Let’s Get… Impersonal? Common Spanish Impersonal Expressions with the Subjunctive and More
Most probably, you have already started flirting with the conditional sentences, the Spanish pronouns and, who knows, even the subjunctive.
Now, you can use all that information to learn everything you want about Spanish impersonal expressions.
By the time you finish reading this post, you will be able to get impersonal like real Spanish native speakers do.
- What Is a Spanish Impersonal Verb? When Is It Used?
- The Subjunctive in a Nutshell
- Let’s Get… Impersonal? Common Spanish Impersonal Expressions with the Subjunctive and More
- 1. (No) Es + adjective + que + subjunctive
- 2. (No) Es un/una + noun + que + subjunctive
- 3. (No) Es bueno/malo + infinitive
- 4. (No) Está bien/mal + infinitive
- 5. Hay que + infinitive
- 6. Parece que + indicative / No parece que + subjunctive
- 7. Está comprobado que… / Está prohibido + infinitive
- 8. (No) Interesa/Conviene/Importa que + subjunctive
- 9. Impersonal Se
- 10. Weather Verbs
What Is a Spanish Impersonal Verb? When Is It Used?
I do not want to get grammatical, but before we continue with this post you should know a little bit about the topic we are covering today.
Very simply put, an impersonal verb is one that only exists in the third person singular and it is almost never accompanied by an expressed subject.
In other words, there is no specific subject, no one or nothing performing the action of the verb—hence the word “impersonal.”
If this sounds weird to you, let me tell you that you have been using impersonality and impersonal verbs in English ever since you started talking coherently, so stop pretending you are having a grammar drama moment and have a look at some examples:
“It is raining.” (Yes! This is an impersonal sentence. What exactly is “it”? What is doing the action of raining? Nothing and no one! It is just raining!)
“There is a book on the table.” (What is “there”? It is neither a person nor a thing. It is just “there.”)
“It seems you like him a lot.” (Once again, what is “it”? What or who is doing the action of seeming? Exactly!)
So, as you can see, impersonality does indeed exist in English just as much as it does in Spanish, it is used often and is even necessary many times.
It is true that Spanish and English have different ways of expressing impersonality, but at the end of the day, they are used for the exact same purpose. Here you have the translations of the previous three sentences:
Está lloviendo. (It is raining.)
Hay un libro en la mesa. (There is a book on the table.)
Parece que te gusta mucho. (It seems you like him a lot.)
The Subjunctive in a Nutshell
I am not including the Subjunctive here because I am random and unpredictable.
The subjunctive is used with many of the impersonal expressions you will learn in this post, and even though you are already supposed to know it, I want to make sure we are on the same page.
Very, very briefly speaking, the Spanish Subjunctive mood is the one we use (as opposed to the Indicative and the Imperative moods) in order to express wishes, emotions, impersonal expressions, requests and doubts. The five letters in bold spell “weird,” so use this mnemonic technique to remember all the groups.
There are plenty of great posts on the Spanish subjunctive on the FluentU blog already, so go read them if you think you need to polish your subjective skills.
Since we are covering the third group, impersonal expressions, I will give you a couple of examples so you finish your warm-up before reading this post:
No importa quién lo haya hecho. (It does not matter who has done it.)
Es imprescindible que vuelvas a tiempo. (It is imperative that you come back on time.)
No es normal que llore tanto. (It is not normal that he cries so much.)
The following paragraphs will show you the main ways of expressing impersonality in Spanish.
I have added sample sentences for each construction and expression so you are able to practice and create your own examples.
Enjoy your impersonal trip!
Let’s Get… Impersonal? Common Spanish Impersonal Expressions with the Subjunctive and More
There are many different ways of expressing impersonality, and normally each of them has its own rules and formulas.
Below are the 10 most commonly used impersonal phrases for talking or writing impersonally in Spanish.
1. (No) Es + adjective + que + subjunctive
This formula can be translated as “It is/is not + adjective + that…” and it is, undoubtedly, one of the most common ways of expressing impersonality. It is also one of the first structures you learn when you start getting to know the Spanish subjunctive.
You can use practically any adjective in order to create expressions with this formula. The only two things you have to bear in mind is that the adjective will always be in its basic, masculine form, and the verb following que will be in the subjunctive mood:
Es importante que hagas ejercicio cada día. (It is important that you exercise every day.)
Es triste que tengamos que hacerlo nosotros mismos. (It is sad that we have to do it ourselves.)
Es imprescindible que envíes la carta cuanto antes. (It is imperative that you send the letter as soon as possible.)
Sometimes, the adjective is not followed by “that” in English, especially when we are dealing with expressions that sound a little bit unnatural when translated literally from Spanish. Notice how the Spanish construction remains the same, no matter what the English translation looks like:
Es necesario que vayas a la escuela. (It is necessary for you to go to school.)
Es importante que cocines tus propias comidas. (It is important for you to cook your own meals.)
