The Passive Voice in Italian (and How to Use it)

Many of our readers often feel puzzled about the passive voice in Italian and how to use it correctly. Much of this confusion probably stems from the fact that many people aren’t familiar with what the passive voice is. In this article, our goal is to explain the passive voice and its usage in the Italian language. Let’s get started!

What is a “Passive Voice”?

In order to answer this question we need to follow a few steps.

Let’s start with a very simple sentence:

The above sentence is an example of an active voice because Biancaneve / Snow White performs the action of eating the apple. For this reason, the verb mangiare / to eat is conjugated in the third person singular and, technically, we can refer to Biancaneve / Snow White as the subject of the sentence and the mela / apple as the object.

Now, let’s see what happens if we reverse the same sentence in this way:

In this reformulation, the subject is the mela / apple which obviously receives the consequences of the verb mangiare / to eat instead of performing it. When the action is acted upon the subject we are in the presence of a passive voice.

In the latter example Biancaneve / Snow White becomes what is technically defined as the agent, namely the person (in this case) who causes the action; the agent is introduced by the preposition “by”.

The Purpose of the Passive Voice

The passive voice is used to put more emphasis on the person or the object affected by the verb rather than on who or what carries out the action.

In the following examples, we can observe how the focus can shift from the word padre / father to the word canzone / song, simply by transforming an active voice into a passive one.



We can take this shift in emphasis even further, to the point that we can omit the doer of the action. This can be the case in several situations, such as when: 

1. The doer is unknown:

2. The doer is implicit or irrelevant:

3. The doer is a generic multitude:

4. We purposely avoid citing the doer to hide its responsibilities

How to Build the Passive Voice

As we have already seen in the first paragraph, turning an active sentence into a passive one can be relatively simple.

What you need to do is to conjugate the verb essere / to be in the same tense and person of the verb in the active voice, which in the passive sentence will be used in its past participle.

However, more complex tenses can create some confusion. For this reason, I think it’s a good idea to list the transition from active to passive of the most used verb tenses. Biancaneve / Snow White and her mela / apple can still help us in this.

Presente indicativo:

Biancaneve mangia la mela. → La mela è mangiata da Biancaneve.

Snow White eats the apple. The apple is eaten by Snow White.

Passato prossimo:

Biancaneve ha mangiato la mela. → La mela è stata mangiata da Biancaneve. 

Snow White has eaten the apple. The apple has been eaten by Snow White.


Biancaneve mangiava la mela. → La mela era mangiata da Biancaneve.

Snow White ate the apple. →  The apple was eaten by Snow White.


Biancaneve mangerà la mela. → La mela sarà mangiata da Biancaneve.

Snow White will eat the apple. The apple will be eaten by Snow White.

Congiuntivo presente:

Penso che Biancaneve mangi la mela. → Penso che la mela sia mangiata da Biancaneve.

I think Snow White eats the apple. I think the apple is eaten by Snow White.

Congiuntivo passato:

Penso che Biancaneve abbia mangiato la mela. → Penso che la mela sia stata mangiata da Biancaneve.

I think Snow White ate the apple. I think the apple was eaten by Snow White.

The Passive Voice with Modal Verbs

When you reverse the sentence in order to create the passive voice of the modal verbs dovere, potere, they need to be followed by the infinitive of the verb essere / to be and the past participle of the main verb.

Devi fare questa cosa entro domani. → Questa cosa deve essere fatta entro domani.

You have to do this thing by tomorrow. → This thing has to be done by tomorrow.

Gli ospiti possono usare la piscina. → La piscina può essere usata dagli ospiti.

Guests can use the swimming pool. → The swimming pool can be used by guests.

In Italian, there are two more modal verbs, volere and sapere, but with these two we can not actually talk about reversing a sentence as the meaning of the action would be the opposite of what we actually want to say. This is why it is better to see a couple of examples already in the passive voice.

Voglio essere lasciata in pace!I want to be left alone!

Nello sport bisogna saper essere sconfitti. → In sport you have to know how to be defeated.

This is how the active form of the examples with volere and sapere would completely overturn the meaning of the passive voice.

Voglio lasciare in pace. → I want to leave [somebody] alone.

Nello sport bisogna saper sconfiggere. → In sport you have to know how to defeat.

The Passive Voice with VENIRE / to come in the place of  ESSERE / to be

It is not too rare to see the verb venire / to come replacing the verb essere / to be in the Italian passive voice. But this is only possible if the verb essere / to be consists of a single word.

In the example below, the verb essere / to be is present only with one word (“è”) and it can therefore be replaced by the verb venire / to come:

Il vino Chianti è prodotto in Toscana. → Il vino Chianti viene prodotto in Toscana.

Chianti wine is produced in Tuscany.

In this other example, the verb essere / to be is present with two words (“sono state”), therefore it cannot be replaced by the verb venire / to come.

In fondo al mare sono state recuperate molte monete romane.

In fondo al mare sono venute recuperate molte monete romane.

Numerous Roman coins were recovered at the bottom of the sea.

When possible, the choice between essere / to be and venire / to come is often just a stylistic question, but in some cases it can express a nuance of meaning linked to the repetitiveness of an action over time.

1. Il programma è trasmesso alle 8 di sera.

2. Il programma viene trasmesso alle 8 di sera.

The program is broadcast at 8pm.

Without any other context, in example 1 with essere / to be, I am led to think that the program is broadcast only once, tonight at 8 pm. In example 2 with venire / to come, I could think that the program is broadcast every day at 8 pm.

Passive Voice with the Verb ANDARE / to go 

In a similar way to what happens with the verb venire / to come, you can use the passive voice with the verb andare / to go. However, this is not so frequent and it has the specific function of expressing a rule or an obligation to follow.

No Passive Voice for Intransitive Verbs

Not all verbs can have a passive voice. In particular, the verbs that are defined as intransitive, which do not require a direct object. Among these verbs there is, for example, dormire / to sleep as you can not sleep something. Without a direct object there is no person or thing acted upon and therefore there is no possibility to reverse the action into a passive voice. 

Other examples of intransitive verbs, which can therefore have no passive voice, are:

It’s possible to be misled by the past tense of verbs with the auxiliary essere (to be) and misinterpret it as a passive voice. In this case, we have the passato prossimo of arrossire / to blush: “sono arrossito” that corresponds to “I blushed” or “I have blushed”.

The Impersonal Passive Voice: SI PASSIVANTE

In Italian, a very common way to express collective habits, common ways of doing things, or even rules, is through the impersonal passive voice.

The construction is very similar to that for the normal impersonal form, but technically you have what is called “si passivante” only if the verb is not intransitive (see previous paragraph) and the direct object is stated.

The construction follows these two formulas:

si + verb 3rd person singular + one object

si + verb 3rd person plural + two or more objects

The transposition of the “si passivante” into English presents difficulties because there is no equivalent construction. Therefore the examples below provide a non-literal translation. The numbers refer to the two formulas above.

The Passive Voice in Italian and How to Use it

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