1 El ratón se mató. (Preterit passive)

2 El ratón estuvo matado. (Estar + past participle)

The two sentences above translate to the same in English:

The mouse was killed.

However, I sense there is a difference. The first one seems to say that the mouse was killed by something, whereas it seems the second one gives an 'update' on the liveliness of the mouse.

Is this true?

  1. What is the difference in meaning between these two constructions?
  2. Are there any rules for the usage of these two constructions?
  3. Are there situations when one construction is preferable over the other?

Thanks, Jacob


1o El ratón se mató. (Pretérito pasivo)

2o El ratón estuvo matado. (Estar + participio pasado)

Las oraciones arribas traducen al inglés como lo mismo:

The mouse was killed.

Sin embargo, noto que hay una diferencia. La primera parece decir que el ratón murió a causa de alguien, mientras que la segunda parece decir el estado actual del ratón.

¿Es cierto?

1o. ¿Qué es la diferencia entre estos construcciones?

2o. ¿Hay reglas para usar las dos construcciones?

3o. ¿Hay veces o situaciones cuando uno construcción es preferido?

Gracias, Jacobo

  • 2
    "estuvo matado" sounds so wrong to me, since it's like the mouse was "in a stated of being murdered" by something/someone, but it's not anymore. Participios like matado can only describe the action itself and not a state of being. It sounds as wrong to me as "He has been murdered since 10 AM"
    – Dleep
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:01
  • @EmilianoSorbello Now that that issue has been brought up, it makes lots of sense to me. Thanks. I hadn't thought of the use of ser vs. estar in this situation.
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:05
  • Maybe the example is not the best to study "Preterit Passive vs. Estar + Past Patriciple": You could think about the difference between morir (to die) and matar (to kill); moriris always reflexive, while matar could be reflexive or not. If you prefer an easier reflexive verb, you could try with dormir (to sleep). Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 22:37
  • @BlasSoriano That is a nice solution for my example sentence; however, I would still want answer to this question for the cases where there is no reflexive substitute.
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 22:52
  • 1
    @Jacob Estar + Participio always implies reflexion. Estoy dormido (I am asleep); Estoy cansado (I am tired); Estoy muerto (I am dead); Estoy triste (I am sad). Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 22:56

4 Answers 4


The difference is actually that you say:

The first one seems to say that the mouse was killed by something, whereas it seems the second one gives an 'update' on the liveliness of the mouse.

However, you must make several corrections to your translation.

"El ratón se mató" seems you were saying that the subject of the action is the mouse, and therefore it killed itself. To put it correctly you must put the mouse in second position, object, as follows:

Se mató al ratón.

And the second translation, you must use the verb "ser" with the participle, like this:

El ratón fue matado.

Both sentences can be used interchangeably.

  • Thanks for the correction; however, you didn't answer my questions. Please add to your answer!
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:01
  • I notice that you've written "Se mató al ratón" and someone below (DockeryZ) has written "Se mató el ratón." I am assuming the first example contains a typo ("al") and that the translation of "The rat was killed," using this construct, must be the latter -- "Se mató el ratón." (I guess that's why DockeryZ adds @Rodrigo ... well, if this wasn't clearly obvious already, I guess this comment adds an additional highlight to it." If anyone reading this doesn't understand why we use "el" instead of "al" before "ratón" in this example, I can explain.)
    – Lisa Beck
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:00

The mouse was killed or The mouse got killed translates to El ratón fue asesinado. (We use asesinado instead of matado, since in spanish we don't use the latter.)

To say el ratón se mató, we say the mouse killed itself.

  • Okay, good information but you didn't answer any of my questions.
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:52

The mouse was killed / El ratón se mató / MEJOR: Se mató el ratón (@Rodrigo)

This second one isn't passive, it's more like an effect, result, consequence...

UPDATE: this can also express that the rat is no longer killed, it's just got killed and then... who knows. Estar creates a state or status in time

The mouse got killed / El ratón estuvo matado.

Ya que festejaron mucho anoche el ratón estuvo matado por accidente.

El ratón fue matado

There's more realism to the use of ser. To say fue matado makes the action more emphatic, more emotional, more concrete.

When I came into the world, I was born.... I didn't get borned.

Fuí nacido / was born

Estuve nacido / got borned

  • So using fue matado emphasizes a consequence and the preterit passive just states that the action happened?
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:08
  • 2
    No, estuvo.. would be the consequence. It's not necessarily a consequence but rather a happening. Using estuvo could also suggest that the rat come back to life.
    – dockeryZ
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:43

There are a lot of bad answers.

"The mouse was killed" is used to say that someone (human) or something (a cat, a falling rock... unlucky) killed the mouse. El ratón fue asesinado, mataron al ratón, [noun or subject] mató al ratón, are valid sentences depending of what or who killed the mouse. However, 'asesinado' is commonly used referring to people, saying 'el ratón fue asesinado' is same as 'the mouse was murdered' what doesn't make sense (at least for me).

About 'el ratón fue matado': it cannot be used that way because 'matado' needs to be preceded by some form of the verb 'to have' (Haber). So, the mouse has been killed (han matado al ratón, ha matado al ratón) will be the correct way for the second part of your question. Note that I used 'al' instead of 'a el'.

So... I suggest to add a subject or noun to the sentences "the mouse was killed" and "the mouse has been killed" and decide the best options.

I hope it helps.

  • 1
    Hi Sergio, welcome to SL&U. I think your answer does not relate to what the OP wants to know. This answer is more suited to be a comment. You should correct it to cater more to what is asked. Read the FAQ if something is not clear about how the site works.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 6:24

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