Among the gazillion inventions that humans have created, one of the most beautiful one is that of language. Having a common mother script, French and English can be called siblings. Though technical differences exist, knowledge of one language can make learning the other easier. On these lines, the topic that we’ll study today is ‘Passive Voice’.
Defining Passive Voice
Orally and on paper, the active voice is commonly used. A sentence has two components – subject and object. In active voice, the subject will act on the action. Passive voice is the opposite of that where an action will be done on an object by the subject.
Active Voice: I (subject) eat (active verb) a biscuit (object).
Passive Voice: A biscuit (object) is eaten (passive verb) by me (subject).
We can observe that in the passive voice the action of ‘eating’ is done by the subject. Often the subject or the agent in passive voice can get omitted. This implies that the sentence will look somewhat like – ‘A biscuit is eaten’, which will keep it passive.
The reason that active voice is preferred is because of its nature to make sentences less verbose. We should avoid flowery language in general and leave the passive mostly in the hands of authors! Switching subject and object can also be confusing since we’ve been trained to think in active. However, some cases do need passive usage which is why we will get into the topic in French too.
French Passive Voice
French also mirrors the way passive voice is written in English.
English Passive Sentence = ‘to be’ verb + past participle
Example: ‘was drinking’
French Passive Sentence = conjugated form of ‘être’ + past participle
Example: ‘été tourné’
As opposed to the amount of usage in English, passive voice is reserved for formal situations in French. You might hear a politician, or a researcher speak in the same rather than two best friends.
Conjugation Table of Être
When we write passive sentences, we first put down the infinitive of the verb and then modulate the endings according to the following rules.
- If the ending is -er, then the ending is substituted to -é (the ‘r’ is dropped)
Example: Parler becomes parlé
- If the ending is -ir, then the ending is substituted to -i (the ‘r’ is dropped)
Example: Choisir becomes choisi
- If the ending is -re, then the ending is substituted to -u (the ‘re’ is dropped)
Example: Entendre becomes entendu
* Irregular verbs remain constant in past participle as they are in perfect tense.
Another important rule to remember is that the past participle which is after the verb être should agree with the subject that exists in the passive verb. In other words, there is an agreement with the gender and number of the subject of the passive verb and not the person doing the action.
Singular: an -e is added at the end
Plural: an -es is added at the end
Singular: there is no change
Plural: an -s is added at the end
We discussed how French speak majorly in active voice. So, let’s look at some ways we can stray from using passive voice.
How to Stay Away from Passive Voice
1. When you want to have the subject be the hero of the sentence rather than object use c’est.
Passive: Le film a été tourné par un étudiant (The film was shot by a student)
Active: C’est un étuduant qui a tourne le film (It’s a student who made the film)
2. Another way of avoiding passive is by making use of reflexive verbs. When the subject and object are the same thing, we can use verbs that start with -se or -s before the actual verb.
Les chapeaux se achètent 5 euros chacun (Hats are bought for 5 euros each)
3. The last way is to employ the indefinite pronoun ‘On’ which replaces ‘one’ and can be used for varied subjects.
On t’a appelé à la maison (We called you at home)
French Tutors will help you master the topic well.