La voix passive - French Passive Voice

Girl reading book
"Lise lit le livre." (Lise is reading the book.). Pekic / Getty Images

Voice is a grammatical term which indicates the relationship between a subject and verb. There are three different voices in French and English. In the passive voice, the action described by the verb is being done to the subject by an agent, which is usually introduced by one of two prepositions:

1. When the verb expresses an action, the agent is introduced by the preposition par:

Active voice
   David fait le ménage.


   David is doing the housework.

Passive voice
   Le ménage est fait par David.
   The housework is done by David.

Active voice
   Lise lit le livre.
   Lise is reading the book.
Passive voice
   Le livre est lu par Lise.
   The book is read by Lise.

2. When the verb expresses a state of being, the agent is either introduced by de or left out entirely:

Active voice
   Tout le monde le respecte.
   Everyone respects him.
Passive voice
   Il est respecté de tout le monde.
   He is respected by everyone.
   Il est éminemment respecté.
   He is highly respected.

Active voice
   Mes amis aiment ma mère.
   My friends love my mother.
Passive voice
   Ma mère est aimée de mes amis.
   My mother is loved by my friends.

How to conjugate the passive voice
Using and avoiding the passive voice

Passive voice quiz

The passive voice is formed with the conjugated verb être + the past participle. The past participle has to agree with the subject, not the agent, in gender and number, just like être verbs in the passé composé (more about agreement):

   Le livre est écrit par des lycéens.
   The book is written by high schoolers.

   La vaisselle est faite par Henri.
   The dishes are done by Henri.

   Les enfants sont nourris par Luc.


   The kids are fed by Luc.

 

To use the French passive voice in any other tense or mood, just conjugate être accordingly:
 
 Active voicePassive voice
présentAnne fait la tarte.
Anne makes the pie.
La tarte est faite par Anne.
The pie is made by Anne.
 
passé composé  Anne a fait la tarte.
Anne made the pie.
La tarte a été faite par Anne.
The pie was made by Anne.
 
imparfaitAnne faisait la tarte.
Anne was making the pie.
La tarte était faite par Anne.
The pie was being made by Anne.
 
futurAnne fera la tarte.
Anne will make the pie.
La tarte sera faite par Anne.
The pie will be made by Anne.
 
subjonctifJe veux qu'Anne fasse la tarte.  
I want Anne to make the pie.
Je veux que la tarte soit faite par Anne.
I want the pie to be made by Anne.
 
et cetera
 
Note that the passive voice always has one more verb than the active voice.
 
Using and avoiding the passive voice
 
Passive voice quiz

Using the passive voice

Now that you know about prepositions and agents and how to conjugate the passive voice, it's on to more practical matters. The French passive voice may be used for two reasons:

A) To put more emphasis on the person or thing performing the action:

Active: Un enfant a écrit ce livre. - A child wrote this book.
Passive: Ce livre a été écrit par un enfant. - This book was written by a child.



B) To focus on an action without identifying the performer:

    Jean a écrit ce livre. - Jean wrote this book.
   vs
    Il a été écrit en 1927. - It was written in 1927.


Avoiding the passive voice

The French passive voice has a slightly formal or literary tone and is used less frequently than in English. There are several alternatives to the passive voice (besides the active voice):

A) To focus on the performer, use c'est:

    Ce livre a été écrit par un enfant. > C'est un enfant qui a écrit ce livre.
   This book was written by a child. > It's a child who wrote this book.

    Le record a été battu par une femme. > C'est une femme qui a battu le record.
   The record was beaten by a woman. > It's a woman who beat the record.


B) To avoid identifying the performer, there are two options:

    1. On (impersonal subject pronoun)

    Ce livre a été écrit en 1927. > On a écrit ce livre en 1927.
   This book was written in 1927.



    Ils ont été pardonnés. > On les a pardonnés.
   They have been excused.

    2. Se (passive reflexive)

    Ce livre est souvent lu. > Ce livre se lit souvent.
   This book is often read.

    Les mûres ne sont pas vendues ici. > Les mûres ne se vendent pas ici.
   Blackberries aren't sold here.