Home » Learn Italian » Verbs » The Passive Voice

The Passive Voice


Verbs can be active or passive voice. This means that when the subject of the verb does the action of the verb, we can say the verb is active, alternatively a verb is in the passive voice if the subject has the action of the verb made.

The passive voice (la forma passiva) is a construction in which the direct object becomes the subject and the subject becomes the agent.


Only transitive verbs have passive form.

The Italian passive voice is formed exactly the same way as in English: the verb of the active sentence is turned into “to be” with the same tense + the verb’s past participle:


It is formed in the following way:

subject + essere/venire + past participle (+ da person/agent)


Active sentence: Maria scrive una lettera = Mary writes a letter

Passive sentence: la lettera è scritta da Maria = the letter is written by Mary


The verb of the active sentence is scrive (third singular person from the Present Tense of scrivere, to write) so the passive voice takes è (3rd person from the present tense of essere, to be), scritto (past participle of scrivere, written).


In forming passive, by adding the auxiliary verb essere (to be), the subject no longer carries out the action, but receives it. Who instead accomplishes the action determined in English by the preposition by, in Italian is enclosed by preposition da.



La ragazza lava il vestito              = The girl washes the dress

Il vestito è lavato dalla ragazza    = The dress is washed by the girl


Io leggo il libro         = I read the book

Il libro è letto da me = The book is read by me


Lui scriverà un articolo       = He’ll write an artiche

L’articolo sarà scritto da lui = The artiche will be written by him


Passive doesn’t have particular inflexions, because only the past participle of the main verb is used. To get the passive form of the verb all you need to do is to add its past participle to the various tenses of the auxiliary verb, essere.


Intransitive verbs such as to sleep, to laugh, to die, to come, etc never have a direct object, so there is no direct object that can become the subject of the passive sentence. Transitive verbs, instead, can always be changed into passive forms.


The passive can also be formed with andare + past participle, but this implies an obligation or necessity, and is synonymous with dovere essere + past participle (has to be, must be):

The bills must be paid.
I conti devono essere pagati.
I conti vanno pagati.


Essere must be used for all compound tenses in the past.The compound tenses of an intransitive verb are even more similar to passive, because they both take essere. However, they can be told by the meaning of the verb. For instance, comparing the passive form of amare (to love, transitive) with andare (to go intransitive), you will observe that the auxiliary verb is identical, although the meaning leaves little doubt whether the form is active or passive:


Transitive verb in passive form

Sono amato = I am loved

Ero amato= I was loved

Fui amato= I was loved

Sarò amato = I’ll be loved


Intransitive verb

Sono andato = I went/ I have gone

Ero andato = I had gone

Fui andato = I had gone

Sarò andato = I’ll have gone


As a general rule, when essere is followed by a past participle (amato, guardato, andato) only if the latter verb is transitive, it is a passive form ( sono guardato, sono amato), otherwise it is an active form (sono andato).


All in all:

1)We choose a passive structure when we focus on the ACTION itself rather than WHO performs the action.

The new machine has been installed – La nuova macchina è stata installata. 


2. We can use by (da) to mention who performs the action.

All her clothes are designed by Dior – Tutti i suoi vestiti sono disegnati da Dior


3. We often use the passive to describe a process, system or procedure.

Before a product is launched focus groups are set up and a name is chosen – Prima che un prodotto venga lanciato, si crea un gruppo di studio e si sceglie un nome


4. We often use the passive in impersonal constructions beginning with it. These constructions are frequently found in reports and the minutes of meetings.

Es: It was agreed that the budget should be increased – Si è deciso che il budged deve essere aumentato



Change the sentences from active to passive form:


  • 1) They kill a cat every day on this road = Uccidono un gatto ogni giorno su questa strada
  • 2) Tomorrow they will announce the winner = Domani annunceranno il vincitore
  • 3) A car might run over that cat = Un’auto potrebbe investire quel gatto
  • 4) Renato Zero sings this song = Renato Zero canta questa canzone
  • 5) The housekeeper does the housework = La governante fa i lavori domestici.
  • 6) Mother waters the plant = la mamma annaffia la pianta.
  • 7) The one who pays can drink the coffee = Chi paga può bere il caffè



  • 1) On this road a cat is killed every day.
  • 2) The winner will be announced tomorrow.
  • 3) That cat might be run over by a car.
  • 4) This song is sung by Renato Zero.
  • 5) The housework is done by the housekeeper.
  • 6) The plant is watered by mom.
  • 7) The coffee can be drunk by the one who pays for it.


You can find the answers in Italian to this exercise at the page http://www.lifeinitaly.com/italian/reflexive-verbs-italian.


By Elisa Bressan



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments