Passive voice: reflexive vs. ser + past participle

1
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When using the passive voice, what is the difference between using the reflexive -

"Se vendieron las casas."

versus the preterite of ser + the past participle? -

"Las casas fueron vendidas."

and what are the rules for which one to choose? I know that (at least) one of my examples is wrong because I don't know.

P.S. I know that the passive voice should be avoided in most cases in Spanish!

11344 views
updated MAR 22, 2014
posted by lhm27

9 Answers

0
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At least you have a respected language academy (the RAE) that is even known among some English speakers. Our language officials can't even agree on the number of "s"s in something like boss'/boss's.

I envy the Spanish language for having such definite rules. English is one judgment call after another. In fact, you can decide if you want an "e" in judgment/judgement!

updated JUN 29, 2009
posted by lhm27
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I wholeheartedly agree with you both, samdie & Lazarus.

updated JUN 29, 2009
posted by hhmdirocco
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Those "rules" about when to use the "ser + past participle" passive are purely descriptive: all studies have been done taking lots of examples, and asking oneself: "Does this sound right? Would anyone say something like this'". After over 100 years of studies, no one is yet 100% sure about why, but they have catalogued structures, verbs and situations where it works, and where it does not appear to work. The conclusion is that there are too many restrictions, and these restrictions are imposed by common people when they speak, not by any grammar.

Samdie, the subjunctive in English, even though some examples can be found in use by certain speakers in certain situations, probably has as little future as the preterite "anterior" in Spanish (e.g. hube llegado), so it is no wonder that people don't like being told off. However, I find it absurd that people use careless and simplistic colloquial speech to judge what is supposed to be correct (or not) in a language.

updated JUN 29, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
0
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Thanks, Lazarus, this was exactly what I was looking for! I had no idea that the subject was so complicated, though.

P.S. This isn't really related, but in English, many people think that the English subjunctive is too archaic for modern use and want to get rid of it completely.
However, they are, for the most, part people who don't know how/when to use the subjunctive (and resent being told that they have made a "mistake") or those who, if they concentrate, are able to use the subjunctive (but find the effort required tiring and would rather not exert themselves). There are also, no doubt, those (the linguistic equivalent of knee-jerk liberals/conservatives) who ignore completely any question of whether the subjunctive serves a useful purpose and argue (on the "newer is better" principle) that we should all emulate the speech of the characters in the currently popular sitcom/rock-group with no regard for the history/logic of the language.

updated JUN 29, 2009
posted by samdie
0
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Thanks, Lazarus, this was exactly what I was looking for! I had no idea that the subject was so complicated, though.

P.S. This isn't really related, but in English, many people think that the English subjunctive is too archaic for modern use and want to get rid of it completely.

updated JUN 28, 2009
posted by lhm27
0
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It is not just a matter of personal preference. The periphrastic passive ("ser" + past participle) is subject to lots of restrictions of use, whereas the passive reflexive (using "se") has very few restrictions.

As far as I know, there is very little literature on this topic, and the very little that can be found, it is not written for the common people to understand it easily, but written by grammarians for other grammarians to read. The problem is that you need to take into account the aspect of the verb, the tense in which it is used, its interpretation in the sentence, and other factors, so it is a rather complex topic. A few rules that could be useful (if you can understand them).

' The passive with "ser" cannot be with verbs of perception followed by infinitive (e.g. La casa fue vista arder)

' Perfective verbs tend to reject impefective tenses for punctual events (e.g. "La carta es escrita"), and must reach a definite end.

' Imperfective verbs tend to reject perfective tenses (e.g. "El cuadro era pintado"), and they can only be used with generic subjects (e.g.. "Pepe es querido por su madre").

' Intransitive verbs of motion with transitive uses (e.g. andar, subir,...) do not accept the passive with "ser".

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a very complex subject, and the bottom line is: the passive with "ser" has lots of restrictions and there are just a small handful of situations where its use is justified, whereas the passive with SE very few restrictions, which is maybe why speakers tend to prefer the passive with SE, and why everything points to the disappearance of the passive with "ser" (although it could survive forever, who knows'). Also, they are not always identical, but this is another story...

updated JUN 27, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
0
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That doesn't really answer my question, because it doesn't address the difference between the two options.

I'm not quite sure what you are looking for. They are both acceptable constructions. One is just used more often than the other. And you're completely ignoring the use of estar and the past participle in passive use.

Are you looking for a "rule" something akin to this one':

This personal (third person form) [they are referring to the passive reflexive] is in frequent use in Spanish when the subject is not a person and the agent from whom the action proceeds is not expressed, i.e., understood, as Las manzanas se vendieron caras. (The apples were sold at a high price).

updated JUN 27, 2009
posted by 0074b507
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That doesn't really answer my question, because it doesn't address the difference between the two options.

updated JUN 27, 2009
posted by lhm27
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http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/viewreply/52069/

updated JUN 27, 2009
posted by 0074b507