, being able to make this distinction is really not that relevant because the difference is mostly just grammatical. For example, for practical purposes, you could also interpret this example as a case of the impersonal and translate it as, "Do you do this in other parts of... of Europe?"

Finally, note that Spanish also uses the plural to express impersonal ideas. In this case, however, you don't need to use the pronoun se, you only use the third-person plural ellos (they).

Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen que pende de un hilo
And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread
Caption 79, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 2

The beautiful thing about the Spanish plural impersonal is that it doesn't use the pronoun ellos (they)—just the verb conjugated in the third-person plural dicen (they say). In fact, in Spanish it can't be impersonal at all if you include the pronoun, if you actually say ellos dicen (they say). If the same example were to include the pronoun ellos (them), then it would mean that the subject is actually known from context. Check out the modified version of the previous example to which we added one of many possible contexts in brackets:

[Los dioses llegaron en sus naves blandas.Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen ellos que pende de un hilo.
[The gods arrived in their soft vessels.] And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread.

The plural impersonal is used a lot to spread gossip when combined with the verbs decir (to say), contar (to tell), etc.

Dicen que nadie puede seguirte el tren
They say nobody can keep up with you
Caption 14, Bahiano - Oyelo - Part 1

Or popular knowledge:

Dicen que si los sueños se cuentan después no se cumplen, loco.
They say that if you tell your dreams, then they won't come true, dude.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta - Part 7

Caption 64
Caption 12
Caption 14
Caption 36

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