Using se debe/n and se puede/n + infinitive to say you must / you can (passive)

In Spanish we use the impersonal pronoun se with the modal verbs deber and poder to say "you must" or "you can" in order to explain general statements. The verb is conjugated in the 3rd person singular or plural, according to the direct object in the sentence.

Read and listen to these examples:

En esta tienda se pueden comprar unas joyas muy bonitas.
You can buy very nice jewels in this shop.

No se debe beber vino en exceso.
You must not drink wine excessively.

En Madrid se puede visitar el museo del Prado.
In Madrid you can visit the Prado museum.

Se deben pagar impuestos a Hacienda.
You must pay taxes to the Inland Revenue.

Notice how in the difference in the examples above between with a singular or uncountable nouns and plurals:

  • el museo del prado / vino = se puede/se debe
  • joyas / impuestos = se deben
In the examples above, it is compulsory to use an infinitive after se puede/n or se debe/n.

This type of sentence is a form of passive voice which is used in Spain more frequently than the "normal" passive (ser + participle). It can also be converted into a passive sentence in English, although they may sound a bit odd sometimes, and it sounds more natural to use the form You must/You can [do something], referring to a "general you", i.e people in general. 

For example:

No se debe beber vino en exceso
Wine must not be drunk excessively (normal passive)
You must not drink excessively (general you/people)

See also Expressing instructions and general statements with the impersonal se = one and Using "se debe/se puede" for "Yoy must/you can" (impersonal sentences)

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Se deben pagar impuestos a Hacienda.
You must pay taxes to the Inland Revenue.


En esta tienda se pueden comprar unas joyas muy bonitas.
You can buy very nice jewels in this shop.


No se debe beber vino en exceso.
You must not drink wine excessively.


En Madrid se puede visitar el museo del Prado.
In Madrid you can visit the Prado museum.


Q&A

Brett

Kwiziq community member

15 July 2018

2 replies

Hola, I'm very confused about the difference between debe haber; debe de haber; debe ser; debe de ser; debe tener. Is there a lesson on these?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

15 July 2018

15/07/18

Hi Brett


There is a lesson about this difference planned by the team. In the meantime I can tell you that adding "de" changes the meaning. Take these two examples:


La tienda debe abrir a las 9 de la mañana (The shop must open at 9 in the morming) (obligation)


La  tienda debe de abrir a las 9 de la mañana (The shop will probably open at 9 in the morming) (supposition/assumption) 


Saludos


Inma

Brett

Kwiziq community member

15 July 2018

15/07/18

Muchas gracias Inma, Deseo ver la lección.

William

Kwiziq community member

15 June 2018

1 reply

Se pueden or se deben


The question is:


No ________ papeles al suelo.
You must not throw papers on the floor.
HINT: Choose the correct passive form.


The four possible answers are:

se puede tirar
se puedes tirar
te puede tirar
se pueden tirar


The correct answer given is se pueden tirar. Should it not be:-....   “No se deben tirar papeles al suelo”

Silvia

Kwiziq language super star

16 June 2018

16/06/18

¡Hola William! Thank you very much for spotting this mistake, we have just corrected it in the system. Silvia
I'll be right with you...