Italian Passive Form

In the previous lessons we learned about the impersonal forms and how to talk about things in general terms, as well as comparatives and superlatives, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives, nouns and articles. Now we move on to the passive forms, which are used in sentences where the action is acted on the the subject.

Forma Passiva | (Passive Form)

When talking about the passive form, the first thing to keep in mind is that not all verbs allow it. In fact, only verbs that are transitive (which answer the question “who” or “what?”) have both an active and a passive voice. The active voice is when the subject is performing the action of the verb, while the passive voice is the opposite – the subject is receiving the action of the verb. When we want to mention who is performing the action, we can do so by using the preposition da (from/by), or it can be omitted. The passive form can be built it in different ways, based on the verb tense of the sentence:
  • essere (to be) + past participle
  • venire (to come) + past participle
  • andare (to go) + past participle
  • si + verb 3rd person singular/plural

Presente | (Present Tense)

  • Active: Marco mangia la pizza – (Marco eats pizza)
  • Passive: La pizza è/viene mangiata da Marco – (The pizza is eaten by Marco)

Passato Prossimo | (Past Perfect Tense)

  • Active: Marco ha mangiato la pizza – (Marco has eaten the pizza)
  • Passive: La pizza è stata mangiata da Marco – (The pizza was eaten by Marco)

Forma Passiva con Verbo “Essere” | (Passive form with the verb “to be”)

When we want to use the passive form, no matter the verb tense, we can use the construction with essere + past participle. With this construction we are also able to specify the person or object doing the action with the preposition da. The verb essere is conjugated the same way as the verbal tense of the active sentence and the past participle must agree.

Presente | (Present Tense)

  • Active: Il cameriere prepara i tavoli del ristorante – (The waiter prepares the restaurant’s tables)
  • Passive: I tavoli del ristorante sono preparati dal cameriere – (The restaurant’s tables are prepared by the waiter)
  • Active: Il giardiniere taglia l’erba – (The gardener cuts the grass)
  • Passive: L’erba è tagliata dal giardiniere – (The grass is cut by the gardener)

Passato Prossimo | (Past Perfect Tense)

  • Active: Mario ha pulito la macchina – (Mario cleaned the car)
  • Passive: La macchina è stata pulita da Mario – (The car has been cleaned by Mario)
  • Active: Hanno adottato due cagnolini ieri – (They adopted two puppies yesterday)
  • Passive: Due cagnolini sono stati adottati da loro ieri – (Two puppies were adopted by them yesterday)

Imperfetto | (Imperfect Tense)

  • Active: I genitori attendevano i bimbi all’uscita della scuola – (The parents were waiting for the kids outside the school)
  • Passive: I bimbi erano attesi dai genitori all’uscita della scuola – (The kids were being waited by the parents outside the school)
  • Active: La presenza della polizia intimoriva Franco – (The presence of the police was frightening Franco)
  • Passive: Franco era intimorito dalla presenza della polizia – (Franco was frightened by the presence of the police)

Trapassato Remoto | (Trapassato Remoto Tense)

  • Active: L’incendio aveva bruciato tutta la casa –  (The fire had burned the entire house)
  • Passive: Tutta la casa era stata bruciata dall’incendio – (The entire house had been burned by the fire)
  • Active: Marta mi aveva prestato una penna – (Marta had lent me a pen)
  • Passive: Una penna mi era stata prestata da Marta – (A pen had been lent to me by Marta)

Futuro Semplice | (Simple Future Tense)

  • Active: Lorenzo giocherà la prossima partita – (Lorenzo will play next game)
  • Passive: La prossima partita sarà giocata da Lorenzo – (The next game will be played by Lorenzo)
  • Active: Il Papa guiderà la processione – (The Pope will guide the procession)
  • Passive: La processione sarà guidata dal Papa – (The procession will be guided by the Pope)

Futuro Anteriore | (Future Perfect Tense)

  • Active: A quest’ora il dottore avrà visitato il paziente – (By now the doctor will have visited the patient)
  • Passive: A quest’ora il paziente sarà statvisitato dal dottore – (By now the patient will have been visited by the doctor)
  • Active: La mamma avrà preparato il pranzo – (Mom will have prepared lunch)
  • Passive: Il pranzo sarà stato preparato dalla mamma – (Lunch will have been prepared by mom)

Forma Passiva con Verbo “Venire” | (Passive form with the verb “to come“)

The construction with venire + past participle can only be used with simple tenses (Present, Imperfect, Simple Future, etc.) When using a compound verb (Past Perfect, Future Perfect, etc.), we need to use the construction with essere, as shown above. Also, just like the essere construction, the verb venire needs to be conjugated in the same tense as the active sentence and that the past participle must agree.

