I think it is a passive voice. The sentence is:

Están pintando la puerta.

My question is why not

Está pintando la puerta.  

  • 1
    I think you may have wanted to write "Está pintando la puerta" for the second sentence, that is, identical to the first one but with está instead of están. Could you confirm that?
    – pablodf76
    Aug 28, 2018 at 21:35
  • 1
    This question has been asked before, but in Spanish, and you already have some good answers here so I will not mark it as a duplicate. It is an interesting first question nonetheless.
    – Charlie
    Aug 29, 2018 at 5:25
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    He modificado el título de la pregunta para ayudarla a entrar en la lista de preguntas calentitas y así recibir más visitas. Actualmente el filtro impide que las preguntas con más de dos palabras en el título en un idioma que no sea inglés entren en la lista, de ahí el cambio.
    – Charlie
    Aug 29, 2018 at 6:13

5 Answers 5


It is not passive voice but the case is similar to impersonal passive voice.

Examples of impersonal passive are for example "It is said that children are afraid of ghosts" instead of the active sentence "People say that children are afraid of ghosts" or "It is expected (that) he will arrive soon" instead of "They expect him to arrive soon".

In Spanish, we favor plural (están) over singular (está) for this voice. Quoting @JuanRocamonde from the comments "plural form is used in substitution of an unknown subject".

Cuando se usa la tercera persona del plural de forma impersonal, es decir, que hay sujeto tácito de interpretación inespecífica (a veces llamadas 'oraciones impersonales eventuales'), el sujeto suele ser, en realidad, singular

  • Te llaman — Someone is calling you/You have a call

  • Te necesitan en la sala de espera — You're needed in the waiting room

  • Le robaron — He was robbed

  • Lo mataron — He was killed

Source: pasiva con tercera persona

This means that there is only one guy painting the door, but we use "plural", meaning "they (building management, or the contractor, or the painters, or who-knows-exactly-who-is-in-charge-of-it) are painting the door".

You could of course use the singular "está". The connotation is that you would likely know who is doing the job.

Están pintando la puerta --> (after switching to passive voice) The door is being painted. (by who? Who knows?)

Está pintando la puerta --> (after switching to passive voice) The door is being painted by him/her.

This is the same case as "they are doing construction here, they are cutting down this tree, etc". It is unclear who is exactly doing the job. We only know what is going to be done. In Spanish we would use plural for this case and use singular for the case in which we actually know who is doing the job (which probably can be inferred by the context of the conversation, since the sentence has an elliptical subject).

  • 1
    Según tengo entendido, las afirmaciones dadas no son pasivas; la OP solamente cree que son pasivas, pero, en realidad, no lo son.
    – Schwale
    Aug 28, 2018 at 18:13
  • @Leonardo that should be a comment in the question, to request that clarification from the OP. Is that intentional or a typo? The title of the question leads me to believe that is a matter of using plural or not, not to discuss two different sentences. Maybe the OP just thought that "pintado" is what agrees with "está" (as opposed as "pintando").
    – Diego
    Aug 28, 2018 at 18:30
  • @Ustanak True. Passive would be "the door is being painted", and closest to impersonal passive in Spanish "Se está pintando la puerta". I just wanted to give the OP something they could relate to understand why someone would say "están pintando" instead of "está pintando" without going to a full explanation of impersonal "se"
    – Diego
    Aug 28, 2018 at 18:40
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    Están pintando la puerta es una frase impersonal (o no, depende del contexto. El tema es que puede serlo, y con certeza es a lo que se refiere ella). El plural se usa como sustituto de un sujeto desconocido. Les recomiendo que estudien gramática española en lugar de hablar de lo que no saben. Aug 28, 2018 at 23:12
  • 1
    La respuesta es correcta. Debería ser aceptada. Aug 28, 2018 at 23:15

[This is a translation/update of my answer to another question.]

These are not passive sentences, but rather sentences that use an interesting impersonal construction, in fact the Spanish Grammar speaks about them in the paragraph 33.4s. Basically it says that when the subject of the sentence is unknown or is not identified, sometimes it adopts the form of the third person plural. So, you may have sentences such as

Mañana vendrán a reparar la caldera.
Están pintando la puerta.

In the first case you don't know indeed how many people will come. And in the second case you can use the third person plural even if there is only one person paiting because you have not indentify them. The funny thing is that you can use this construction even if you know the person implied:

Te han llamado por teléfono, era tu hermana.

