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The Passive Voice in Spanish

Let's talk about the passive voice in Spanish!

 

What is "Voice"?

Let's start by understanding the concept of voz (voice) in a sentence- in English or Spanish. This refers to the relationship between a sentence's subject and verb. A sentence's voice can be active or passive. But what's the difference?

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The Active Voice

In the active voice, the subject performs a verb's action onto an object and is thus considered the sentence's actor or agent (the person or thing that carries out the action). Let's see some examples:

 

Pedro come galletas. 

"Pedro come galletas" [Pedro eats cookies].

Caption 21, Carlos explica La concordancia gramatical - Part 2

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In this caption, Pedro is the subject/agent who executes the action of "eating" the object (the cookies).

 

eh... pintábamos muchísimos fondos oscuros

um... we painted a ton of dark backgrounds

Caption 99, María Marí Su pasión por su arte - Part 1

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In this example, "we" is the subject/agent who carried out the action of "painting" the object, "a ton of dark backgrounds."

 

Gabriel García Márquez escribió muchos libros.

Gabriel García Márquez wrote a lot of books.

Caption 50, Carlos explica El pretérito Cap. 1: Perfecto simple o Indefinido

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And finally, here, Gabriel García Márquez is the subject, and agent, who performed the action of "writing" the object (a lot of books).  

 

The Passive Voice

In the passive voice, on the other hand, what was previously the object in the active voice actually becomes the subject, but, this time, receives the action of the verb. At the same time, the previous subject becomes a "passive agent" who may or may not be mentioned at the end of the sentence. That said, before finding out how to convey sentences in the passive voice in Spanish, let's convert our previous English examples of the active voice to the passive voice:

 

Active: Pedro eats cookies

Passive: Cookies are eaten by Pedro

 

um... we painted a ton of dark backgrounds

um... a ton of dark backgrounds were painted by us

 

Active: Gabriel García Márquez wrote a lot of books.

Passive: A lot of books were written by Gabriel García Márquez.

 

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Two Formulas

Now that we have a better concept of the passive voice, how do we express it in Spanish? Let's learn two different formulas for doing so. 

 

1. Ser + past participle + (por + agent)

In this first formula, the verb ser (to be) is conjugated in accordance with the subject of the sentence and followed by a past participle (you may wish to consult this lesson that covers conjugating the past participle). In this construction, the participle (the equivalent of English words like "spoken," "eaten," "gone," etc.) must agree with the subject in terms of number and gender. Subsequently, por plus an agent may be optionally added to explain who or what completed the action. Let's take a look at some examples of this formula in Spanish:

 

y es escrito por mí personalmente.

and is personally written by me.

Caption 46, Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar Capítulo 1 - Part 7

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Since the speaker is referring to a singular, masculine object (un libro/a book), the verb ser is conjugated in its third person singular form, and the participle, escrito, is masculine and singular. Let's see another example:
 

En el Siglo dieciocho, las costas de San José en Almería eran asaltadas frecuentemente por piratas 

In the eighteenth century, the coasts of San José in Almería were assaulted frequently by pirates

Captions 32-33, Club de las ideas Batería de breves - Part 1

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Here, what "were assaulted" were the plural, feminine "las costas," so the plural conjugation of ser is followed by the feminine/plural participle asaltadas. Let's see one more:
 

Las tarjetas fueron usadas

The cards were used

Caption 32, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 3 - Part 12

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Note that in accordance with las tarjetas, the third person plural of serfueron, is used along with the feminine plural participle usadas. However, in contrast to the other two examples where por is used to identify the person or people who carried out the action, here, the agent is unknown and thus unmentioned. Let's move on to our second formula.

 

2. Se + verb in third person

This construction is formed with se and a verb in third person singular or plural, depending upon whether what is being spoken about (the subject) is singular or plural. Let's see a few examples:

 

Este vino se hace con una de las uvas más populares 

This wine is made with one of the most popular grapes

Caption 21, Amaya Cata de vinos

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las corridas se celebraban en la Plaza Mayor.

bullfights were held in the Plaza Mayor.

Caption 5, El Trip Madrid

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"Garr", no entiendo para qué se hicieron esos uniformes.

Garr, I don't understand why those uniforms were made.

Caption 53, Club 10 Capítulo 1 - Part 2

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In the first caption, the verb hacer is conjugated in the third person singular to agree with el vino, while celebrar and hacer in the second and third examples are plural in agreement with las corridas and los uniformes. Notice that there is no mention of the entity who performed the action in any of these sentences since this second formula rarely mentions the action's agent. 

 

When Is the Passive Voice Used?

The passive voice is more commonly encountered in the media or literature or when the agent that carried out the action is unknown or considered less relevant. It can only be used with transitive verbs, or verbs that are capable of transmitting some action onto a direct object. In terms of tenses, you may have noticed that our examples have included the presentimperfect, and preterite. While the passive voice formulas contain particular grammatical specifications, there is no mention of any of the specific Spanish verb tenses because active Spanish sentences in any verb tense can be converted to the passive voice. With this in mind, let's conclude this lesson with a present perfect tense example of the verb descubrir (to discover) in the active as well as both formats of the passive voice:

 

Active:

 

Científicos han descubierto que cuando un abrazo dura más de veinte segundos se produce un efecto terapéutico

Scientists have discovered that when a hug lasts more than twenty seconds, a therapeutic effect is produced

Captions 5-7, Aprendiendo con Silvia El abrazo

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Passive 1:

 

Ya que ellos, pues, han sido descubiertos en Inglaterra

Since they, well, have been discovered in England

Caption 40, Hugo Rodríguez Duendes artesanales

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Passive 2:

 

porque se han descubierto muchas virtudes

because many virtues have been discovered

Caption 9, Cómetelo Crema de brócoli - Part 1

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That's all for today. For more information on the passive voice in Spanish, check out this four-part video series on La voz pasiva as well as this lesson on the passive vs. impersonal se constructions. And don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.

