The Passive Voice And How To Avoid It
The active voice is the normal or at least the far more frequent way of expressing an action in English and Spanish:
She wrote several plays.
We saw Juana.
In the active voice, the doer is the subject of the verb. The thing done or the person done-to is the object of the verb. In the passive voice: the thing done or the person done-to becomes the subject of the verb and the doer if one is given becomes the agent (introduced by the word by in English or por in Spanish):
Los dramas fueron escritos por ella. The plays were written by her. Juana fue vista por varias personas. Juana was seen by several people.
Note that as is demonstrated above regarding the passive voice in Spanish:
There are some English sentences in which the subject is the indirect object; these cannot be translated into Spanish using the passive voice unless something is changed:
Jaime was given the award by the president. Change to: The president gave Jaime the award. [El presidente le dio el premio a Jaime.] or The award was given to Jaime by the president. [El premio fue dado a Jaime por el presidente.]
It is important to remember that the passive voice represents an ACTION as opposed to a state or a condition. Usually, one of two things is given or at least implied in the sentence to help indicate that an action is involved: 1) the agent (as stated above, introduced by by in English), or 2) the time at which the action took place. In other words, the sentence uses the passive voice (ser and not estar plus the past participle) if it answers the question ¿Quién lo hizo? / ¿Por quién fue hecho? or ¿Cuándo ocurrió? / ¿Cuándo fue hecho?.
Los libros fueron publicados por Espasa-Calpe. The books were published by Espasa-Calpe. Las colonias fueron establecidas en el Siglo XVI. The colonies were established in the 16th Century.
In contrast, the verb estar is used together with the past participle to indicate a state or condition (not an action):
Los libros estuvieron escritos en español. The books were written in Spanish. [Were in a written state.] Las colonias estuvieron establecidas en la costa oriental. The colonies were established on the east coast.
The passive voice is not frequently used in Spanish. Usually several other methods of expressing an idea are used instead:
Se vende un coche magnífico en la subasta. A magnificent car is being sold at the auction. Se venden varios coches. Several cars are being sold.
Se ve a mi hermana en la clase. My sister can be seen in the class. Se ve a mis hermanas en la clase. My sisters can be seen in the class. [Without the personal a, the first sentence above would mean My sister sees herself in class, and the second would be grammatically incorrect.]
Note that in some cases verbs which are passive in one language are active in another: nacer = to be born.
Yo nací el primero de junio. I was born on the first of June.
|Contact: Fred F. Jehle|
|Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne|
|Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499 USA||