The first part of the sentence follows this same pattern because you have not yet identified the person that called, even if you resolve that in the second part of the sentence.

This construction comes from long ago,in fact is as older as the Spanish language. See the following example from the XVI century:

Que aun hasta en lo que es música y en los cantares hallamos esto mismo, pues las seguidillas arrinconaron a la zarabanda y otros vendrán que las destruyan y caigan.

Mateo Alemán, "Primera parte de Guzmán de Alfarache", España (1599)

And this one from the XIII century:

Bien me as aconsejado, et dizes verdat; enpero veré a qué tornará la mi çima de mi fazienda et qué mandarán de mí fazer.

Anónimo, "Calila e Dimna", España (1251)

The last part of this last case can be translated as "let's see what they will tell me to do" or even as "let's see what I will be told to do". Note that in this last translation it is better reflected that you don't know how many people will be implied in the action. But the thing is that if you can find this construction in the XIII century, it probably comes from the Vulgar Latin.

You can find this construction in other languages, such as Italian:

"Ah, sei qui [...] finalmente ti trovo. Come ti senti?". "Un po' stanca ma non c'è male. Figurati, mi hanno telefonato". "Ti hanno telefonato? -ripete incredula- e chi?". "Una mia amica di Milano [...]".

Mirella Ducceschi, "L'incidente", Italia (1990)

This follows the same pattern as the previous example about stating the subject in third person plural even if the speaker knows who called.

As a final note, you can indeed say

Está pintando la puerta.

but then it's implied that you know who is painting the door. This can be said in response to

¿Dónde está Pepe?


Están pintando la puerta. means: They are painting the door. The pronoun is often left out.

Está pintada la puerta or La puerta está pintada. means: The door is painted.

Please note: if you write or say, the door is painted (either one of the previous sentences), which is in the passive form, the noun has to be in agreement with the adjective: they are both feminine. La puerta has to agree with past participle of pintar (pintada) since the verb estar is used.

  • to be painted: estar pintado [something masculine]; estar pintada [something feminine]

In the sense of: it is not bare wood.

  • Not the passive form! I did not downvote but I suspect the downvoter was bothered by your nonstandard use of "passive." May 9, 2019 at 6:15
  • Excuse me but: "la puerta está pintada", which can also be said as "está pintada la puerta" are both "the door is painted" and both are passive forms. The downvoter must not know his/her/their grammar.
    – Lambie
    May 9, 2019 at 15:50
  • I thought passive would be "la puerta es pintada." (The door is being painted.) May 10, 2019 at 2:06

Because "Están" is the plural third and second person conjugation for the verb "estar"

  • Yo estoy pintando la puerta -- I am painting the door
  • Tú estás pintando la puerta -- you are painting the door
  • El/Ella está pintando la puerta -- He/she is painting the door
  • Nosotros estamos pintando la puerta -- We are painting the door
  • Vosotros estáis pintando la puerta -- You (many) are painting the door
  • Ustedes están pintando la puerta -- You (many) are painting the door
  • Ellos/ellas están pintando la puerta -- They are painting the door

Remember that in Spanish we can remove the personal pronoun as the conjugation of the verb tells us who is the actor, so in normal speech we remove the "yo, tú, el/ella, nosotros, vosotros, ustedes, ellos/ellas" from sentences.

Also, this is not passive voice, this is normal continuous present:

Pronoun + "conjugation of present verb estar" + gerundio conjugation (ending with "ando/endo")


what you are trying to find with "está pintado la puerta" is an adverb (the verb of "pintar" as the adjective "pintado") , but you have a gender problem here, as adjective also have to inherit the genre of the noun:

correct : Está PINTADA la puerta, that means :

the door is painted.

This has a totally different meaning from what the sentence actually says :

"Están pintando la puerta" : "they are painting the door"

  • 2
    This is not the correct answer. We are talking about impersonal sentences here. Look at the other answer. Aug 28, 2018 at 23:09
  • @JuanRocamonde - It's not clear to me that that's what OP was focused on. To me, Mike's answer is the one that gives a simple, clear answer to what OP asked. May 9, 2019 at 6:18
  • Also you are confusing genre with gender. They are two very distinct things. May 10, 2019 at 9:22

"Están" is plural and "Esta" is singular. The first one would translate to "they are painting the door" and the second would translate to "it's(or he's) painting the door"

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