Are you ready? Today we are going to study how to form the passive form in Italian! Don’t worry: it is not that difficult, but you must be careful! So, make yourself a coffee (or a tea… or what you want!) and click PLAY!
The PASSIVE voice in Italian
What’s the difference between the active and passive form?
In the active form the subject carries out the action described by the verb (subject and agent coincide).
Maria compra il gelato. [Maria buys the ice cream] (→ Maria is the subject and carries out the action to buy)
In the passive form the subject undergoes the action expressed by the verb, which is carried by someone else or something else (subject and agent do not coincide).
Il gelato è comprato da Maria. [The ice cream is bought by Maria]
How do we turn an active sentence into a passive one?
Maria compra il gelato. → Il gelato è comprato da Maria.
Paolo ha visto il film. → Il film è stato visto da Paolo.
1) The active sentence direct object becomes the subject in the passive sentence
2) The verb in the passive sentence is made of the verb to be (essere) in the tense and mood of the active sentence + past participle
3) The subject in the active sentence becomes the agent in the passive sentence (introduced by the preposition DA)
N.B. There are sentences that cannot be turned into the passive form!
The precondition is the presence of a TRANSITIVE VERB, that is a verb that can have a direct object. (Without a direct object we wouldn’t have a subject in the passive form!)
Paolo passeggia in centro. [Paolo walks in the city center]
The verb essere in the passive form can be replaces by the verb VENIRE, but only if the tense is not compound. Not compound tenses are those made of one single word (presente, imperfetto, passato remoto, futuro semplice…).
Il gelato è comprato da Maria = Il gelato viene comprato da Maria
Il gelato è stato comprato da Maria MA
Il gelato è venuto comprato da Maria
In passive sentences the agent can also be absent! It can be absent when:
- it’s unknown
- it’s not relevant
- it’s implied
- It’s a generic multitude (le persone, la gente, molte persone…)
“Notte stellata” is regarded as Van Gogh’s most famous painting.
(Who regards it as such? A generic multitude! So we don’t need to make the agent explicit)
Review when to use “essere” and “avere”!
SI PASSIVANTE (passivizing si)
Qui si vende il pane. [Bread is sold here]
In this sentence, SI doesn’t mean «sé, se stesso», so it doesn’t have a reflexive function!
it has a passivizing function. It’s like saying:
Qui è venduto il pane. / Qui viene venduto il pane.
The passivizing SI is only used with the 3 person singular and plural.
Of course, if the subject is plural, the verb must agree with the 3 person plural:
Qui si vendono le bibite (= Qui sono vendute / vengono vendute le bibite) [Drinks are sold here]
DO NOT CONFUSE THE PASSIVIZING SI WITH THE IMPERSONAL SI!
If the verb is intransitive or transitive but without a direct object, the si takes on an impersonal function, but not passivizing!
The impersonal si is only used with the verb in the 3 singular person and it refers to «people» in general!
In questo ristorante si mangia bene [In this restaurant one / people can eat well]
→ transitive verb without direct object: people in general eat well in this restaurant (it’s not passivizing!)
Ormai si viaggia sempre più spesso in aereo [Nowadays people increasingly travel by airplane]
→ intransitive verb: people in general increasingly travel by airplane (it’s not passivizing)
Now that you know the passive voice, don’t miss the lesson about the indirect speech!