Categories: French Grammar

Passive Voice in French

Passive Voice in French

The video is here:

So, if you understand it in English, you will understand in French too!

-Active Voice means that the subject of the sentence is acting.
-Passive Voice, the subject does nothing!


Charlotte reads the book: Charlotte is acting in this sentence she reads, she is the subject so the sentence is active.
The book is read by Charlotte:  The book, the subject of the sentence is doing nothing, it is just read by someone else, so the sentence is passive.

Ask “Who?” to easily know if the sentence is active or not, who is acting.

In French:

Charlotte lit le livre becomes le livre est lu par Charlotte
One thing to remember with the verb “to be” in French: the past participle agrees with the subject.
Il mange la tarte becomes la tarte est mangée par lui (as you can see we added an “e” at mangée because “tarte” is feminine)

Also, tenses must match:
Il mangera le gâteau (he will eat the cake) becomes le gâteau sera mangé par lui (future)

Way to avoid the passive voice in French:

In French, we do not use a lot the passive voice, less than in English, so, even if you can translate an English sentence into French word for word and get the passive voice which is grammatically correct, we prefer to use other ways of saying the same thing.

Let’s see 3 ways:

1. C’est … qui

The cake is eaten by her, if you translate this passive sentence into French you will have:
Le gâteau est mangé par elle, and this is correct but not really used, to better your translation you should say:
C’est elle qui a mangé le gâteau (active voice)

This book was written by Shakespeare: Ce livre a été écrit par Shakespeare
But better: C’est Shakespeare qui a écrit ce livre

2. the pronoun “on”

All the expressions like “I was told that” are translated: On m’a dit que…
I was told that you came: on m’a dit que tu es venu(e)

Actually when you don’t know who acts in the sentence, you can use the pronoun “on” meaning someone.
In the expression “I was told” we don’t know who told you that, so you can use “on”: on m’a dit.

The pie was eaten (again we don’t know who ate the pie, so “on”): On a mangé la tarte.
Of course you can use the passive voice and write: la tarte a été mangée, this is grammatically correct but not really used.

3. Reflexive Verbs

Another way to avoid the passive voice is to use a reflexive verb in French:

Cheese is eaten with a good wine, of course you can say “le fromage est mangé avec un bon vin”, or better with the pronoun “on” (as you don’t know who eat the cheese), on mange le fromage avec un bon vin (active voice) or with a reflexive verb. Here the verb is to eat, the reflexive verb will be: to eat itself, manger becomes se manger:
Le fromage se mange avec un bon vin.

Have a look at the video for more exercises.

Pascal Dherve

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Pascal Dherve

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