Impersonal Expressions with Se

Many places in Spain and Latin America have excellent public transportation systems, sistemas de transporte público. Depending on the place you are visiting, you may have many or few transportation options besides a private car and your own two feet.

  • a pie (on foot)

  • en autobús (by bus)

  • en taxi (by cab)

  • en metro (by subway)

  • en tranvía (by tram)

  • en tren (by train)

  • en motocicleta (by motorcycle)

  • en vespa (by motor scooter)

  • en bicicleta (by bicycle)

  • la parada (bus or metro stop)

  • la entrada del metro (metro entrance)

  • la ruta (route)

  • The bus is called el colectivo in Argentina and el guagua in Puerto Rico. Mexico City, Madrid, and Barcelona have terrific metro systems; Buenos Aires has a wonderful subterráneo or subte, for short. Many cities have privately run minivan buses that are called by a range of names including colectivos or combis. Each van follows a particular route, and they are often less expensive, though sometimes less comfortable, than the regular bus or subway service. Some privately owned taxis operate in a similar manner, particularly to provide more frequent transportation to and from a city and the surrounding towns. There are rarely schedules for such transport; when the van or cab fills, it departs. However, service is often more frequent than the regular bus. Some cities have special train lines, los trenes de cercanías, to handle commuting to outlying areas that may or may not be served by other means as well.

    Buses are generally either numbered or labeled with the name of the last stop of the route. Most subways systems have lines that are both numbered and colored for ease of distinguishing one from another. The Mexico City metro is famous for the pictographic symbols assigned to each line as well — for example, the Grasshopper line and the Pyramid line.

    In many places you can buy packets of multiple bus or metro tickets. You may also have the option of a single pass. Some cities offer passes that are good for unlimited travel for a specified time, a week or a month, for example. Think about how much you might use any sort of public transportation to decide whether or not a pass will be worthwhile. Consider convenience as well as cost, because many transportation systems require exact change.

    Getting Help on the Bus or Subway

    So, you've found out that you have to take bus 32 to get to Parque Güell. You've never been there, and you have no idea where to get off the bus. The simplest thing to do is ask the driver to let you know what stop it is. You can also ask someone sitting or standing next to you to tell you when to get off.

    Asking for Help

    TRACK 68

    Listen to each example on Track 68 as you follow along in the text. Repeat each one after you hear it.

    ¿Me puede avisar cuando lleguemos al Parque Güell, por favor?

    (Can you let me know when we get to Güell Park, please?)

    ¿Me hace el favor de decirme cuando debo bajar para el Parque Güell?

    (Will you do me the favor of telling me when I should get off for Güell Park?)

    ¿Me avisa dónde bajar para el Parque Güell, por favor?

    (Will you let me know when to get off for Güell Park, please?)

    ¿Cuál es la parada para el Parque Güell? ¿Me avisa, por favor?

    (Which is the stop for Güell Park? Can you let me know, please?)

    ¿Cuántas paradas faltan para el Parque Güell?

    (How many more stops are there to Güell Park?)

    Most people are happy to help out, but you might try to sit near the bus driver just so he or she remembers to let you know when you get to your stop. You might also want to ask the driver where to catch the return bus, el autobús de regreso.

    You've learned lots of impersonal expressions, and you may hear someone use them to give you directions or make sightseeing recommendations like Es mejor ir al museo cuando abre porque hay menos gente (It's best to go to the museum when it opens because there are fewer people). Another common construction is the impersonal expression with se. You've used the pronoun se with reflexive verbs and to replace le and les when they are followed by third-person direct object pronouns. Well, se is also commonly used with verbs in the third-person singular of the present tense to say what one does or what is done. For example:

    Aquí se habla español.

    (Here one speaks Spanish; or, Spanish is spoken here.)

    Se paga aquí.

    (One pays here.)

    Se baja por atrás.

    (One gets out [of the bus] in back.)

    These sorts of expressions sometimes include the verb deber to say what one should or should not do or poder to say what one can or cannot do.

    Se debe visitar esa iglesia cuando hay un concierto.

    (One should visit that church when there is a concert.)

    No se debe andar por ese barrio de noche.

    (One shouldn't walk around that neighborhood at night.)

    ¿Se puede entrar por aquí?

    (Can one enter this way?)

    No se puede pasar por allí.

    (One can't go that way.)

    Let's look at a few more examples that you might find useful when you're finding your way around town.

    ¿Cómo se llega a … ?

    (How does one get to … ?)

    ¿Se sube por delante o por atrás?

    (Does one get on [the bus] in front or back?)

    ¿Se come bien en este restaurante?

    (Does one eat well in this restaurant? Is the food good here?)

    ¿Se debe hacer una reservación?

    (Should one make a reservation?)

    Practice: Impersonal Expressions with Se

    Now you try it. Translate the following questions into Spanish using an impersonal expression with se. Then check your work in Appendix D.

    • How does one get into the museum?

    • Should one leave the key at reception?

    • One should see the fountain at night.

    • One can see the cathedral from the plaza.

    • One takes the number 7 bus to get to the historic district.

    Keep in mind that these sorts of statements in English are usually expressed with the impersonal “you” rather than “one.” The Spanish equivalents with se do not sound awkward, though their translation into English may.

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