I previously asked a question Is there any historical background to the avoidance of the passive in Spanish? which gave rise to a great deal of confusion. Now I have been a member of this site for longer I think I see what happened so I am asking this new question in the hope that it is better worded.

According to Wikipedia https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voz_pasiva

Además de la pasiva analítica ser + participio, existe en español otra forma de expresar la voz pasiva: la pasiva con se o pasiva refleja. Esta construcción está mucho más generalizada que la anterior, que apenas se usa en el lenguaje oral. La pasiva refleja solo es posible en 3ª persona; se no tiene aquí función nominal: es una marca o morfema de pasividad.

My question, I hope now clearer, is "Has this always been the case or did the relative popularity of the two forms change over time?" and I suppose, if it did change, do we know why?

The previous question failed mostly I believe because I used the terms which we tend to use in English to refer to Spanish grammatical constructions so I called the pasive refleja avoiding the passive. I am not proposing to delete the old one as I think we learn from errors and also it would delete the efforts other people put in to trying to help me but If the consensus is that it should be marked as a duplicate then please go ahead.


2 Answers 2


The modern periphrastic passive construction (ser + participle) comes from Latin, although at first it was used as a passive preterit: amātus sum = "I was loved, I have been loved", and was then reanalyzed as present tense (soy amado = "I am loved").

The reflexive with se also comes from Latin, where its use was broadened to include middle or mediopassive voice. The so-called pasiva refleja was already well established in medieval Spanish. This and the periphrastic construction were developed, according to Félix Sepúlveda Barrios, in response to the loss of the synthetic Latin passive (amor = "I am loved").

Some studies do point out that evidence of a truly passive interpretation of se-phrases in Latin is lacking, and that the medieval Spanish pasiva refleja was almost always used with non-agentive subjects (se hacen cosas) while agentive subjects, if the intention was to show actual passive voice, preferred the periphrastic construction.

In any case this was eventually changed. Says a study about 15th century Spanish:

Todos los gramáticos del español actual son unánimes a la hora de señalar que el español prefiere la construcción activa a la pasiva, y que la forma con ser ha visto disminuido su empleo frente al aumento creciente de la pasiva refleja.

That is: grammarians unanimously point out that Spanish prefers the active to the passive, and that the [periphrastic] form with ser has seen its use diminish before the increased use of the pasiva refleja.

In 15th century Spanish literature the periphrastic form appears most often, but this seems to be for stylistic reasons having to do with the recovery of forms closer to classical Latin. In popular speech the pasiva refleja must have been the most common one. (The author says this may have to do with the fact the Spanish lost the compound tenses conjugated with ser, as found still in other Romance languages like French and Italian, in favor of a conjugation using only haber as auxiliary. The forms with auxiliary ser, like soy llegado, were syntactically similar to the periphrastic passive; as the former lost currency, so did the latter. Today we say he llegado = "I have arrived", while French still says je suis arrivé = "I am come".)

By the 17th century the pasiva refleja and the periphrastic passive construction were employed more or less as in modern Spanish. Sepúlveda Barrios studied texts in the "journalistic" style and in the "colloquial" style of theater, and found that the pasiva refleja won out in both, though much more markedly in the colloquial style. This seems to confirm the trend.

As of today, it is widely accepted that the periphrastic passive is often avoided in speech and informal registers, and most often found in technical, legal or otherwise formal writing. This does not mean that the periphrastic passive is either 1) to be avoided or 2) on its way to extinction. It does mean that it should be avoided by students of Spanish in informal speech, as it would sound stilted or unnatural.

  • Very instructive details.
    – mdewey
    Dec 10, 2017 at 16:14

The passive voice in Spanish is easily avoided because its easier to say and to understand when you directly speak in the past tense. Generally it is not avoided, but its use is reserved when speaking with a higher degree of formality, but even then it is weird, if someone talks with perfect present or in a passive voice you immediately guess he is not a native Spanish speaker.

Also, the wiki article is terrible... I think they don't understand what the passive voice is.

  • No. It's not easily avoided. Where I live, journalists use the passive a lot: either reflexive or not.
    – Schwale
    Nov 22, 2017 at 22:21
  • you said something crucial : "where you live" if this is only reserved to "where you live" can you answer me, in which other Spanish speaking countries have you been? (look that this can be easily translated to the perfect present without problems due the level of formality) also, a journalist should write in a perfect formal language. something that I did mention in my answer.
    – Mike
    Nov 22, 2017 at 22:25
  • The question is about the history of the different forms, not their current usage.
    – mdewey
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:28
  • I'm very curious as to what you think the passive voice is, because what the Wikipedia article describes is exactly that. Using present perfect is less common for Latin American speakers but not for Peninsular speakers, and passive voice (either in the reflective form or the true passive) is used all the time, with varying degrees of frequency based on geographical and register differences. Nov 23, 2017 at 19:53

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