38 Early Intermediate The Passive Voice in Spanish and how to avoid it!

The Passive voice in Spanish and the Active voice.sherlock-holmes-462957_1280


Once, whilst I was working in a college giving evening classes in Spanish I was asked to cover an ‘A’ level class for a teacher who was also a native speaker. In preparation for the class she talked me through the lesson plan for that day.  She said that we had to cover the ways of avoiding the Passive voice in Spanish.

As I sat there staring at her with my fake ‘I know exactly what you are talking about.’ face on, inside I was in panic. ‘What the hell was the Passive voice?’ I was asking myself. Up until that point I had never come across that name. Of course, I had used the Passive and Active voice millions of times in my life, I just didn’t know what it was called.

Fortunately, she put me out of my misery by giving me an example of both of them and I instantly knew what she meant. However, that was one of the moments in my learning journey that reinforced to me how idiotic the grammatical names are. Most times they don’t give any clue as to what they are referring. (Like the pluperfect/pluscuamperfecto, for example!)

So what is the Passive Voice?

Well, the Passive voice in Spanish and in English is the kind of sentence in which we don’t know who it was that did the act.  This is an example:

The building was built in the 17th century. = El edificio fue construido en el siglo 17.

This is a Passive sentence because there are no perpetrators. We don’t know who built the building. We can, of course, add ‘by some men’ if we want to clear up the mystery, but the sentence can stand alone perfectly without the extra information.

It’s important to know that the Passive voice in Spanish is not commonly used in spoken language. Yet, in English it’s everywhere!

We love it in English.

The boy was arrested.

The table was set.

The swords were drawn.

Rather than using the passive voice in Spanish, however, they prefer to use the Active voice. ‘What’s that?’, I hear you ask. Well, the Active voice is the sentence in which we know exactly who did it, It’s the ‘whodunnit’ structure. Here are some examples:

They constructed the building in the 17th century.

The police arrested the boy.

The lady set the table.

The men drew the swords.

Active voice = The blame game.

With the active voice, as you can see, all you need to do is to blame the people who did the act. Listen in to the Podcast as we show you this in detail with lots of examples.


Un saludo,

Gordon 🙂



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39 Early Intermediate Mí and Ti in Spanish. When do we use them?

Mí and Ti in Spanish. (Not to mention Sí)puzzle-654957_1280

I often used to wonder what the rule was about when to use Mí and Ti in Spanish. I kind of knew when to do it because I had heard others using them.

For example, in a restaurant I knew I had to say, ‘Para ‘. When I used ‘Gustar’ I knew I had to say: ¿A ti te gusta…?

What I didn’t know, however, was the system. And so, what happens when you don’t have a system is that your Spanish becomes a bit random. You get it right most times because it sounds right, but then, a new sentence needs to be created and you botch it up.

No System = Frustration

Across the years I have worked hard to find systems to help my Spanish and that of others. Most times, once you get to know your material, you find that there is one. Until you have that system, you can go through a lot of frustration as people correct you and you don’t know why.

This was what used to happen to me with Mí and Ti in Spanish. Until, that is, I found the system. Well, in truth, I didn’t find it, it was given to me by my beautiful wife.

Cynthia has this curious way of very nonchalantly sharing absolutely vital information as though it were nothing of great importance.

I recall the day that I had made yet another mistake with Mí or Ti in Spanish, I’m not sure which, and she said in a throw away comment:

You do know that if you are following a preposition you have to use Mí, don’t you?

There was a silence whilst I processed that little gem of information and suddenly, all of my confusions turned to smoke and everything clicked into place.

It had been right in front of my face.

The answer was so simple! Yet, I had never seen it up until that moment. I could have kissed Cynthia at that moment, and probably did so. I also was very frustrated with her.

‘Why haven’t you told me that before?’ I asked her. ‘I thought you already knew it.’ She replied surprised.

Sure! That’s why I had been getting it wrong for so long!

Watch the Podcast.

Now, you don’t need to be confused any more. Just watch the Podcast to understand the Mí and Ti in Spanish and then, if you want more practice and a deeper understanding, you might be interested in our Helpsheets which are available on the website.

un saludo,



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40 Early Intermediate Tú or Usted in Spanish LightSpeed Spanish

¿Tú, or Usted in Spanish.peasant-482727_1280

The question of the use of Tú and Usted in Spanish rather reminds me of the other famous question that we all know: ‘How long is a piece of string?’

The reason I say that is that over the years I have realised that I should not use the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ when I am talking about the rules and regulations of the Spanish language. I’ve been caught out so many times by one of my students who comes to class with evidence of an exception to my rule.  The same applies to the use of Tú and Usted in Spanish.

Now, I only ever use words like: ‘For the most part.’ or ‘Most times’ and even then, I am ‘rozando el limite’ of what is really the case.

It depends on where you are.

There really is no hard and fast rule to the use of Tú and Usted in Spanish apart from this one:

If in doubt, always start with Usted.

Recently I met a Colombian girl on a course I attended and we chatted about the use of Usted in Spanish in her country. She said that in her experience, most everyone used Usted and Ustedes only.

She surprised my by saying that her husband called her ‘señora’ and she called him ‘señor’ and both only talked to one other using ‘usted’. What was more, she said that in families and between friends, ‘usted’ is used.

Although she said that to use ‘tú’ you would need to be exceedingly close with a person, I asked her when it was that she had last used ‘tú’ with a person and she couldn’t think of one time.

