Spanish Passive Voice – Use It Like a Native

Spanish Passive Voice?! What on earth is it about? 

Relax, grammar terms may sound difficult and hard to decipher, but the concept behind them is fairly easy. 

First of all, let me tell you that Spanish grammar, just like English, distinguishes between two types of “voices”: active and passive. 

🔔 A sentence in active voice places the “doer” as the grammatical subject, just like in the example below:

🇪🇸 Miguel Cervantes escribió “Don Quijote”. 
🇬🇧 Miguel Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote”.

🔔 Passive voice, on the other hand, uses the object of the action as the grammatical subject. What a useful structure in case you don’t know who the “doer” is, right?!

🇪🇸 “Don Quijote” fue publicado entre 1605 y 1615. 
🇬🇧 “Don Quixote” was published between 1605 and 1615. 

Spanish Passive Voice – Key Elements

Now that we’re clear about what Passive Voice is, let’s see how it is formed. 

The example above contains 4 main elements that typically appear in that structure:

Subject = object of the actionThe verb “SER” conjugated according to the subjectPast Participle of the main verbComplementary information
Don Quijotefuepublicadoentre 1605 y 1615

What do you think is the trickiest aspect of this structure, judging by its key components?

That’s right: to be able to use it fluently you’ll have to know how to conjugate the verb “ser” throughout different grammar tenses and moods. 

Also, you’ll have to be confident about creating past participles of the verbs you want to use, know the rules and the common exceptions. 

🔔 Please note that when used in Passive Voice, Spanish past participles work in the same way as adjectives, which means you’ll have to adjust their number and gender:

🇪🇸 El libro fue escrito – masculine and single subject
🇬🇧 The book was written


🇪🇸 Las plantas fueron regadas– feminine and plural subject
🇬🇧 The plants were watered. 

My posts about Pretérito Perfecto (Spanish Present Perfect Tense), Adjectives in Spanish, and Spanish Irregular Verbs will surely help you review all the topics involved in forming Passive Voice. 

Spanish Passive Voice in Present Simple and Continuous

To show you how Passive Voice (Voz Pasiva) works in Spanish, I propose we play a little transformation game, in which we will change ideas from active to passive. 

Present Simple / Presente Simple

🇪🇸 Juana lava la ropa una vez a la semana → La ropa es lavada una vez a la semana. 
🇬🇧 Juana washes clothes once a week → Clothes are washed once a week (by Juana). 

Please note that the main verb “lavar” in the first (active) sentence is used in the present tense. 

What importance does it have? 

🔔 The tense of the main verb in the active sentence indicates the tense the verb “ser” needs to be conjugated in the passive voice. 

And this is the reason why “ser” in our example appears as “es” – a present conjugation. 

How about the subject-verb agreement? “Ropa” is 3rd person singular in Spanish (“it”), the verb “ser” conjugates accordingly. 

Let’s have a look at some more examples:

🇪🇸 Test Your Spanish Knowledge 🇪🇸

🇪🇸 El chofer lleva a Carlos a la oficina → Carlos es llevado a la oficina. 
🇬🇧 The driver takes Carlos to his office → Carlos is taken to his office (by his driver).

🇪🇸 El camarero trae los platos → Los platos son traídos (por el camarero)
🇬🇧 The waiter brings the dishes  → The dishes are brought (by the waiter). 

🇪🇸 El cartero entrega las cartas – Las cartas son entregadas (por el cartero)
🇬🇧 The postman delivers letters → Letters are delivered (by the postman)

🔔 If, for some reason, you want to mention the “doer” / the author of the action in your sentence, use the preposition “por” to introduce him/her.

Are you getting the hang of it? Great! We are going to use the same mechanism no matter what grammar tense your active sentence is in. 

Present Continuous / Presente Progresivo

What if the action we are describing is being carried out at this exact moment? In English you’d say that something IS BEING done, right?

And in Spanish? We’ll say the same, using both of the twin verbs: “ser” and “estar”. This time, it is going to be the verb “estar” that you’ll conjugate. “Ser”, on the other hand, will appear as gerundio: “siendo”. 

🇪🇸 La casa está siendo pintada. 
🇬🇧 The house is being painted. 

🇪🇸 Los animales están siendo alimentados en este momento. 
🇬🇧 The animals are being fed at this moment. 

