Explained: The Impersonal Se in Spanish

Impersonal Se in Spanish

Get our free email course, Shortcut to Conversational.

Have conversations faster, understand people when they speak fast, and other tested tips to learn faster.

More info

It’s likely that you’ve used the impersonal se in Spanish at some point, even if you aren’t quite sure what it is.

The impersonal se is used when there is no clear subject performing the action. This is often the case when we make a general statement. In other words, it’s impersonal.

In English you do this by choosing between a few different subjects, such as one, you, they, or people. The point is that we’re talking about things people do in general, without specifying who is doing it. Here are some impersonal examples in English: one must, you have to, people say, they require.

Today we’re going to cover how we do this in Spanish by using the impersonal se. To keep it clear, we’ll start by clarifying the other ways that we use the pronoun se in Spanish, and then go into detail specifically on the impersonal se.

Other uses of the pronoun Se in Spanish

Before we can focus on the impersonal se, we need to be clear on some other uses of se which can cause confusion. They have some similarities, but they’re each used in different grammatical contexts. We’ll start with the reflexive se and the accidental se since they’re easier to recognize, and then we’ll take a closer look at the use of se in the passive voice.

Reflexive se, Accidental se

With both the reflexive se and the accidental se in Spanish, we use the same pronoun se, but in different grammatical contexts. Unlike with the impersonal se, we know who the subject is in both of them.

The reflexive se is used to indicate that an action is being performed by the same subject who receives the effects of that action. In this example, we know that our subject is dressing himself:

  • Él se viste todas las mañanas luego de tomar una ducha. – He gets [himself] dressed every morning after taking a shower.

The accidental se is used to imply that something happened by accident or unintentionally. In this next example, we know who got lost, and that it wasn’t intentional:

  • Ellos se perdieron en Japón tratando de encontrar el hotel. – They got lost in Japan trying to find the hotel.

In both cases, these contrast with the impersonal se, where we don’t know who the subject is. In this example, we don’t know who is doing the interviewing:

  • Se entrevistó a los candidatos para el puesto. – The candidates for the position were interviewed.

Passive se vs Impersonal se

Before we move on to forming impersonal sentences in Spanish, we need to introduce yet another type of sentence that also relies on se: the passive voice.

Sentences using the impersonal se and the passive se are different, even though, unlike those we saw above that use the reflexive se and the accidental se, both substitute the subject of a sentence with se.

The passive se is generally used to talk about something that happened without saying who or what carried out the action, and it will generally refer to objects.

  • El ADN se ha estudiado por mucho tiempo. – DNA has been studied for a long time.
  • Se buscan vendedores con experiencia. – Seeking experienced salespeople.

In both of these examples of the passive voice, it’s unclear who the actor of the verb is, whether intentionally or because we just don’t know. This same thing happens in sentences that use the impersonal se, but we often have a telltale clue that it’s an impersonal sentence if we see the preposition a before the noun:

  • Se busca a los vendedores de este producto. – Sellers of this product sought.

This difference is especially subtle in our English translations, because there’s less difference between the two in English!

Finally, we can often tell that the sentence is using the impersonal se because the verb is always conjugated in third-person singular:

  • Se vende. – For sale.
  • ¡Sí se puede! – Yes we can!
  • Se atiende a los pacientes por citas. – Patients are seen by appointment.
  • Se está cómodo con este clima. – One is comfortable in this climate.
  • Se duerme mejor con frío que con calor. – It’s better to sleep with cold weather rather than with hot.
  • Se dice que los perros pueden predecir terremotos. – They say that dogs can predict earthquakes.

Indirect object se

There’s one last instance of the pronoun se that we should mention, since it may appear somewhat similar. It’s fairly uncommon though, and it’s different enough from the other uses we’ve seen so far.

In sentences where the verb takes both a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun, and the indirect object is in the third person, the indirect object pronoun becomes se.

  • Tengo el libro de tu hijo. Se lo daré mañana. – I have your son’s book. I’ll give it to him tomorrow.
  • Ustedes pagaron las cervezas la última vez. Hoy se las compro. – You guys paid for the beers last time. Today I’m buying you them.

Forming impersonal sentences in Spanish

The number one rule for forming sentences with the impersonal se is that we always conjugate the verb in third-person singular.

Here is a simple formula to remember how to form these sentences:

se + [verb conjugated in third-person singular] + complement

From here, we’ll look at the verbs that are most common when writing impersonal sentences in Spanish, along with plenty of impersonal sentence examples.

Linking verbs

These verbs express a state or condition but need to be accompanied by something else that gives them full meaning. We can consider them as linking verbs, while the formal term for them is copulative verbs.

