Introduction

 

Today’s language lesson is about how to use the passive form in Italian. There are two forms of verbs: passive and active. An active verb form is when the subject does the verb and the object receives it:

 

We make pasta – Facciamo la pasta

 

In the passive, it is the other way round. The subject receives the action. You can see this in the sentence here:

 

Pasta is made by us – La pasta è fatta da noi

 

Here is another example:

 

Cinzia scrive la lettera – Cinzia writes the letter (active)

La lettera è scritta da Cinzia – The letter is written by Cinzia (passive)

 

In the active voice it is clear who is doing the action, but in the passive the subject is often left out. For example:

 

Il lavoro è fatto – The work is done

Quando viene mandato? – When is it sent?

 

 

Why use the passive?

 

We use the passive when we want to focus on the person or thing affected by the action, when the action is more important than who is doing the action, or if we don’t know who is responsible for the action. These are all examples of passive sentences:

 

·     The girl has been bitten

·     We have been invited to an event

·     My bag has been stolen

 

 

How to form the passive: Essere + past participle

 

In English we use the verb ‘to be’ with a past participle (bitten, invited, stolen) to make the passive and we can do the same in Italian, using ‘essere’ and a past participle. We can also use the verb ‘venire’ (to come) instead of ‘essere’ to form passives. In both cases, the past participle has to agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence.

 

Il risotto è servito come primo piatto – Risotto is served as a first course

La finestra viene chiusa – The window is closed

Io sono amato – I am loved

Questo film viene guardato in tutto il mondo – This film is watched throughout the world

La lettera viene spedita – The letter is sent

 

When you want to say who is responsible for the action, you use ‘da’ (by):

 

La pizza è preparata da Michele – The pizza is prepared by Michele

Il libro è scritto da mio fratello – The book is written by my brother

La macchina viene usata da tutti – The machine is used by all

La canzone è cantata da noi – The song is sung by us

Il giornale è letto da molte persone – The newspaper is read by many people

 

 

Alternatives to the passive

 

Passives are used much more widely in English than they are in Italian so there are alternatives we can use. For example, ‘mi hanno detto’ is a better translation of ‘I was told’ than using a passive form. Here are some similar constructions:

 

Mi hanno detto di venire – I was told to come / they told me to come

Mi hanno dato le chiavi – I was given the keys / they gave me the keys

 

Mi hanno rubato il document – My ID was stolen / they stole my ID