The French Passive Voice: Learn It The Easy Way
Finding the French Passive Voice hard to learn? Our quick and easy-to-follow guide is here to help better your understanding of the Passive Voice! Read on to find out how to use it effectively and master it in no time.
Before we learn about how to form the French Passive Voice, let’s first find out exactly what it is.
What is the Passive Voice?
First of all, it’s important to understand that a sentence has two components: a subject and an object. In the active voice, the subject acts on the object. In the passive voice, it’s the opposite: the subject receives the action.
Active Voice: I (subject) eat (active verb) pasta (object).
Passive Voice: The pasta (object) is eaten (passive verb) by me (subject).
As you can see, in the passive voice the action of eating is carried out by the subject.
The active voice is generally preferred because of its ability to make sentences sound less verbose and flowery, and it also sounds the most natural don’t you think? And often, you’ll find that the subject in the passive voice gets omitted. This means the sentence will look something like “The pasta is eaten” – this way it remains passive.
The French Passive Voice
Thankfully, the passive voice in French is similar to its English counterpart.
A passive sentence in English always includes a form of the verb “to be” + a past participle.
For example: This dress is sold in many shops.
In French, a passive sentence is built using a conjugated form of the verb être +a past participle
For example: La robe est achetée par Elena. (The dress is bought by Elena).
Here: la robe (the dress) is the subject in question, est is a conjugated form of the verb être, and achetée is the past participle of acheter.
Note: You’ll most likely only hear the passive voice being used in formal situations in French. You might find it in the likes of academic, scientific or technical writing too.
Now, as you’ve probably gathered it’s important you know your être conjugation table before you begin to tackle the French passive voice. Here’s a quick reminder:
The video below is a great way to learn more about the French passive voice:
Forming the Passive Voice: the Past Participle
To form the passive voice you’ll also need to be confident with your past participles. In need of a reminder too? We’ve got you covered:
- If the verb ends in -er, the “e” turns into -é and the “r” is dropped.
Example: Parler becomes parlé
- If the verb ends in -ir, the “i” remains the same and the “r” is dropped.
Example: Choisir becomes choisi
- If the verb ends in -re, the “re” is dropped and exchanged with a “u”.
Example: Entendre becomes entendu
Note: The irregular verbs you’ve come across in the perfect tense are also irregular in the past participle.
Another important past participle rule to remember is that it always needs to agree with the gender and number of the subject of the passive verb and not the person doing the action.
How to Avoid The Passive Voice
Still not at all keen on using the passive voice? We totally understand, which is why we’ve included this extra section to show you how:
When you want the subject to be the one to carry out the action rather than object, you can use c’est.
Passive: Le film a été tourné par un étudiant (The film was shot by a student)
Active: C’est un étudiant qui a tourné le film (It’s a student who shot the film)
Use Reflexive Verbs
Another way of avoiding passive voice is by making use of reflexive verbs. When you have a sentence in which the subject and object are the same, you can use verbs that require to be preceded with se or s’.
Les chapeaux s’achètent à 5 euros chacun (The hats are bought for 5 euros each)
3. Use ‘on‘
The last way to avoid the passive voice is to employ the indefinite pronoun on .
On t’a appelé à la maison (We called you at home)
And there you have it – absolutely everything you need to know about the French Passive voice!
Why not try our quiz below to put what you’ve learnt today to the test?
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.