Presente | (Present Tense)

  • Active: La maestra controlla i compiti degli alunni – (The teacher checks the students’ homework)
  • Passive: I compiti degli alunni vengono controllati dalla maestra – (The students’ homework is checked by the teacher)
  • Active: La nonna prepara la cena – (Grandma prepares dinner)
  • Passive: La cena viene preparata dalla nonna – (Dinner is being prepared by grandma)

Imperfetto | (Imperfect Tense)

  • Active: Il postino consegnava le lettere – (The mailman was delivering the letters)
  • Passive: Le lettere venivano consegnate dal postino – (The letters were being delivered by the mailman)
  • Active: La polizia arrestava il ladro – (The police was arresting the thief)
  • Passive: Il ladro veniva arrestato dalla polizia – (The thief was being arrested by the police)

Futuro Semplice | (Simple Future Tense)

  • Active: Il falegname costruirà il tavolo – (The carpenter will build the table)
  • Passive: Il tavolo verrà costruito dal falegname –  (The table will be built by the carpenter)
  • Active: Lo chef preparerà il pasto – (The chef will prepare the meal)
  • Passive: Il pasto verrà preparato dallo chef – (The meal will be prepared by the chef)

Forma Passiva con Verbo “Andare” | (Passive form with the verb “to go“)

In passive sentences where we want to express a need or obligation, we use the construction made with andare past participle. This construction is the equivalent of dovere + essere + part participle.
  • A che ora vanno portati i fiori? – (At what time do the flowers need to be brought?)
  • Questo libro va letto – (This book must be read)
  • Il questionario va completato prima di uscire – (The questionnaire must be completed before exiting)
Note that this construction can only be used only with simple tenses.

Presente | (Present Tense)

  • La valigia va fatta prima del viaggio – (The suitcase needs to be made before the trip)
  • Il corso va terminato prima dell’esame – (The course needs to be completed before the exam)

Condizionale Semplice | (Simple Conditional Tense)

  • In fabbrica andrebbe assunto un altro operaio – (Another worker should be hired in the in the factory)
  • Prima di un lungo viaggio andrebbe controllato l’olio del motore – (The engine’s oil should be checked before a long journey)

Il “si” Passivante | (The Passive “si”)

When we want to refer to something in general, we can also use “si” in the passive form.
  • si + 3rd person singular or plural
Note that if the passive subject is singular, the verb needs to be conjugated in the 3rd person singular, while if the passive subject is plural, the verb needs to be conjugated in the 3rd person plural. This construction can be used with all verb tenses. If we use it with compound tenses, we always need to use essere (to be) as the auxiliary verb.
For Example:
  • In Italia si mangia la pizza – (In Italy pizza is eaten)
  • Le email si usano spesso per lavoro – (Emails are often used for work)
  • Il caffè si prende con o senza zucchero – (Coffee is taken with or without sugar)
  • I dolci si mangiano a fine pasto – (Desserts are eaten at the end of the meal)
  • Quando si sarà capito come proseguire, continueremo con il nostro viaggio – (Once it will be understood how to proceed, we will continue with our journey)
Also, when using this construction, the person or object that does the action is not mentioned.
  • Active: Francesca abbraccia Monica – (Francesca hugs Monica)
  • Passive: Monica è abbracciata da Francesca – (Monica is being hugged by Francesca)
  • Incorrect: Monica si abbraccia da Francesca
Finally, if we want to use this construction with an impersonal form, we simply add “si at the end of the verb. This is often used in commercial advertisements.
  • Cercasi elettricista [si cerca] – (Looking for an electrician)
  • Vendesi appartamento [si vende] – (Selling an apartment)
  • Affittasi camera in centro [si affitta] – (Renting a room downtown)

Verbi Modali in Passivo | (Passive Modal Verbs)

When expressive something in passive voice with modal verbs dovere (to have to), potere (to be able), volere (to want), we use the following construction:
  • essere (to be) + past participle
Presente con “Potere” | (Present Tense with “Potere”)
  • Active: I membri possono usare gli spogliatoi – (Members can use the changing rooms)
  • Passive: Gli spogliatoi possono essere usati dai membri – (The changing rooms can be used by the members)
  • Active: I clienti possono acquistare i prodotti a prezzi scontati – (Customers can buy goods at discounted prices)
  • Passive: I prodotti possono essere acquistati dai clienti a prezzi scontati – (The goods can be purchased by customers at discounted prices)
Presente con “Dovere” | (Present Tense with “Dovere”) When using dovere to express a need or obligation in the passive form, we can also substitute it with the verb andare (to go).
  • Active: Il paziente deve prendere le medicine tutti i giorni – (The patient needs to take the medications every day)
  • Passive: Le medicine devono essere prese tutti i giorni / Le medicine vanno prese tutti i giorni – (The medications must be taken by the patient every day)

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