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Using the Formal Pronominal Passive Imperative in orders/instructions

Using El Imperativo Pasivo Pronominal for formal orders/instructions

In certain contexts, to formally give an instruction or an order we use El Imperativo pasivo pronominal. This formula uses the verb in El Imperativo, which takes the same form as El Presente de Subjuntivo and then "se" (to mark the passive voice) is joined to the end, forming one single word. 

The following are some examples in the different contexts where this is normally used.

El Imperativo Pasivo Pronominal with instructions about food/food containers/medicine

It's common to find this as instructions when opening and handling food or medicine, so you can see sentences of this type written on jar labels or bottles. Let's look at some examples.

This could refer to a jar or can of food.

Ábrase con cuidadoOpen carefully

You might see statements like these on a medical cream or ointment. 

Extiéndase sobre la zona afectadaSpread over the affected area

Aplíquese una hora antesApply one hour before

This might refer to a dish. 

Sírvase fríoServe cold

In this context you will find the verb in El Presente de Subjuntivo in the 3rd person singular, as it will usually be referring to just one item (a dish, a tube of cream, a jar, etc.)

Although the most common translation for this is simply using the English imperative to give a direct order: "open..." "apply..." etc, the use of "se" in the Spanish sentence shows its passive nature, as if we were saying something like:

  • [Let it] be opened with care,
  • [Let it] be applied...
  • [Let it] be spread...

 

El Imperativo Pasivo Pronominal with instructions in recipes


Although there are other more common ways of giving instructions for recipes, you may also occassionally find El Imperativo pasivo pronominal used in this context. You might see sentences like:

Bátase el huevo despacio.Beat the egg slowly.

Hágase una masa suave sin grumos.Make a soft dough without any lumps.

Mézclense la harina, el azúcar y los huevos en un bol.Mix the flour, the sugar and the eggs in a bowl.

In this context, the 3rd person plural of El Presente de Subjuntivo must be used if you are referring to different things as you can see in the last example (mézclense...)

 

El Imperativo Pasivo Pronominal to give instructions in exams or formal documents


In a formal context you may still find El Imperativo pasivo pronominal in exams or in formal documents in order to give/clarify instructions. For example:

Rellénense todas las hojas del formulario.Fill in all sheets of the form.

Escríbase en mayúscula.Write in capital letters.

Véase el párrafo anterior.Refer to/see previous paragraph.

These commands/instructions are not directed to anyone in particular, they are general commands, for a general public.

Note that "se" is invariable in this structure whichever the context.

The verbs are conjugated in the 3rd person singular or 3rd person plural, depending on El sujeto paciente:

Ábrase la ventana para que haya ventilación.

Ábranse las ventanas para que haya ventilación.

 

Tilde/written accent

When forming this verbal structure that requires the addition of "se", the verb takes an accent as it becomes a longer word and, as per the general rules for accentuation in Spanish, a written accent becomes necessary on the syllable where the stress is:

abran but ábranse

mezclen but mézclense

sirva but sírvase 

It's importante to note that this structure is rarely used in spoken Spanish. It is very much limited to written texts.

See also Forming passive sentences with "se" (la pasiva refleja)

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Examples and resources

Sírvase fríoServe cold
Escríbase en mayúscula.Write in capital letters.
Aplíquese una hora antesApply one hour before
Hágase una masa suave sin grumos.Make a soft dough without any lumps.
Ábrase con cuidadoOpen carefully
Bátase el huevo despacio.Beat the egg slowly.
Extiéndase sobre la zona afectadaSpread over the affected area
Rellénense todas las hojas del formulario.Fill in all sheets of the form.
Mézclense la harina, el azúcar y los huevos en un bol.Mix the flour, the sugar and the eggs in a bowl.
Véase el párrafo anterior.Refer to/see previous paragraph.
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