Friday, December 15

French Language: The Passive Voice

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Sentences with the structure subject – verb – object are in the active voice, for example ‘The boy hits the ball.’ The subject ‘boy’ is performing the action on the ball. If we change this to passive voice, we say ‘The ball is hit by the boy.’ Here, the object of the active sentence has become the subject of the passive sentence, and the ball is having an action performed on it by the boy. The passive voice is often used when we do not know who performed the action, if we say for example ‘The bank was robbed last night.’

As in English, we use the verb ‘to be’ – être – in French, in the appropriate tense, to form the passive voice. This is followed by the past participle of the main verb, which must agree with the subject. Here are some examples of sentences in the passive voice in various tenses:

PRESENT TENSE

Elle est enseignée par ma soeur. – She is taught by my sister.

PERFECT TENSE

Vous avez été choisis par le professeur pour partir en France. – You (plural) have been chosen by the teacher to go to France.

FUTURE TENSE

Le concert sera suivi par un dîner. – The concert will be followed by a dinner.

IMPERFECT TENSE 

Les appartements étaient loués pendant l’hiver. – The flats were rented out during the winter.

CONDITIONAL TENSE 

Tu serais puni par tes parents. – You would be punished by your parents.

PAST PERFECT TENSE (PLUPERFECT)

Mon livre avait été lu par les professeurs. – My book had been read by the teachers.

FUTURE PERFECT TENSE

Les maisons auront été vendues avant notre retour. – The houses will have been sold by the time we return.

CONDITIONAL PERFECT TENSE

Nous aurions été perdus sans vos conseils. – We would have been lost without your advice.

The verbs that normally use être to form the perfect tense are verbs that would not be used in the passive, so no confusion should arise on this point.

‘On’ is often used instead of the passive voice in French, for example:

On nous a dit de rester. – We were told to stay.

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