🇪🇸 Los baños están siendo sanitizados. 
🇬🇧 The restrooms are being sanitized. 

🇪🇸 Los votos están siendo contados. 
🇬🇧 The votes are being counted. 

Not that hard, is it?

Spanish Passive Voice in the Future

Are you ready for the next step? This time, I want to show you how Passive Voice works for Spanish future tenses

🔔 Do you remember how the verb “ser” conjugates in the future? It adds different endings to the verb in the infinitive form. 

So, for us it would be:

  • yo seré
  • tú serás
  • él, ella, usted será
  • nosotros seremos
  • vosotros seréis
  • ellos, ellas, ustedes serán

How about we try to apply these conjugation rules to Passive Voice?

🇪🇸 Los candidatos serán entrevistados por nuestro Gerente de Recursos Humanos. 
The candidates will be interviewed by our Human Resources Manager. 

🇪🇸 Nuestra propuesta será enviada por correo.                                                      
🇬🇧 Our proposal will be sent by post. 

🇪🇸 Los baños están siendo sanitizados. 
🇬🇧 The restrooms are being sanitized. 

🇪🇸 Los votos están siendo contados. 
🇬🇧 The votes are being counted.

Spanish Passive Voice in the Past

If you’ve been studying Spanish for quite some time now, you surely know that there are 3 main past tenses in this language. 

Apart from the already mentioned Pretérito Perfecto, there is also Pretérito Imperfecto and Pretérito Indefinido.

Let’s try to use all the 3 of them in Passive Voice!

Past Simple / Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish Passive Voice

🔔 Pretérito Indefinido describes actions that happened (yesterday, last week, 10 years, or a minute ago). Therefore, the Passive Voice in this tense helps to describe what was done.

The verb “ser” conjugates in Pretérito Indefinido in the following way:

  • yo fui
  • tú fuiste
  • él, ella, usted fue
  • nosotros fuimos
  • vosotros fuistéis
  • ellos, ellas, ustedes fueron

Do you feel confident enough to try and make sentences with Spanish Passive Voice in the Past?

Here’s a bunch of ideas:

🇪🇸 Tu propuesta fue rechazada.                                                      
🇬🇧 Your proposal was rejected.

🇪🇸 La factura fue pagada ayer. 
🇬🇧 The invoice was paid yesterday. 

🇪🇸 Las escenas no fueron censuradas. 
🇬🇧 The scenes were not censored. 

🇪🇸 ¿Cuándo fueron publicados los resultados del examen?
🇬🇧 When were the results of the exam published? 

🇪🇸 ¿Cómo fue planificado este trabajo? 
🇬🇧 How was this work planned?

🔔 Have you noticed something odd in the last two examples? They are questions and the position of the subject is different than in affirmative sentences. 

This time, the subject (=object of the action) goes to the end. That rule applies no matter the verbal tense you use. 

Past Habits and Routines / Pretérito Imperfecto

How did things get done in your house when you were little? How often were you given a bath as a baby? Spanish Pretérito Imperfecto will help you with that. 

🔔 The form of the verb “ser” is “era” – for the 3rd person singular, and “eran” – for the 3rd person plural. 

🇪🇸 Mi ropa era lavada por mi mamá.                                                       
🇬🇧 My clothes used to be washed by my mom. 

🇪🇸 La pieza donde vivía en la universidad no era calefaccionada.  
🇬🇧 The room I used to live in at the university was not heated. 

🇪🇸 Nuestros uniformes eran revisados por la inspectora de la escuela. 
🇬🇧 Our uniforms used to be checked by the school inspector.

🇪🇸 Antiguamente, las casas eran hechas de madera. 
🇬🇧 In the past, houses used to be made of wood. 

Present Perfect / Pretérito Perfecto

Pretérito Perfecto is the tense that uses the Spanish verb “haber as its auxiliary. 

🔔 When used in this tense, Passive Voice has two different participles. One of them is the verb “ser” in the “sido” form. The other one is the main action verb. 

The conjugated element of this structure is the auxiliary “haber”. 

🇪🇸 Nuestra respuesta aún no ha sido enviada.                                                       
🇬🇧 Our answer hasn’t been sent yet. 

🇪🇸 Últimamente, muchos trabajadores han sido despedidos. 
🇬🇧 Many workers have been fired lately. 

