I don't know how to build in English impersonal sentences like this one from Spanish:

Es feliz quien quiere serlo.

I've thought of this one:

He's happy who wants to be it.

But I don't like it because it has gender. Is there any other way to construct this sentence?

  • 1
    For neutral, we do have one. Happy is the one who's 'it'? Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 15:04
  • Most of such sentences will sound either weird or old-fashioned. 'He who wins souls is wise' is from the Bible, and obviously uses the no-gender-intended usage of 'he'. The KJV also has 'Happy is the man who ...' as it translated the Beatitudes. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 15:11
  • Grammar: He who wants to be happy, will be happy. In any case, the Spanish "es no-que" will usually start with a pronoun or noun in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 15:17
  • 2
    He who wishes to be happy will be. As Edwin says, this sounds old-fashioned. To be gender-neutral, you could say 'the one who...'. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 15:18
  • 1
    'He's happy who wants to be' is grammatical, with a postposed relative clause (discussed elsewhere), but then so is 'Colorless green ideas sleep furiously'. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


The cause of this structure in Spanish is because it is pro-drop, which is to say the morphology of the verbs is sufficient to deduce the subject, sufficient to allow us to "drop" a pronoun we might plan to use.

Es feliz tells us not only that the subject "is" happy, but also that the subject is singular third person. If instead it had said soy feliz, we would know both that the subject was happy and that the subject was in fact the speaker. The same for quiere, not only that the subject wants something but that that subject is singular third person. This allows use of a generic type of subject that isn't overly exact or specific, which you describe as "impersonal."

Outside of certain irregular verbs, English verb conjugations don't change very much with person or number, and so we cannot derive the subject from the verb form as Spanish speakers can. So we need to state it specifically, even when there really isn't one, in sentences like "it is raining." or "it is time to go to bed" there really isn't a subject, but English needs us to create an artificial one.

The closest we can come to your sentence in English is to use an impersonal pronoun "one" which is generally considered old fashioned, or to use a different subject that conveys the right general meaning.

One is happy when one wants to be.

People are happy when they want to be.

  • 1
    He who or she who or the person who all work. Behind that Es feliz lies a un hombre or una persona. In any case, it is common in English proverbs to say "He who" for older truisms.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 16:31

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