Passive Voice

Voix passive

As seen in this sentence, the passive voice is used to indicate that something is being done to a subject by an agent. It’s passive because the subject is being acted upon, rather than acting as in the active voice. The agent may be implied or introduced by one of two prepositions.

1) State-of-being verbs

When the verb indicates a state of being, the agent—if any—is introduced by the preposition de.

Par exemple…

Ce professeur est détesté de ses collègues.   This teacher is hated by his colleagues.
La décision est très appréciée (de tout le monde).   The decision is greatly appreciated (by everyone).

2) Active verbs

The agent of active verbs is introduced by the preposition par.

Par exemple…

Les voitures sont conçues par les ingénieurs.   Cars are designed by engineers.
Ce film a été tourné en France (par un étudiant).   This movie was filmed in France (by a student).

  À noter

Only transitive verbs (that is, verbs with direct objects) can be used in the passive voice. Just as the subject of an active sentence becomes the agent, the direct object becomes the subject.

Par exemple…

Active   Les ingénieurs conçoivent les voitures.   Ingénieurs is the subject, voitures is the direct object.
Passive   Les voitures sont conçues par les ingénieurs.   Voitures is the subject, ingénieurs is the agent.

Using the passive voice

There are two good reasons to use the passive voice.

1) Emphasize the agent

In the passive voice, the agent is placed at the end of the sentence, which gives it extra weight.

  En comparaison…

Passive   Active
Ce professeur est détesté de tous ses collègues.   Tous ses collègues détestent ce professeur.
Le film a été tourné par un étudiant.   Un étudiant a tourné le film.

2) Anonymous subject

With the passive voice, you can avoid saying who or what is doing something by leaving out the agent, whereas in the active voice, you have to specify a subject.

Par exemple…

Passive   Active
La décision est très appréciée.   Tout le monde / Le public / Les gens… apprécie(nt) la décision.
Beaucoup de voitures sont conçues ici.   ___ conçoit (conçoivent) beaucoup de voitures ici.

Avoiding the passive voice

It’s easy to overuse the somewhat formal passive voice, but there are ways to achieve essentially the same results without it.

1) Emphasize the subject with c’est or ce sont:

Ce sont les collègues qui détestent ce professeur (pas les étudiants).
C’est un étudiant qui a tourné le film (incroyable, n’est-ce pas ?)

2) For an anonymous subject, you have two options:

   a) Impersonal subject pronoun on

On a pris la décision facilement.   The decision was made easily, We/They made…
On conçoit beaucoup de voitures ici.   Many cars are designed here, We/They design…

   b) Passive reflexive se

La décision s’est prise facilement.
Beaucoup de voitures se conçoivent ici.

 Related lessons

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French passive voice
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2 Responses

  1. Frederic 13 November 2016 / 15:34

    It’s true Faux Frenchie. Not very recommended in English. It’s Not very used in French either, but very present in old literacy. Also more of a formal way of conversating.

  2. Faux Frenchie 2 December 2014 / 16:03

    In American schools I was taught to try to avoid the passive voice as much as possible. In French schools my daughter is learning that the French are actually quite fond of it.