I see on stores that they have a sign that says Se habla español. From first glance I would think that it is saying "It speaks Spanish". How is it unambiguous that it is saying "We speak Spanish"?

I think that "We speak Spanish" would be Hablamos español. Are these both acceptable translations?

  • At the end of my answer and Zane's answer on another question you asked before you have the reason of why is Se used in such cases ;) – AlexBcn Apr 7 '14 at 1:12
  • You can use alt + 164 to get ñ, and alt + 165 to get Ñ – Emilio Gort Apr 7 '14 at 15:02
  • I have a similar question about "¡Si, se puede!" for "Yes, we can!" – Tony Apr 18 '14 at 22:14

The translations would be

  • Se habla Español <> Spanish spoken (here)
  • Hablamos Español <> We speak Spanish

But these phrases are all valid, and almost interchangeable. The overall meaning is never in doubt. People typing up these signs don't normally care about the precision.

Finally, "It speaks Spanish" is not translatable as "Se habla Español", but as "Eso habla Español". Perhaps they mean a robot, or a smartphone.

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  • Great answer. But I thought Eso was that in Spanish. Why does it mean It here? – 0x499602D2 Apr 6 '14 at 18:51
  • Adriano Varoli Piazza, great answer, as I cannot comment yet, to 0x499602d2's comment, I'll try to explain in this answer(if any mod see this, convert it to a comment) Eso is both, a thing you are referring to, "IT" has no gender, 'he, she, it' would be 'El, Ella, Eso (or Neutral)', having this, then you could point something and refer to it as 'Eso' – Poncho Apr 6 '14 at 18:59
  • "Eso" can mean both "that" and "it". "That" can also be translated as "aquello". In any case, "It speaks Spanish" and "That means Spanish" mean both basically the same: something speaks Spanish. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 6 '14 at 19:04
  • In spanish "it" is usually implied. So you could translate "It speaks spanish" to "Habla español". On the other hand "eso" means "that" and "esto" means "this", but there is no direct translation for "it". It is either implied or you just mention the subject. – Jens Aug 1 '14 at 19:08

Though it is true that the structure of se habla using se before the third person singular of the verb is seen in reflexive constructions, this is not the case in the example that is being discussed here. You wouldn't say El se habla castellano. You would say El habla castellano. He speaks Spanish. The pronoun or particle se has many uses, one of which is with reflexive verbs. In the case where we see se habla castellano This is not considered a reflexive structure but rather the passive voice. The best translation in English is Spanish is Spoken here. This use of se before the third person singular of the verb is very common in Spanish as is the passive voice in English.

Some different uses of this structure are:

Se levanta a las ocho. = He gets up at eight. (reflexive verb levantarse)

Se ayudan. = They help each other. (to express an action done to -each other-)

Se entrega el correo cada día. = The mail is delivered daily. (passive voice)

No se habla en el cine. = One doesn't speak in the theater. (impersonal se)

Se lo comió todo! = He ate it all up! ("se" used for emphasis)

Como se dice? = How do you say? or How does one say? (passive voice or impersonal se)

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  • "Como se dice? = How do you say? or How does one say? (passive voice or impersonal se)" How can this be either the passive voice or the impersonal voice? – Simple Feb 13 at 14:08

I've always been told that it's the passive voice. "Spanish is spoken (here)" Passive "We speak Spanish (here)" Active

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  • There's an expansion on this here. – Tony Apr 18 '14 at 22:16
  • I've always been told it's the reflexive. – Walter Mitty Apr 5 '15 at 11:09

"Se Habla Español" is the equivalent of "Spanish Is Spoken." (*edited to reflect roy.fourson's good explanation on the lack of direct translation)

The fact that it is spoken here is inferred, and therefore it is not necessary to write "Aquí Se Habla Español."

A brief note on usage:

In the USA, "Se Habla Español" ("Spanish Is Spoken Here") is very commonly used. It is most often used in written signs, but rarely in speech. It is considered polite and appropriate for formal business use.

"Hablamos Español" ("We Speak Spanish") is also used, and it is correct. However, it is a slightly more informal way to say it than "Se Habla Español," and therefore in more formal business settings like banking it is not used as often.

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  • Eh, we're being a little cavalier with the meaning of "literal", I think. I removed it from my answer. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 11 '14 at 20:01
  • Good point, Adriano! I edited my answer to reflect that. – DoctorWhom Apr 11 '14 at 21:58

Se habla is a verb construction called "reflexive" verbs. It refers to what one does to "oneself." For instance, "vestirse" (in the infinitive) is to dress oneself. So "hablarse" (infinitive) or "se habla (conjugated) español" means, one speaks to each other in Spanish.

A more idiomatic English translation is, "we speak Spanish.

In Spanish, you could say "Hablamos español," but that's not as idiomatic a translation as "se habla español."

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  • So hablarse is the same as se habla? BTW what does the use of se mean? – 0x499602D2 Apr 23 '14 at 21:58
  • se is the "reflexive." Me hablo, I talk to MYself. Se habla one talks to ONEself. Hablarse is the infinitive, and se habla is the conjugated form of the expression. – Tom Au Apr 23 '14 at 22:01

Doctor's and Adriano's answers are correct, but not exactly right.

"Se habla español" has no direct translation to English because the language differs from Spanish.

"Spanish is spoken" translates literally to "El español es hablado", even though it's not a common phrase.

In Spanish you can conjugate certain verbs without having a subject. For example, "Llueve" is literally translated to "rains", but that's not a correct sentence in English, where you must say "IT rains".

Having said that, "Se habla español" means that someone has the hability to speak Spanish (implicitly: in that store, hospital, etc), but doesn't specify a subject.

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  • 'Se habla español" can be understood as contraction for "Aqui se habla español", which what Adriano said. – Trinidad Apr 12 '14 at 1:42

"Hablar" comes old words that meant "to speak", "to converse", "to tell a story".

One can "vestirse" (or dress) one's self, but the language of Spanish cannot speak itself. Spanish is spoken.

"Se habla " is the phrase commonly used by businesses to express that a language is spoken there, but this is because the "se" is impersonal, I am very reluctant to agree that Hablar is reflexive here.

Since this is the passive voice, the language (Spanish) is being acted upon and it is not the actor.

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