Spanish English
Ser To be
Estar To be
Parecer To seem
Volverse To become
Hacerse To become
Ponerse To put on
Quedarse To stay
  • Se volvió muy complicado viajar como mochilero. – It became very complicated to travel as a backpacker.
  • Se está muy bien en ese spa. – Being in that Spa is very good.
  • Se parece a una pintura vieja. – Looks like an old painting.
  • En invierno se pone oscuro muy rápido. – In winter it gets dark very fast.

Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verbs do not require a direct object. However, they can be accompanied by adverbials to provide more information.

Spanish English
Vivir To live
Correr To run
Dormir To sleep
Llorar To cry
Reír To laugh
Hablar To speak
Gritar To scream
Nadar To swim
  • Se vive mejor cuando eres feliz. – You live better when you are happy.
  • En ese hostal se duerme bien. – In that hostel you sleep well.
  • Se nada en traje de baño. – You swim in a bathing suit.
  • Se habla suave en la biblioteca. – People talk softly in the library.
  • Se corre en la pista de carreras. – You run on the racetrack.

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs require more complements in the sentence. Otherwise, they won’t make sense.

Let’s see an example of what happens without a direct object when we use the transitive verb ofrecer, which means to offer.

  • Se ofrece. – Is offered. (What is being offered? We don’t know.)
  • Se ofrece alojamiento. – Accommodation is offered. (Ah, makes sense)

As you can see, transitive verbs require extra information.

There are a couple of ways to form impersonal sentences with transitive verbs. One is when they refer to a person who is introduced with the preposition a, like we saw above. Likewise, they can be formed with a verb that requires a different preposition. Another way is to follow the verb with que to introduce another clause.

Here are some of the transitive verbs that are commonly used with the impersonal se in Spanish.

Spanish English
Buscar To search for, To look for
Encontrar To find
Decir To say, To tell
Entrevistar To interview
Contratar To hire
Llamar To call, To address
Premiar To reward
  • Se busca a los culpables del robo. – The culprits of the robbery are being sought.
  • Se entrevista a los funcionarios nuevos a las 10. – New officers are interviewed at 10 o’clock.
  • Se llama a los niños por su nombre, no con apodos. – Children are addressed by name, not by nicknames.
  • Se contrató a los artesanos para trabajar en el proyecto. – Artisans were hired to work on the project.
  • De esa forma, se influye en el corazón de los jóvenes. – In this way, the hearts of young people are influenced.
  • Se dice que hace miles de años este desierto era un océano. – It is said that millions of years ago, this desert was an ocean.

Conclusion: The impersonal se in Spanish

We’ve come to the end of today’s post on using the impersonal se. We’ve seen a lot of examples of impersonal sentences with se in Spanish, in a number of different forms. We also compared the impersonal se with several other grammatical categories that appear similar, namely the reflexive se, the accidental se, and the passive voice using se.

To finish today’s lesson, we’ll leave you with a series of exercises. Give them a try to see how well you’ve grasped how to use the impersonal se in Spanish!

Exercises: The impersonal se in Spanish

We provide the English translation, along with most of the Spanish sentence. You insert the right verb, conjugated to create impersonal sentences in Spanish.

1. Se _____ que hará mucho calor. – They say that it will be very hot.

2. Se _____ mejor cuando hay silencio y la cama es cómoda. – You sleep better when it’s quiet and the bed is comfortable.

3. No me gusta esta habitación, _____ _____ al coro ensayar todo el día. – I don’t like this room, you can hear the choir rehearsing all day.

4. Se _____ a estos perros. Fueron vistos por última vez en el parque Miranda. – These dogs are being searched for. They were last seen in Miranda Park.

5. _____ _____ muy inocente a esa edad. – One is very innocent at that age.

6. Ayer se _____ a los turistas alemanes en la playa. Llevaban bermudas y cámaras. – Yesterday the German tourists were seen on the beach. They were wearing shorts and cameras.


1. Se dice que hará mucho calor.

2. Se duerme mejor cuando hay silencio y la cama es cómoda.

3. No me gusta esta habitación, se escucha al coro ensayar todo el día.

4. Se busca a estos perros. Fueron vistos por última vez en el parque Miranda.

5. Se es muy inocente a esa edad.

6. Ayer se vio a los turistas alemanes en la playa. Llevaban bermudas y cámaras.


Get our FREE 7-day email course, Shortcut to Conversational

The exact strategies you need to become conversational in Spanish this year. Join the course now, before we come to our senses and charge for it!

This blog is presented by BaseLang: Unlimited Spanish Tutoring for $179 a Month. Learn more here.