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Learn the Passive Voice in Spanish Using Estar

The basic structure of sentences in the passive voice uses the “to do” verb ser conjugated in the same tense as the main verb in the active voice. Today, you’ll discover how to use the verb estar as another way to express the passive voice when speaking Spanish.

Let’s take a look at this chart to better understand the grammatical difference between both verb forms in the passive voice:

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Ser + Past ParticipleEstar + Past Participle
Ser is a verb that implies action and therefore the presence, explicit or implicit, of an agent (subject).Estar expresses the final result of an action, i.e., it refers to an action already performed or completed.
E.g. La casa es construida por él. (The house is built by him)E.g. La puerta de la casa está cerrada. (The door of the house is closed)

The main difference between the two verb forms is that estar in the passive voice reflects a result, and it does not always matter who performed it. Verbs that are commonly used to express results include apagar (to turn off), cerrar (to close), hacer (to do), and abrir (to open).

The past participle

We must take into account that in Spanish, the verbs have three different conjugations according to their ending. As a result, there are three different types of “past participles” (participios) endings for regular verbs.

First Conjugation (-ar)Second Conjugation (-er)Third Conjugation (-ir)
Lograr – Logr-ado(To achieve – Achiev-ed)Oler – Ol-ido(To smell – Smell-ed)Sufrir – Sufr-ido(To suffer – Suffer-ed)

Remember that in the passive voice the participles act as adjectives, so in Spanish they must agree in gender and number with the main object (noun/pronoun). 

Let’s look at some examples:

Structure: [Object] [Verb] [Complements]

Note: Here we can identify the past participle agotado (sold out), as its infinitive verb form belongs to the first conjugation type agotar (to sell out). Also, you can notice that the main object libro is a singular and masculine noun, so the participle has to agree with it as well.

A woman writing on a notebook in an open field of green grass.
The book-writing countdown has begun!
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Note: The verb escribir (to write) is being used to ask for a result, so instead of ser, the passive voice is expressed by estar. Notice that the subject is implicit and the main object páginas agrees in gender and number with the main verb escritas.

The verb “to be” is conjugated in the third-person plural of the present simple (están / are), which hints that this should be the verb tense of the main verb in the active voice (escriben / they write).

Note: The past participle of the main verb suspendido (suspended) belongs to the second conjugation as its infinitive form is suspender (to suspend). In this example, the action is reflecting a final result that will remain in time, so we use the verb “to be” in the passive voice as estar.

That’s it! You’ve learned how to express the passive voice using the verb estar.

Written by Nicole Oliveira

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