French Grammar: The Passive Voice

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project

Creative Commons Image via The LEAF Project


French Grammar: The Passive Voice
la grammaire française: la voix passive


In French as in English, verbs can be expressed in either the active voice or the passive voice.  In the active voice, the subject does the action of the verb.  In the passive voice, the action of the verb is done to the subject.


Mon frère promène le chien.
My brother walks the dog.


Le chien est promené par mon frère.
The dog is walked by my brother.

The passive voice can be used in any tense. The grammatical construction of the passive voice in French is similar to English:

Subject + conjugated form of ÊTRE + past participle + PAR + the agent (or “doer”)
(Note: The agent is not always mentioned.)

Because the past participle in the passive voice is always conjugated with ÊTRE, it must agree with the subject in number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine or feminine).

Il a été frappé par une voiture.
He has been hit by a car.

Le dîner est servi.
Dinner is served.

L’école était fondée au XIXe siècle.
The school was founded in the nineteenth century.

Les maisons avaient été détruites par l’ouragan.
The houses had been destroyed by the hurricane.

When the agent (“doer”) is expressed, it is usually preceded by PAR. However, after certain verbs – including verbs that describe mental processes such as thinking and feeling – the agent can instead be preceded by DE. Note that using DE in this case is somewhat more formal than using PAR.

Il est admiré de ses collègues.
He is admired by his colleagues.

Les enfants sont aimés de leurs parents.
The children are loved by their parents.

Elle sera accompagnée de son mari.
She will be accompanied by her husband.

It is to be noted that the passive voice is used less often in French than it is in English. See the LEAF lesson Alternatives to the Passive Voice for more information.


La Joconde a été peinte par Leonardo de Vinci.
The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Les romans avaient été écrits par Albert Camus.
The novels had been written by Albert Camus.

La guerre avaient déjà éclaté en Europe.
War had already broken out in Europe.

Elle est réveillée par le tonnerre.
She is awakened by the thunder.

Le colis sera distribué par le facteur.
The package will be delivered by the mailman.

Le film va être sorti demain.
The film is going to be released tomorrow.

Elle est respectée de ses étudiants.
She is respected by her students.

Les cadeaux auraient été envoyés hier.
The gifts would have been sent yesterday.