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Spanish C2: SER y ESTAR passive constructions.

Use of verbs SER and ESTAR in passive sentences

Category: General


There are two types of completely different passive forms, which are constructed respectively with the verbs SER and ESTAR.

SER is a verb that implies action, which requires the explicit or implicit presence of an AGENT:
Ex.: Fue realizada por un director italiano. (It was made by an Italian director)
Fue escrito [se supone que por alguien] con la intención de influir en... (It was written [we asume by someone]with the intention of influencing…)

ESTAR, in the passive form on the other hand, maintains its basic value as a STATE, which distinguishes it from and makes it difficult to confuse with ser:
1) ser - agent / estar - no agent
a las ocho las puertas de acceso están ya cerradas. (At 8:00, the doors are closed.)
las puertas son cerradas a las ocho por una persona encargada de ello. (The doors are closed at 8:00 by a person in charge of that.)
2) ser refers to the action itself; it is an active and dynamic verb / estar, as a state verb, refers to the completed action:
las puertas son abiertas diariamente. / las puertas están abiertas día y noche. (The doors are opened daily. The doors are open day and night.)

It’s important to keep in mind that there are some verbs that, due to their character, are perfective or imperfective. These are only structured using SER. (Perfective verbs are those that express a completed action, a final result. Imperfective verbs are those that express a developing action, a process)
-Imperfective verbs, such as ESPERAR (to wait/expect) o DESEAR (to desire), are only structured using SER:
es deseado / está deseado // era esperado / estaba esperado.
-Perfective verbs such as TERMINAR (to finish), ACABAR (to finish), CONCLUIR (to conclude), FINALIZAR (to finalize) don’t accept ESTAR in compound tenses.
han sido terminadas / han estado terminadas. (They’ve been finished)

It’s a known fact that Spanish doesn’t use the passive very often with the verb SER. The passive with ESTAR is used when ever necessary.

Spanish prefers:
- The active better than the passive: Cervantes escribió el Quijote [mejor que] el Quijote fue escrito por Cervantes. (Cervantes wrote el Quijote [sounds better than] el Quijote was written by Cervantes.)
- The “inverted” active: el cristal lo he roto yo [mejor que] el cristal ha sido roto por mí. (I broke the glass [sounds better than] the glass was broken by me)
- Using pronoun SE as a passive instead of SER:
1.-It’s more common to use SE to express a repeated action:
Las puertas se abren diariamente a las ocho / Las puertas son abiertas diariamente...
Las casas se construyen de piedra / Las casas son construidas de piedra. (The doors open daily at eight)(The houses are made of stone)
(In these sentences, it is possible to use the SE construction or the passive with SER, although the SE construction is more common)
2.-IMPERSONAL sentences must be structured with SE:
Se come muy bien aquí / es comido muy bien aquí
Se vende esta casa / es vendida esta casa.
( In these cases, the passive construction with SER can NEVER be used)

3.-To summarize: The passive with SER is used almost exclusively in two situations: “particular or precise actions, with an explicit or implicite agent that are not used in the active”.