4 Ways to Use the Passive Voice in Italian

Learn how to use la forma passiva in Italian

Sun beams in Via Dei Tornabuoni, in Florence
Sun beams in Via Dei Tornabuoni, in Florence. Busà Photography / Getty Images

In a sea of grammar to learn, you might be wondering, “What is the passive voice (la forma passiva), and why do I have to learn it?”

I get it. When I got deeper into studying grammar, the passive voice kept popping back up at me, as it's used more often in Italian than in English. 

Not sure what I mean by active vs. passive voice?

  • ACTIVE VOICE: She rented a room in Bologna.
  • PASSIVE VOICE: The room in Bologna was rented by her.

    In the active voice, it’s very clear who is doing the action, while in the passive, the subject is often cut out, leaving you to ask the question “by whom (was this action completed)?

    So, when is the passive voice typically used?

    Overall, it’s used when the action is more important than who is doing the action.

    • Criticize the way something was done without blaming someone for it
    • Give the facts of a situation or a story, typically in the news
    • Outline the way that something is done, like with guidelines, rules, or procedures

    Now that you’re familiar with the types of situations you would use it in, here are the four formulas.

    FORMULA #1: Si + verb (conjugated in 3rd person singular/plural)

    • Non si possono imparare quattro lingue allo stesso tempo. - One cannot learn four languages at the same time.
    • Sì, infatti, qua si vendono i supplì. - Yes, in fact, here supplì is sold.
    • Come ci si iscrive all’unversità all’estero? - How does one enroll in a foreign university?
    • È più importante quello che si fa o quello che si pensa? - What is more relevant, what one thinks or what one does?

    In this formula, you take the passive particle “si” (not to be confused with the pronoun “si”) and follow it with a verb that’s been conjugated in either the 3rd person singular or plural.

    FORMULA #2: Essere + Past participle

    Tense: Il presente indicativo

    • ACTIVE: Scrivo un articolo su come si usa la forma passiva.
    • PASSIVE: L’ articolo su come si usa la forma passiva è scritto da me.

    Tense: Il passato prossimo

    • ACTIVE: La mamma ha regalato un libro al bambino.
    • PASSIVE: Il libro è stato regalato al bambino dalla mamma.

    Tense: Il futuro

    • ACTIVE: Giulio porterà la torta.  
    • PASSIVE: La torta sarà portata da Giulio.

    Tense: L’imperfetto

    • ACTIVE: Lei preparava la cena.
    • PASSIVE: La cena era preparata da lei.

    FORMULA #3: Venire + Past participle

    • La scuola viene raccomandata da tutti gli studenti. - The school is recommended by all of the students.
    • Questo libro verrà utilizzato come prova nel processo. - This book will be used as evidence in the trial.
    • Luca viene accompagnato a scuola tutti i giorni dalla nonna. – Luca is accompanied to school every day by his grandma.

    Also, you’ll see this particular construction more often in formal situations, like legal proceedings or when discussing politics and finances.

    FORMULA #4: Dovere/Potere/Volere/Andare + Past participle

    DOVERE - TO MUST, TO HAVE TO

    • I pomodori devono essere piantati prima che la primavera abbia inizio. - Tomatoes should be planted before spring begins.
    • Le preposizioni devono essere studiate accuratamente. - Prepositions must be studied very carefully.
    • Il pagamento dovrà essere effettuato entro il 31 dicembre. - The payment will have to be made before December 31st.

    POTERE - TO BE ABLE TO

    • Questo obiettivo potrà essere raggiunto soltanto attraverso una serie di compiti specifici. - This goal will only be reached through a series of specific tasks.
    • La carne può essere cucinata sul fornello o al forno. - The meat can be cooked on the stove or in the oven.

    VOLERE - TO WANT

    • Il bambino è stato fortemente voluto dai genitori. - The newborn has been strongly desired by the parents.
    • L’osservanza della legge è voluta dal governo. - Law observance is required by the government.

    ANDARE - TO GO

    • In questo corso, i compiti vanno completati ogni giorno. - In this course, the homework must be completed each day.
    • Il modulo va firmato. - The form must be signed.