If you want to make the sentence negative, the only change you need to make is adding no at the beginning of the impersonal expression. The rest of the sentence remains intact:
No es importante que hagas ejercicio cada día. (It is not important that you exercise every day.)
No es triste que tengamos que hacerlo nosotros mismos. (It is not sad that we have to do it ourselves.)
No es imprescindible que envíes la carta cuanto antes. (It is not imperative that you send the letter as soon as possible.)
Exceptions for certainty
There are a couple of adjectives in Spanish that mean certainty.
Since certainty is an indicative realm, the subjunctive is not used when they appear in this type of construction. Instead, the indicative mood needs to be used:
Es cierto que no quiero volver. (It is true that I don’t want to go back.)
Es seguro que no vamos a ir a la playa. (It is certain that we are not going to go to the beach.)
Watch out, however, for sentences with a certainty adjective that is negated. In this case, they need to take the subjunctive!
No es cierto que no quiera volver. (It is not true that I do not want to go back.)
No es seguro que no vayamos a ir a la playa. (It is not certain that we are not going to go to the beach.)
2. (No) Es un/una + noun + que + subjunctive
This construction is very similar to the first one but this time we have a noun instead of an adjective.
The use of the indefinite article un/una is compulsory. Do not forget it!
Here are some examples:
Es una pena que no puedas venir. (It is a pity that you can’t come.)
Es un alivio que ya estés de vuelta. (It is a relief that you are already back.)
Es una sorpresa que estés aquí. (It is a surprise that you are here.)
As it happened with the first construction, you only need to add no to make the sentence negative:
No es una sorpresa que ya no tenga dinero. (It is not a surprise that he has no money already.)
Para mí no es un alivio que digas eso. (For me it is not a relief that you say that.)
A variation with the infinitive
Up until now, all the sample sentences have referred to a person different from the speaker, but Spanish likes exceptions, variations and modifications.
This is especially true when the speaker and the person they are talking about/referring to are the same.
In these cases, “que + subjunctive” disappears, and it gets replaced by an infinitive:
Es una pena no poder ir. (It is a pity not to be able to go.)
Es un alivio estar de vuelta. (It is a relief to be back.)
Es un placer estar aquí. (It is a pleasure to be here.)
3. (No) Es bueno/malo + infinitive
The adjectives bueno and malo tend to give a bit of a headache to some students sometimes, especially when they are mixed with bien and mal (see next point).
In reality, it is very easy to distinguish them, since bueno and malo are adjectives and bien and mal are adverbs.
But let’s imagine for a second that you do not know what an adjective or an adverb is, or that you do not even want to know. There is a very simple trick you can use in order to always be correct: bueno and malo can only follow the verb ser in these impersonal constructions.
Use “es bueno/malo + infinitive” when you want to say that doing something (any activity) is either good or bad for you, for your health, for the environment, etc.:
No es bueno comer tanto. (It is not good to eat so much.)
Es bueno correr por la mañana. (It is good to run in the morning.)
Es malo fumar. (It is bad to smoke.)
You can also start the sentences with the infinitive if you want:
Comer tanto no es bueno.
Correr por la mañana es bueno.
Fumar es malo.
4. (No) Está bien/mal + infinitive
Just as bueno and malo could only be used with the verb ser in this type of constructions, bien and mal can only be used with estar.
Even though the meanings of both couples of expressions is quite similar, es bueno/malo normally refers to things that are good or bad for your health, while está bien/mal has a more general meaning or “to be OK/acceptable/advisable or not.”
Here are some sample sentences:
Está bien cerrar la puerta cuando no hay nadie en casa. (It is advisable to close the door when no one’s home.)
Está mal hablar con la boca llena. (It is not OK to speak with your mouth full.)
No está bien decir mentiras. (It is not OK to tell lies.)
Hearing more sentences that use this construct can be helpful. Luckily, there’s a useful song by Paulo Londra that uses está bien throughout the chorus line (warning: the lyrics get spicy).
You can find more examples in the FluentU program, as well, where authentic videos like music videos and movie clips are paired with interactive captions and personalized quizzes. Do a search for está bien or any of the other phrases in this post to hear more examples of them being spoken by native Spanish speakers.
5. Hay que + infinitive
Hay que is a very useful Spanish impersonal expression we use to convey the idea that something has to be done.
Normally, the speaker has no hidden agenda and they just want to say something must be done, but plenty of times this expression can be used quite “shadily” in order to express something similar to “you have to do X, but I am not telling you directly you have to do it.” Don’t you love Spanish?
As for its translation into English, there is not a word-for-word one or one that would fit every context and situation. The intrinsic meaning of hay que is the need to say something has to be done while being impersonal, so you will see translations range from “it is necessary to + infinitive” or “one must + infinitive,” to “something needs + present participle” and “something has to be + past participle”:
Hay que regar las plantas. (The plants have to be watered.)
Hay que volver lo antes posible. (It is necessary to go back as soon as possible.)
