What is the rule for using the "passive se" (e.g. "¿Cómo se dice?") with a reflexive verb that involves another se pronoun? For example, how would you translate "One takes a shower (ducharse) frequently in hot weather."? Do the two se pronouns simply combine into one?

  • 1
    The se in "¿Como se dice?" is an impersonal indicator and "duchar" is not strictly a reflexive verb; the translation would be "Uno se ducha habitualmente con agua caliente". I'm sorry but I think I don't understand your question (?)
    – Laura
    Aug 10, 2012 at 9:01
  • I don't understand it either. You use "se" mostly when the subject performs actions on itself or if you want to make an impersonal statement like "It's said" --> "Se dice". Aug 10, 2012 at 11:12
  • @Laura: Hmm, maybe my examples weren't the best then. I'm trying to think of an example that has that impersonal indicator plus the reflexive in the same verb. What about "How does one say to himself?" (making the decir in ¿Cómo se dice? reflexive)?
    – jrdioko
    Aug 10, 2012 at 16:38
  • 1
    Ok, I think I understand and, as far as I know, you just use one "se" in front of the verb, How does one say to himself? I think I would translate it as "Cómo uno se dice a si mismo?" even I can't think any situation to use it.
    – Laura
    Aug 11, 2012 at 9:39
  • 4
    The question would be "¿cómo se afeita uno?", and I think the reflexive "se" is lost, the "se" is for the impersonal. An expert would be useful now...
    – JoulSauron
    Aug 14, 2012 at 17:06

3 Answers 3


The two pronouns just combine in one:

"One takes a shower frequently in hot weather" --> Se ducha frecuentemente cuando hace calor.

She takes a shower frequently in hot weather --> (Ella) se ducha frecuentemente cuando hace calor.


As far as I know there is no "passive se".

As others have introduced, there are mainly two uses for "se".

  • In reflexive verbs, like "ducharse", "se" is a particle that adds to the verb and simply means the receptor of the action: "myself", "yourself", etc. This is the same idea of any verb that uses an indirect object particle for a person (telling who receives the action).

Me da la pelota, te doy la pelota, le doy la pelota, nos da la pelota, os damos la pelota, les damos la pelota.

However, in the case of reflexive verbs, the third person changes and "se" is used in the third person (both singular and plural) instead of the corresponding "le" or "les".

Ducharse: Yo me ducho, tú te duchas, él se ducha, nosotros nos duchamos, vosotros os ducháis, ellos se duchan.

If you speak German, also a Germanic language like English, this case applies exactly in the same way:

"sich duschen": ich dusche mich, du duschest dich, er duscht sich...

  • Another use of "se" is also to introduce a general/impersonal statement (but that is not passive in Spanish). It can be used with any verb and it's conjugated in the third person singular.

"Se recomienda no entrar" (entering is not recommended) "Se sabe que fue él" (it's known that it was him).

I guess your doubt is the following: can a reflexive verb (which uses the "se" particle) be combined with the impersonal "se" (what you call "the passive se") in the same sentence?

Yes. Perfectly.

"Se recomienda ducharse primero" (taking a shower first is recommended). "Se recomienda darse crema" (using sunscreen is recommended).

Hope this helps.

  • Thanks for the detailed answer, although I was really wondering not whether they can be combined in a single sentence (using two verbs), but in a single impersonal/reflexive verb (like the "How does one shave?" example I gave in comments above).
    – jrdioko
    Oct 3, 2012 at 16:29
  • Sorry I misunderstood. I posted a new answer. Hope it helps.
    – user1025
    Oct 3, 2012 at 17:48

I'm posting a new answer since I misunderstood and needed some more room than a comment.

Thanks for the detailed answer, although I was really wondering not whether they can be combined in a single sentence (using two verbs), but in a single impersonal/reflexive verb (like the "How does one shave?" example I gave in comments above).

In English you use an auxiliary verb "do" in "How does one shave?", but in Spanish you don't. There is only one verb in the sentence "¿Cómo se afeita uno?". We could get in an deep debate about where that "se" comes from, but I think it's safe and easy to just assume it's a fixed impersonal particle. Thinking it is a verb does not help and confuses more.

The first "se" is therefore just the "impersonal se".

Think about how you ask impersonal "how to" questions with "se" in Spanish:

¿Cómo se... conduce un coche?

¿Cómo se... estudia un idioma?

That's just a fixed formula.

A small break here that hope clarifies the thing about "se" in reflexive verbs, which is not so special after all.

In a general sentence we have a subject + verb (action) + direct object (what) + indirect object (receiver).

Yo + doy + una manzana + a María

I + give + an Apple + to Mary

As you know, you can substitute both direct and indirect object for pronouns.

I + give + it + to her

Which in Spanish can be tricky because not only is the order of the sentence altered but there is also an exception. This is the case of the indirect object "le" (to him / to her) that changes to "se" when both a direct and indirect object pronouns are present in the same sentence.

If you only use a pronoun for the indirect object, you say:

Yo + doy + la manzana + a ella

Yo + le + doy + la manzana

But if you use both pronouns, instead of the logical:

Yo + le + la + doy

Which is incorrect, "le" is changed to avoid the le-la "cacophony" (bad sound):

Yo + se + la + doy

This is where the infamous third person "se" for the indirect object comes from.

Reflexive verbs are not so special after all. It just happens that the receiver of the action (indirect object) is the same as the performer (subject), so logically speaking they are simply a normal verb with an indirect object pronoun sticked to them to mark that they can be applied to oneself.

"Ducharse" is just a special case of "duchar" (you can "duchar a alguien" / shower somebody). Ducharse just means that this verb can be applied to oneself, and the one who's being showered is the same as "the showerer" :):

Yo ducho a mí

Tu duchas a ti

Él ducha a él. By the way... who is "él"? "Él" himself, or "él" another other guy???

But that sounds weird so we just use reflexive pronouns (which as you see have a lot to do with indirect object personal pronouns), that in the third person is "se" to clarify that te showering is to oneself, not to a third person.

Yo me ducho

Tu te duchas

El se ducha

And now, back to the original answer.

Remember the general impersonal form of asking "how to"?

¿Cómo se... conduce un coche?

Why should reflexive verbs be special? We just say "uno" (meaning "un hombre", "uno a sí mismo") just like in English you say "oneself".

¿Cómo se... afeita uno?

If it's referred specifically to a girl, then "una" is generally used:

¿Cómo se... maquilla una?

Pfew. Hope it's clear now.

I just wanted to make clear where the "reflexive se" comes from and what the relation is.

  • Esta respuesta es clara. Cabe mencionar que en América, se suele emplear el pronombre "you" en forma impersonal, mientras que in Inglaterra se emplea más el pronombre impersonal "one". "How do you learn a language?". "How does one learn a language?" Oct 4, 2012 at 10:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.