The English Impersonal• It helps to start by thinking of the idea of the impersonal style.• In English, particularly in academic English, we express the impersonal style frequently.• The main feature of the impersonal style is that the agent – the person or creature who is actually DOING the action of the verb – is obscured.• Here are some ways we do it:
The Passive• We use the passive (with a form of “to be” and the past participle).• Example: The observations were made carefully.• BY WHOM? Obviously someone did the experiment, but this isn’t important.• What is important is the observations.
Intransitives• We use intransitive verbs (verbs with no direct object).• Example: The incident occurred on Tuesday.• NOW WHO EXACTLY DID WHAT?• Well it’s not important. The incident is important – though clearly we understand that the incident could only come about by somebody doing something
Impersonal Pronouns• We use impersonal pronouns.• Example: One should consider the ramifications of the decision.• WHO EXACTLY IS THAT ONE? Again, one generally means anyone.
The Pronoun “Se”• Spanish uses the word se to express much of what we express by the impersonal style in English.• It’s all over Spanish academic prose and it’s used in many different ways.
Example• Al proceso de colonización se sumó la participación de los misioneros franciscanos desde 1554, y de los jesuitas en el siglo XVII, cuando el actual estado de Chihuahua estaba constituido en su parte suroeste por lo que se conocía como la región de Chínipas, mientras que el resto del territorio se dividía entre la Alta y Baja Tarahumara
The Easy Ones First• The easiest forms of “se” are those that can be translated as simple passives (depending on the tense of the verb in either the present or the past).• It is important to remember that a passive (in English) MUST, MUST, MUST have a form of “to be” and a past participle of another verb.• Example: was known/ is known/are known/were known/ was divided/ is divided/ are divided/ were divided.
Examples• was known/ is known/are known/were known/ was divided/ is divided/ are divided/ were divided.• Nothing is known (by anyone) about his death.• The book was divided (by someone) into three useless parts.• Note: We often don’t use the “by phrase” to explain who actually was the agent of the verb – the one who did the knowing/dividing.
Se to show the Passive• Se + verb in 3rd person singular/plural can be used to express the passive in a situation where the agent is not important (in other words, where a “by-phrase” would not be used).• lo que se conocía como la región de Chínipas . ..• el resto del territorio se dividía entre la Alta y Baja Tarahumara
Se and the Intransitives• It’s important to note that in Spanish it is perfectly possible to put the SUBJECT of an intransitive verb AFTER the verb (rather than before it).• This is true whether the intransitive is formed with “se” or without it.
Steps in Translation• Al proceso de colonización se sumó la participación de los misioneros franciscanos.
Step 1• 1. Find the verb. Identify tense and try to find the infinitive.• Al proceso de colonización se sumó la participación de los misioneros franciscanos.
Answer• 1. Sumó. Past tense. Probable infinitive: sumar.• Al proceso de colonización se sumó la participación de los misioneros franciscanos.
Step 2• 2. Look up the verb in the dictionary. While there check for two other things:• A. A version of the verb with “se” attached to the end.• B. The required use of a preposition after the verb. This will definitely indicate an intransitive verb.
Answer• 2. Sumar: To add. Sumarse a (to join).
Step 3.• Exercise some caution. Just because a verb is transitive in English (as “join” often is), does not mean it will be in Spanish.• Remember too that intransitive verbs in Spanish often move the subject to a position AFTER the verb.
Step 4• 4. Translate the verb.
Answer• 4. se sumó = joined.
Step 5.• 5. Begin the hunt for the subject. Start to the left of the verb. Discard anything that is not logical or not grammatical. In Spanish, as in English, a prepositional phrase cannot be the subject.• Al proceso de colonización | se sumó• Could “to the process of colonization” be the subject of “joined”?
Answer• 5. No! In fact the “a” in “al” may even be the “a” in sumarse a!
Step 6• 6. Hunt to the right of the verb as well. Could la participación de los misioneros franciscanos be the subject of “joined”?• se sumó | la participación de los misioneros franciscanos.
Answer• 6. Yes. It would make sense to say the participation of the Franciscan missionaries joined (something).
Step 7• 7. Look to the stuff at the left of the verb to complete the sentence.• Al proceso de colonización se sumó la participación de los misioneros franciscanos.• The participation of the Franciscan missionaries joined the process of colonization ...
Wouldn’t it be nice?• If only the sentence had been written as --• la participación de los misioneros franciscanos se sumó al proceso de colonización. . .