Using se debe/se puede to say You must/you can (impersonal sentences)

In Spanish we use the impersonal pronoun se with the modal verbs deber and poder to express "you must [do something]" or "you can [do something]" in an impersonal way. In English you could also say "one must" or "one can" but this is more formal.

Se debe + infinitive of main verb

Se puede + infinitive of main verb

The modal verbs will always take the 3rd person singular form of the present.

This type of impersonal sentence where the subject is not specific but rather refers to people in general is used with intransitive verbs, i.e. verbs with no direct objects, like dormir, ir, descansar, pasear...

Have a look at the following examples:

En esta aldea tan tranquila se puede descansar estupendamente.
In this quiet village you can have a fabulous rest. (impersonal: one can rest)

Para tener una buena relación con la pareja se debe dialogar mucho.
To have a good relationship with your partner you need to talk to each other a lot. (impersonal: one needs to talk)

There are transitive verbs that may be used sometimes with no mention of a direct object. In this case the impersonal form "se debe/se puede" can also be used.

Read and listen to these examples:

En mi colegio se puede leer en silencio en la biblioteca.
In my school you can read in silence in the library. (impersonal: one can read)

No se debe fumar para gozar de buena salud.
You must not smoke to enjoy good health. (impersonal: One must not smoke)

Remember all modal verbs are followed by an infinitive.

Although this type of impersonal sentence seems very similar to the "passive se" sentences, this type cannot be turned into a "normal" passive sentence with "ser + participle".

For example:

No se debe fumar. (You must not smoke)

Fumar no es debido.

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

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

No se debe fumar para gozar de buena salud.
You must not smoke to enjoy good health. (impersonal: One must not smoke)


En esta aldea tan tranquila se puede descansar estupendamente.
In this quiet village you can have a fabulous rest. (impersonal: one can rest)


En mi colegio se puede leer en silencio en la biblioteca.
In my school you can read in silence in the library. (impersonal: one can read)


Para tener una buena relación con la pareja se debe dialogar mucho.
To have a good relationship with your partner you need to talk to each other a lot. (impersonal: one needs to talk)


Q&A

Kim

Kwiziq community member

31 May 2019

2 replies

It is June and still only 1 question like Nick said.

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

31 May 2019

31/05/19

Hola Kim

We passed it on to our colleagues on the Development team. They are going to look into it again. We thought it was fixed but it isn't.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

Saludos

Inma

Shui

Kwiziq language super star

3 June 2019

3/06/19

Hola Kim

This should be fixed now, please do get in touch again if there's still a problem. 

Shui

nick

Kwiziq community member

15 March 2019

3 replies

Just one question on this lesson?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

15 March 2019

15/03/19

Hola Nick

Sorry, there was a technical issue. It should be fine now.

Thanks for reporting it.

Un saludo

Inma

nick

Kwiziq community member

18 March 2019

18/03/19

Still just one question on this one?

:)

Shui

Kwiziq language super star

25 March 2019

25/03/19

Hola Nick - same issue as with the other lesson - they'll both be fixed at the same time, I've got someone looking at resolving this very soon.

Saludos

Shui

I'll be right with you...