Listen to what others use.

The case of the use of Tú and Usted in Spain is very different and it’s constantly changing. Spain is so much more informal than it was even 10 years ago. Yet, Usted in Spanish used in Spain still exists and is used daily. However, there are very specific situations in which Usted is used.

The safest way to manage this tricky situation is to listen to how the people speak to you and just ‘do the same’. If they use Usted in Spanish, then you do that to. If they speak to you in Tú, do that! Let them lead you.

In this Podcast and the Helpsheets that accompany it, we go into more detail of the ways to manage the situation of Tú and Usted in Spanish. Listen in as Cynthia and I help you with this.


Un saludo,

Gordon 🙂

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32 Advanced Intermediate Tratar and Acabar in Spanish LightSpeed Spanish

Tratar and Acabar in Spanish.tratar

In this Podcast we don’t just deal with Tratar and Acabar in Spanish  but also the reflexive versions of these verbs which you have probably see before: ‘Acabarse and Tratarse.

What you will find is that, just like many other verbs that have a reflexive option (just about all of them) the meaning sometimes changes subtly between the two  and sometimes it’s completely different.

Look at the verb Poner, for example. On it’s own it means ‘to put’:

Pongo la taza en la mesa. = I put the cup on the table.

Then, we have Ponerse.

Just by adding the reflexive pronoun we have change of meaning to ‘to become’ or to ‘put on’:

Se puso furioso. = He became furious. (Lit. He put himself furious.)

Se puso una chaqueta. = He put a jacket on. (Lit. He put a jacket on himself)

As you can see from the examples,  sometimes the meaning can change quite dramatically.

Sometimes, however, there is little difference, like in the verbs Olvidar and Olvidarse. To forget/oneself

These two can be used equally and yet they mean pretty much the same:

Olvidé decirte que…. = I forgot to tell you that…

Me olvidé de decirte que… = I forgot to tell you that….

Notice that the only difference is the ‘de’ preposition that must go with ‘olvidarse’.

So, the case is that just like Tratar and Acabar in Spanish compared with Tratarse and Acabarse, Spanish verbs can have multiple meanings that simply have to be learnt. However, we have no room to complain about verbs that change meaning.

English is much worse.

Quite often, when we are faced with these changes of meaning we roll our eyes and sigh with frustration. ‘Why can’t they just be straight forward?’ we ask.

Well, every time you think like that, just remember that English has the infamous ‘Phrasal verbs’ that change meaning totally with every preposition you add. For example:


Get on = Subirse

Get on with = Llevarse bien con alguien

Get over  something = Superar/mejorarse

Get by = arreglarse

Get in = subirse/entrar 

Get through = ponerse en contacto/hacer entender

And the list goes on!

Imagine if you had to learn English consciously, you would have to memorise the meaning of every Phrasal verb….and there are hundreds.

The simple fact is that verbs change meaning and that’s good. They make up the very richness of the Spanish language and so, in this Podcast we will give you an insight into the verbs Tratar and Acabar in Spanish. We cover many other verb meanings in our Podcast range so watch out for them. If you need to search for a verb you can do so in our Search Bar which is very good.

Hasta pronto,

Gordon 🙂


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33 Advanced Intermediate Talking Spanish well The little words LightSpeed Spanish

Talking Spanish.spanish-375830_1280

Let’s be honest, no matter which way you look at it, we are all here to be able to do one thing and that is talking Spanish well.

No matter how much we try to fool ourselves into thinking that we get more benefit from written exercises, or that reading about grammar will make us a proficient speaker, the bottom line is that if you want to speak Spanish well, that’s precisely what you have to do. You have to get ‘ talking Spanish ‘ like crazy.

Why do we avoid speaking?

The answer is easy. FEAR. We are typically frightened to speak because we are scared of making mistakes. Of course, this limiting fear, in turn, limits our learning and we get caught up in a downward spiral of  the following:

We don’t speak so that we won’t make mistakes and because we don’t speak we don’t get the practice that we need to stop us from making so many mistakes so that, when we are forced into talking Spanish, we make mistakes because we haven’t practiced enough and that makes us frightened of speaking the next time and on and on…

We’ve all been there.

The reason I can talk about this ‘FEAR’ phenomenon is because I’ve felt it more times that you can imagine. The only benefit I had when I was first learning, however, was that I was in a Spanish speaking country and I simply didn’t have a choice. It was talking Spanish or going without food. That was a great motivator.

Generally, however, we learn our second language in our own native country and so finding opportunities to speak Spanish isn’t so easy. Quite often, the longer the gap between conversations, the more anxiety we feel about speaking. Yet, when you are doing it all day, it quickly becomes the norm.

The little words.

We have made this Podcast and the accompanying helpsheets to help you overcome your fears and more to the point, to let you make your Spanish conversation flow more naturally. When you are talking Spanish it pays to have a generous bank of filler words that allow you to hang on to your conversation. (Spanish people will jump into any lengthy gap you leave in your conversation so to avoid interruptions you need to fill the gaps with stuff that doesn’t really mean anything.)

By using these filler words when talking Spanish, you make your spoken word sound more authentic and natural. Why? Because every native speaker uses them. We all do. And you can too!

Listen in to the podcast and choose the little words you like the sound of and ones you can incorporate into your conversation. It will be the making of you! Oh, and get talking Spanish!


un saludo,

Gordon 🙂

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