Easy Learning Italian

The passive - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is the passive?
The passive is a verb form that is used when the subject of the verb is the person or thing that is affected by the action, for example, Everyone was shocked by the incident; Two people were hurt; The house is being demolished.

1  Using the passive

  • Verbs can be active or passive.
  • In a sentence with an active verb the subject of the sentence does the action:
SubjectActive verbObject
Shedoesmost of the work.
A dogbithim.
  • In a sentence with a passive verb the action is done by someone or something that is not the subject of the sentence.
SubjectPassive verbWho/what the action is done by
Most of the workis doneby her.
Hewas bittenby a dog.
  • To show who or what is responsible for the action in a passive sentence you use by in English.
  • You use passive rather than active verbs:
  • when you want to focus on the person or thing affected by the action John was injured in an accident.
  • when you don’t know who is responsible for the action My car was stolen last week.

2  How to make the passive

  • In English we use the verb to be with a past participle (is done, was bitten) to make the passive.
  • In Italian the passive is made in exactly the same way, using essere (meaning to be) and a past participle .
Siamo invitati ad una festa a casa loro.We’re invited to a party at their house.
L’elettricità è stata tagliata ieri.The electricity was cut off yesterday.
La partita è stata rinviata.The match has been postponed.
È stato costretto a ritirarsi dalla gara.He was forced to withdraw from the competition.
  • When you say who or what is responsible for the action you use da (meaning by).
I ladri sono stati catturati dalla polizia.The thieves were caught by the police.
  • Note that the past participle agrees with the subject of the verb essere in the same way an adjective would.
  • For more information on Adjectives, see Adjectives.
  • Here is the perfect tense of the –are verb invitare (meaning to invite) in its passive form.
Perfect tense
of essere
(io)     – masculine
          – feminine
sono stato
sono stata
I was, have been invited
(tu)     – masculine
          – feminine
sei stato
sei stata
you were, have been invited
(lui)è statoinvitatohe was, has been invited
(lei)è statainvitatashe was, has been invited
(Lei)     – masculine
          – feminine
è stato
è stata
you were, have been invited
you were, have been invited
(noi)     – masculine
           – feminine
siamo stati
siamo state
we were, have been invited
we were, have been invited
(voi)     – masculine
          – feminine
siete stati
siete state
you were, have been invited
you were, have been invited
(loro)     – masculine
          – feminine
sono stati
sono state
they were, have been invited
they were, have been invited
  • You can change the tense of the verb essere to make whatever passive tense you want.
Sarete tutti invitati.You’ll all be invited.
Non so se sarebbe invitata.I don’t know if she would be invited.
  • Some past participles are irregular.
Grammar Extra!venire (meaning to come) and rimanere (meaning to remain) are sometimes used instead of essere to make the passive.venire is used in the present, imperfect, future and conditional to make passives, but not in the perfect or pluperfect.
Quando vengono cambiate?When are they changed?
Venivano controllati ogni sei mesi.They were checked every six months.
Verrà criticato da tutti.He’ll be criticized by everyone.
Verrebbe scoperto.It would be discovered.
rimanere is used very often with ferito (meaning injured), and with participles describing emotion, such as stupefatto (meaning amazed) and deluso (meaning disappointed).
È rimasto ferito in un incidente stradale.He was injured in a car accident.
È rimasta stupefatta dalla scena.She was amazed by the scene.

3  Avoiding the passive

  • Passives are not as common in Italian as they are in English. In many cases, where we would use a passive verb, one of the following alternatives would
    be used in Italian:
  • an active construction
Due persone sono morte.Two people were killed.
Mi hanno rubato la macchina la settimana scorsa.My car was stolen last week.
C’erano delle microspie nella stanza.The room was bugged.
Dicono che sia molto ambizioso.He’s said to be very ambitious.
  • an ordinary verb made passive by having si put in front (this is known as the si passivante)
Qui si vende il pane.Bread is sold here.
Si parla inglese.English spoken.
Dove si trovano i migliori vini?Where are the best wines to be found?
In Italia il prosciutto si mangia col melone.In Italy ham is eaten with melon.
Gli spaghetti non si mangiano con le dita!Spaghetti should not be eaten con le dita! with one’s fingers!
“comodo” si scrive con una sola m.comodo” is spelled with only one m.
  • Note that wherever the subject comes in the sentence the verb has to agree with it.
  • an impersonal construction with si
Si dice che non vada molto bene.It’s said not to be going very well.
Non si fa così.That’s not how it’s done.
TipWhen you want to say something like I was told, or She was given use an active construction in Italian: Mi hanno detto (meaning they told me); Le hanno dato (meaning they gave her).
Key points
  • The passive is made using essere with the past participle
  • The past participle must agree with the subject of essere.
  • Alternatives to the passive are often used in Italian.

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