Passive voice in French
What is the passive form in French ?
The passive form (French: la forme passive) is a transformation of the active phrase in which the subject of the active voice becomes complement.
In the passive sentence, the subject becomes the agent complement and the direct object of the active voice becomes the subject.
|le garagiste répare la voiture.||active||the mechanic repairs the car.|
|la voiture est réparée par le garagiste.||passive||the car has been repaired by the mechanic.|
Recap: what is the active voice in French ?
The active voice (French: voix active) presents the subject as agent of the action.
- Le chat boit du lait. (the cat is drinking milk)
- Julien a eu une bonne note. (Julian had a good mark.)
- Maman prépare une belle surprise. (Mom is preparing a beautiful surprise.)
Formation of the active voice
The active voice is formed with the: subject + verb + direct object complement (COD).
|le chat||boit||du lait|
|Julien||a eu||une bonne note|
|maman||prépare||une belle surprise|
Direct objects are sentence complements that receive the action of a transitive verb, with no intervening prepositions.
Formation of the passive voice
The passive voice (French: voix passive) presents the subject as agent undergoing the action. By changing the voice of the sentence, we therefore present the same action, the same event, but in a different way.
The passive voice is always made up of:
- The auxiliary "être", which is conjugated according to the mote, the tense and agrees with the person and the number.
- The past participle of the verb of the action.
- The subject (agent) is introduced by "par"
|Tense||active voice||passive voice|
|indicative||j'aime||je suis aimé(e)|
|past compound||j'ai aimé||j'ai été aimé(e)|
|future simple||j'aimerai||je serai aimé(e)|
|present conditional||j'aimerais||je serais aimé(e)|
|past conditional||j'aurais aimé||j'aurais été aimé(e)|
- Du lait est bu par le chat. (milk is being drunk by the cat.)
- Une bonne note a été eu par Julien. (a good mark have been got by Julian.)
- Une belle surprise est préparée par maman. (a good surprise is made by mom.)
you use "de" to introduce the subject with verbs like: "aimer", "connaitre", "respecter".
tout le monde aime cette personne → cette personne est aimée de tous (everyone loves this person)
you cannot form the passive when the subject is a pronoun.
Use of the passive voice in French
You use the passive form to emphasize
- The object of the verb instead of the subject
- An event without mentioning the subject
- Inventions, laws
|the object of the verb||la télévision a été inventée par John Baird||the television has been invented by John Baird|
|event||le président Kennedy a été assassiné||the president Kennedy has been murdered|
|invention, laws||une loi a été voté||a law just passed|
Therefore the passive transformation is only possible with verbs that accept a direct object complement (transitive verbs).
It cannot be used in the passive voice when:
- The verb of the sentence is an intransitive verb (tomber, courir, sourire, nager)
- The verb of the sentence is built with a indirect complement
Some verbs as conseiller, demander, dire, parler, permettre, répondre, appeler are not used in the passive voice
Substitutes for the passive
- Instead of using the passive, you can create active sentences with "on". Such constructions are very popular in colloquial French.
- Reflexive verbs are often used especially when the agent (subject) is not mentioned and when something is involved.
- A construction with se faire + infinitive can apply only to persons
- The construction être l'objet de is typical of journalese
|active sentence with "on"||on a décidé d'augmenter la TVA||we decided to increase the VTA|
|reflexive verbs||le médicament se boit avec de l'eau||the medicine is taken with water|
|se faire + infinitive||elle se fait offrir une bague||she was offered a ring|
|être l'objet de||son arrestation sera l'objet de beaucoup de discussions||his arrest will be the suject of much debate|
Keep your motivation and test your knowledge about the passive form with our exercises!
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