How to Teach the Impersonal to First Year Spanish Language Students

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The Impersonal in English

Begin by discussing the impersonal in English. Explain that the impersonal in English is used to make general statements without a specified agent. An agent, in the case of the impersonal, is defined as the person or people who perform the action of the verb. For example, the following sentences are examples of the impersonal in English:

  • One can never have enough socks.
  • They say that you should never discuss religion or politics.
  • You should be kind to children and animals.
  • People need to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Anyone can play guitar.
  • Someone should write an intriguing book about grammar.
  • No one should ever kick puppies.

As illustrated by the previous examples, the impersonal in English is formed by using an impersonal pronoun or noun. The impersonal pronouns in English include the one pronouns (one, anyone, someone, no one) as well as the personal pronouns you and they when used impersonally. The noun people can also be used to form the impersonal in English when referring to people in general.

The Impersonal in Spanish

Introduce the impersonal (el se impersonal) in Spanish. Explain that the impersonal is used similarly in Spanish to make general statements with unspecified grammatical subjects. For example, the following sentences are examples of the impersonal in Spanish:

  • Se habla español en México. “People speak Spanish in Mexico.”
  • Se sirve el helado aquí. “They serve ice cream here.”
  • Se deben lavar los manos siempre. “One should always wash one’s hands.”
  • Se tienen los libros en la biblioteca. “They have books at the library.”
  • Se necesita comer. “People need to eat.”
  • ¿Cómo se dice “perro” en ingles? “How do you say “dog” in English?”
  • ¿Cómo se pronuncia “coche” en Nueva York? “How do they pronounce “car” in New York?”

Forming the Impersonal in Spanish

Explain the formation of the impersonal in Spanish.

  1. Conjugate the verb into the third person singular or plural.
  2. Place the impersonal se directly before the conjugated verb.
  3. Form the rest of the sentence as usual.

For example, the following chart identifies the infinitive, third person singular indicative, singular impersonal of some common Spanish verbs:

Infinitive – Third Person Indicative – Impersonal

  • beber – bebe – se bebe
  • comer – come – se come
  • dar – da – se da
  • hablar – habla – se habla
  • hacer – hace – se hace
  • ir – va – se va
  • vener – viene – se viene

¿Qué se hace? Practice Exercise

Use the following exercise to practice forming the impersonal in Spanish. Construct impersonal sentences in Spanish by describing what one does in each place.

Los Lugares

  • la biblioteca
  • el café
  • la discoteca
  • la escuela
  • la piscina
  • la playa
  • el restaurante
  • la tienda

Los Verbos

  • aprender
  • bailar
  • beber
  • comprar
  • comer
  • jugar
  • leer
  • nadar

Las Respuestas

  • Se lee en la biblioteca.
  • Se bebe en el café.
  • Se baila en la discoteca.
  • Se aprende en la escuela.
  • Se nada en la piscina.
  • Se juega por la playa.
  • Se come en la restuarante.
  • Se compra en la tienda.

Learning to form the impersonal se in Spanish is necessary for Spanish language learners to make general statements with unspecified grammatical subjects. This Spanish lesson plan outlines a lesson for teaching the impersonal to first-year Spanish students and includes an exercise for practicing the new verb form.