Table of contents chapter 8 8.10 Somebody vs. passive voice

Chapter 8: Ser and Estar; Gerund and Passive voice

  8.10 Somebody vs. Passive voice

There is a construction that looks actually like the one in chapter 8.9.

However, when looking at it carefully, we find that it is not a reflexive verb but the se just simply means somebody (anybody, "they" without actually knowing who "they" are). The two constructions look similarly, but they are different!

Se habla de él. = They talk about him.
  direct translation: Somebody /They talk(s) about him, se means somebody, "they"

Se alquilan pisos = apartments are rented. apartments for rent.
  direct translation: apartments rent themselves, se is reflexive pronoun.

If the sentence has a direct object the verb has to be in accordance with the object in means of number. That's why it is correct to say: Se alquilan pisos, and actually incorrect to say Se alquila pisos (even though you will find loads of those sentences in Google). It's actually the same in English: apartments are rented. (not apartments is rented).

Only if the direct object is a person it is used with the preposition a the verb doesn't need to be in accordance:

Se llamó al camarero.= The waiter was called.
Se llamó a los camareros.= The waiters were called.

The weird thing about those constructions is that they do not have a subject. That makes it a bit difficult to understand. Nevertheless, you will! The translation will "invent" a subject, the subject "they" knowing that those ones are quite anonymous.

Se habla. = It's talked. (Somebody talks / They talk)
En Afghanistan se suele comer en el suelo. = In Afghanistan they eat on the floor.