🇪🇸 ¡¿Alguna vez han sido limpiadas estas ventanas?!
🇬🇧 Have these windows ever been cleaned?!

🇪🇸 Su vuelo ha sido cancelado debido al mal tiempo. 
🇬🇧 Your flight has been canceled due to bad weather.  

Spanish Passive Voice in the Conditional Form

I’m sure you know the drill quite well by now. Using Passive Voice in a Spanish conditional mood follows the exact same rules you already know by heart. 

🔔 Remember to distinguish between:

  •  the 1st (realistic) Conditional, where the verb “ser” conjugates in the future tense, 
  • the 2nd (hypothetical) Conditional, where “ser” adds the “-ÍA” ending, 
  • and the 3rd (unreal) Conditional where it is used as past participle along with the auxiliary “habría / hubiera”. 

So, it is basically “será hecho” (“will be done“) vs “sería hecho” (“would be done”) vs “hubiera sido hecho” (“would have been done”).

1st Conditional

Here’s how you can talk about possible outcomes using Passive Voice: 

🇪🇸 Si lo vuelves a hacer, serás castigado. 
🇬🇧 If you do it again, you’ll be punished. 

🇪🇸 Si todo va bien, el proyecto será terminado mañana. 
🇬🇧 If everything goes well, the project will be finished tomorrow. 

🇪🇸 Si me apuro, sus notas serán publicadas esta tarde. 
🇬🇧 If I hurry, your grades will be published this afternoon. 

2nd Conditional

Now, let’s focus on things that would / could / might be done if a certain condition were satisfied:

🇪🇸 Si yo fuera el gerente, este tipo de errores no sería aceptado. 
🇬🇧 If I were the manager, this kind of mistakes would not be accepted. 

🇪🇸 Si dependiera de mí, serías contratado hoy mismo. 
🇬🇧 If it depended on me, you’d be hired today. 

🇪🇸 Si no tuviéramos problemas con el servidor, este formulario podría ser llenado en línea. 
🇬🇧 If we didn’t have problems with the server, this form could be filled out online. 

3rd Conditional

We’re almost there! Just one more structure to go. This time, we’ll see how to express our regrets regarding the past with the use of Passive Voice:

🇪🇸 Si hubieras pagado la deuda, tu casa no habría sido embargada. 
🇬🇧 If you had paid the debt, your house wouldn’t have been seized. 

🇪🇸 Si me hubieran avisado a tiempo, el problema habría sido solucionado. 
🇬🇧 If you had let me know on time, the problem would have been solved. 

🇪🇸 Estos productos habrían sido retirados del mercado, si tan solo un cliente se hubiera quejado. 
🇬🇧 These products would have been recalled from the market even if a single client had complained. 

Have in mind that sentences like those are not for beginners. You’ll have to study Spanish for quite some time to build your vocabulary and familiarize yourself with the necessary grammar. 

Impersonal sentences in Spanish – an Alternative to Passive Voice

Until now, all the examples we have seen translated literally from Spanish to English. 

However, there are times when the English passive voice does not find an exact equivalent in Spanish. 

Phrases like “he is said to…”, “she is believed to…”, “we are expected to….” cannot be translated to Spanish with the use of Passive Voice. 

Instead, they will transform into impersonal sentences, where the subject is not indicated

🇪🇸 Se espera que el tren llegue con 2 horas de atraso. 
🇬🇧 The train is expected to arrive with a 2-hour delay. 

🇪🇸 Se cree que el bitcoin seguirá subiendo de precio. 
🇬🇧 Bitcoin is believed to keep raising its price.

🇪🇸 Se dice que Roberto va a ser el nuevo gerente de marketing. 
🇬🇧 Roberto is said to be the new marketing manager. 

🇪🇸 Se piensa que el Principe William será el nuevo rey.  
🇬🇧 Prince William is thought to be the next king. 

🇪🇸 Se estima que los precios subirán 5% este año. 
🇬🇧 The prices are estimated to go up by 5% this year. 

🇪🇸 Se pronostica que este invierno será más frío que el año pasado.  
🇬🇧 This winter is forecast to be colder than last year. 

🇪🇸 Se cree que Elvis Presley está muerto. 
🇬🇧 Elvis Presley is believed to be dead…………but is he really? Who knows…

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Joanna Lupa
Joanna Lupa
Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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