Passive Voice

Voice refers to the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. A sentence is said to be in the active voice if the subject is performing the action of the verb. For example, Juan leyó el libro. In this sentence, the subject (Juan) performs the action of reading the book. Active subjects are called agents.

The passive voice, on the other hand, refers to a sentence in which the subject receives the action. In other words, the subject is passive, or acted upon by the agent. For example: El libro fue leído por Juan. In this sentence, the book receives the action performed by Juan, the agent.

There are two types of passive voice constructions:

  1. ser + past participle of verb (+ por + agent)
  2. se + 3rd person of verb

Formation

Passives with ser

Conjugated form of ser + past participle of main verb (+ por + agent)

Note that the past participle always agrees in number and gender with the subject. In the example below obras is feminine and plural so the participle appears in the feminine plural form realizadas.

Estas obras fueron realizadas por un artista mexicano.These works were made by a Mexican artist.

The agent, when mentioned, is usually preceded by por. However, the agent is not necessarily always expressed.

Se refieren a una persona que a la mejor de origen hispano o mexicano, que ya fue, fue criada en Estados Unidos.
They refer to a person that maybe is of Hispanic or Mexican origins, that was, was raised in the United States.

Passives with se

se + 3rd person verb (singular or plural depending on the subject)

The verb is conjugated either in 3rd person singular or plural depending on the subject.

En México es muy tradicional que se celebre el diez de mayo con fiestas para las madres. En todas las escuelas se hace una gran fiesta. Se prepara con meses.
In Mexico, it’s very traditional that May 10th is celebrated with parties for the moms. In all the schools a big party is thrown. It is prepared with months of anticipation.

Uses

The passive voice places the focus on the object of the verb rather than the subject. Compare the two examples below. In the first sentence, Luis doesn’t want to focus on or even mention who raised him (the agent) so he uses a passive construction. In the second sentence, his parents play an active role in the narrative.

Creo que fui criado para adaptarme a cualquier circunstancia.
I think I was raised to adapt to any circumstance.

Creo que mis padres me criaron para adaptarme a cualquier circunstancia. I think my parents raised me to adapt to any circumstance.

The passive voice draws attention to an event without necessarily mentioning who is responsible for it. In the sentence below, Stephen doesn’t mention who sent him to Brazil; we only know that he was sent there.

Yo fui a Brasil, fui asignado a ir a una parte al sur de Brasil.
I went to Brazil, I was assigned to go to a region in the South of Brazil.