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Extranjerismos: Foreign Words Used in Spanish

Just like any other language, Spanish has adopted many words from different languages and cultures. These words are known in Spanish as extranjerismos, a term that comes from the word extranjero (foreign). That said, let's take a look at some of the most common words in Spanish that come from other languages.

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Arabismos- Words from the Arab World

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Spanish language adopted several Arabic words. Let's see some of them:

 

Alcalde (mayor)- from the original word alqáḍi

Soy Miguel Ángel Herrera, alcalde de Genalguacil,

I'm Miguel Angel Herrera, mayor of Genalguacil,

Captions 2-3, Viajando con Fermín Genalguacil - Part 2

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Álgebra (algebra)- from the original word algĕbra

el álgebra, que estudia las estructuras abstractas,

algebra, which studies abstract structures,

Captions 48-49, Carlos explica Vocabulario de las matemáticas - Part 1

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Azúcar (sugar)- from the original word assúkkar

con media taza de azúcar

with half a cup of sugar,

Caption 25, Ana Carolina Ponche navideño

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Guitarra (guitar)- from the original word qīṯārah

aprendí a tocar la guitarra de una manera diferente

I learned to play the guitar in a different manner

Caption 55, Luis Guitarra Influencias musicales - Part 1

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Naranja (orange)- from the original word naranǧa

saben a naranja.

taste like orange.

Caption 34, Ariana Cita médica

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If you hear the way Ariana pronounces the word naranja, you can notice the strong sound of the letter "j," which is a sound that the Spanish language took from the Arabic language. 

 

Galicismos- Words of French Origin

Just like in the English language, Spanish has also adopted many words derived from French. Let's see some of the most popular ones:

 

Bulevar (boulevard)- from the original word boulevard

hasta lo que hoy es conocido como el Bulevar donostiarra,

to what is known today as the "Bulevar donostiarra" [Donostiarra Boulevard]

Caption 28, Días festivos La Tamborrada de San Sebastián

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Chofer or chófer (driver)- from the original word chauffeur

que Amalia se quedó con él y con el chofer, ¿sí?

because Amalia stayed with him and with the driver, right?

Caption 28, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 2 - Part 9

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Élite or Elite (elite)- from the original word élite

unas estructuras de poder muy basadas en la élite, en la exclusión.

some power structures [that were] very based on the elite, on exclusion.

Caption 12, Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar Capítulo 1 - Part 1

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Indigenismos- Words from Indigenous Languages

Many words from various indigenous Latin American cultures were incorporated into the Spanish language after the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas. The following are some of the most popular words:

 

Caucho (rubber)- from the original Quechua word kawchu

Ellos jugaban con una pelota de caucho

They played with a rubber ball

Caption 85, Guillermo el chamán La cosmología de los mayas

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Maraca (maraca)- from the original Guaraní word mbaracá

guitarra, cuatro, güiro, maraca, bongo,

guitar, cuatro, güiro, maraca, bongo [drum],

Caption 32, Sonido Babel La plena de Puerto Rico

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Papa (potato)- from the original Quechua word papa

En los Andes se usa mucha papa y muchas cremas.

In the Andes, many potatoes are used and many creams.

Captions 75-76, Recetas de cocina Papa a la Huancaína

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Tomate (tomato)- from the original Nahuatl word tomatl

¿Qué es realmente el tomate?

What really is the tomato?

Caption 30, Fermín Ensalada de tomate

 Play Caption

 

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Italianismos- Words from the Italian Language

Many Italian words made their way into the Spanish language during the Renaissance. Let's check out two of them:

 

Balcón (balcony)- from the original word balcone

Tomo unos mates en el balcón

I have some servings of mate on the balcony

Caption 7, GoSpanish La rutina diaria de Sol

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Novela (novel)- from the original word novella

basada en una novela de Paul van Loon

based on a novel by Paul van Loon

Caption 4, Europa Abierta Fucsia la pequeña bruja

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Anglicismos- Words from the English language

And last but not least, we have extranjerismos that come from the English language. Here a few:

 

Club (club)

que hagan un perímetro por dentro y por fuera del club, vaya.

that they should surround us inside and outside the club, come on.

Caption 13, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 5 - Part 12

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Fútbol or futbol (football/soccer)

El fútbol es un deporte que fue inventado en Inglaterra

Soccer is a sport that was invented in England

Caption 8, Sergio El fútbol en España

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In this translation, we used the word "soccer" instead of "football." However, the Spanish word comes from the original British term "football."

 

Líder (leader)

La India Catalina era la líder de la tribu indígena que habitó en la ciudad, anteriormente llamada la Isla Calamarí.

India Catalina was the leader of the indigenous tribe who inhabited the city, previously called Calamari Island.

Captions 26-27, Viajando en Colombia Cartagena en coche - Part 3

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Turista (tourist)

una ciudad cosmopolita, luminosa y que pone al servicio del turista una amplia variedad de infraestructuras.

a cosmopolitan, luminous city that puts at the service of the tourist a wide variety of infrastructures.

Captions 10-11, Málaga Semana Santa

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That's all for this lesson. We hope you enjoyed this list of foreign-influenced words in Spanish. Can you think of any additional extranjerismos in Spanish? Don't forget to let us know with your comments and suggestions. ¡Hasta la próxima!

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