Hay que estudiar mucho para aprobar el examen. (One must study a lot to pass the exam.)
6. Parece que + indicative / No parece que + subjunctive
Use this expression when you want to say that something is likely to happen/have happened.
English normally translates this expression as “it seems (that)” or “you look like,” but bear in mind the latter is not impersonal in English:
Parece que va a llover. (It seems it is going to rain.)
Parece que has visto un muerto. (You look like you have seen a ghost.)
Parece que tenemos un problema. (It seems we have a problem.)
If you have a look at the verbs in the previous three sentences, you will realize they are all in the indicative mood. The reason is that parece que is always followed by the indicative when the sentence is affirmative.
However, if the sentence is negative, you need to use the subjunctive:
No parece que vaya a llover. (It does not look like it is going to rain.)
No parece que tengas ningún problema. (It does not look like you have any problem.)
7. Está comprobado que… / Está prohibido + infinitive
I have included these two constructions in this post just so you can have a few more examples of impersonal expressions with estar (we saw está bien/mal previously).
Comprobado (proven) and prohibido (forbidden) are past participles as well as adjectives. Actually, these two expressions are examples of the passive voice with the verb estar, something that may surprise many learners who are always used to hearing that Spanish’ passive voice uses ser.
Está comprobado que is normally followed by a noun and a conjugated verb in the indicative. This impersonal expression is used when we want to say that something has been proven or we are sure it is right:
Está comprobado que este no es mi año. (It is proven [I know for a fact] this is not my year.)
Está comprobado que el ejercicio es muy sano. (It is proven that exercising is very healthy.)
“Está prohibido + infinitive” is the typical expression you can read or hear when something is forbidden. English will normally translate this construction as “one/you must not + infinitive”:
Está prohibido aparcar aquí. (You must not park here.)
Está prohibido fumar en el edificio. (One must not smoke in the building.)
8. (No) Interesa/Conviene/Importa que + subjunctive
The verbs interesar (to interest), convenir (to suit) and importar (to matter) can be used impersonally in the third person singular in order to convey the following:
Interesa que is used when you want to say that doing something would be beneficial for someone or something:
Interesa que ganen el partido. (It would be beneficial for them to win the match.)
No interesa que vuelva. (It wouldn’t be beneficial for him to come back.)
Many students confuse this impersonal expression with the verb interesar (to be interested in), which is conjugated like gustar and its friends:
Me interesa la literatura. (I am interested in literature.)
Nos interesan los deportes. (We are interested in sports.)
The noun interés can mean both interest and incentive, hence the difference in meaning between interesa que and interesar.
Conviene que is used when you want to say that it would be advisable for something to be done or for someone to do something:
Conviene que termines rápido. (It would be advisable for you to finish fast.)
No conviene que llegues tarde. (It would not be advisable for you to be late.)
Importa que is used when you want to say that something matters or is important. It is very often used in its negative form, no importa que:
No importa que llueva. (It does not matter if it rains.)
No importa que no tengas dinero. (It does not matter if you have no money.)
9. Impersonal Se
Se expressions are very useful when we want to be impersonal.
Even though se constructions are normally translated as a passive sentence into English, they are actually not considered passive in Spanish.
Impersonal se can be used in any context, and it is very easy to master.
Se expressions normally look: “Se + verb + noun.” The verb has to be conjugated in the third person, singular or plural, depending on the number of the noun:
Se vende casa. (A house is sold.)
Se venden casas. (Houses are sold.)
Se habla español. (Spanish is spoken.)
Se arreglan coches. (Cars are repaired.)
10. Weather Verbs
One of the examples I used at the beginning of this post was “it is raining.” Indeed, weather verbs and expressions are always impersonal both in Spanish and English, but while English has a crazy love for “it” expressions (“it is snowing,” “it is cold,” “it is windy”…), Spanish can be impersonal in a couple of different ways.
On the one hand, we have some infinitives that can be conjugated in the third person singular. The most common ones are llover (to rain) and nevar (to snow):
Está lloviendo. (It is raining.)
Está nevando. (It is snowing.)
Está chispeando. (It is drizzling.)
On the other hand, we have the impersonal form hace (lit. it makes, it does) followed by a noun:
Hace frío. (It is cold.)
Hace viento. (It is windy.)
Hace sol. (It is sunny.)
Amazing, isn’t it?
Spanish is super thorough when it comes to impersonality. We may not have the largest vocabulary or the most elegant alphabet, but we know how to be impersonal when we have to.
As you have been able to see and learn in this post, it just takes a couple of expressions to make you a master of using impersonal Spanish expressions.
The grammar tidbits included in this post will help you understand how to use each construction, while the dozens of examples I have provided will serve as the perfect basis for you to create your own!
Remember that being impersonal does not make you less human. Impersonality is part of our language, and the sooner we learn how to use it, the better.
Stay impersonal, my friends, and as always, happy learning!