French Active and Passive Voice


The grammatical voice refers to the agent in charge of carrying out an action stated within a sentence. When the latter is the subject, then the verb is said to be in the active voice; when the subject becomes the target of the action instead, the verb is said to be in the passive voice.

In such instances, the agent carrying out the action is usually the object (although that is not always stated). The passive voice in French is constructed with the aid of the auxiliary verb “être” (to be), conjugated according to the number and gender of the object that is carrying out the action, and accompanied by the past participle of the main verb in the sentence.

Examples:

ACTIVE
Marie lire un livre.
(Marie reads a book).
Subject (Marie) carrying out the action (lire).
Paul a dit une blague.
(Paul has told a joke).
Subject (Paul) carrying out the action (dire).
Le chœur chantera l'hymne national.
(The choir will sing the national anthem).
Subject (le chœur) carrying out the action (chanter).


PASSIVE
Un livre est lu par Marie.
(A book is read by Marie)
Subject (Marie) is the target of the action (lire).
Une blague a été racontée par Paul.
(A joke has been told by Paul). 
Subject (Paul) is the target of the action (dire).
L'hymne national sera chanté par le chœur.
(The national anthem will be sung by the choir).
Subject (le chœur) carrying out the action (chanter).


As seen above, in French, whenever the verb contained in the sentence implies an action, the target is introduced by the word “par” (literally, “by”). On the other hand, whenever the verb expresses a state of being, its target has to be introduced by the word “de” (which also literally means “by”), or it is suppressed altogether, in some cases.

Examples:



Mon père est respecté de ses employés. My father is respected by his employees.
Le directeur est admiré de son auditoire. The director is admired by his public.

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