Active and Passive Voice

Definition: 'Voice' refers to the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. A sentence is said to be in the active voice if the subject is performing the action of the verb. Events may be recounted in the active or the passive voice.

Active Voice.- The subject performs the action of the verb (the most common, "normal" voice).

Example in French:
Honoré de Balzac a écrit le livre La Cousine Bette.
(Honoré de Balzac wrote the book Cousin Bette.)
Passive Voice.- The action of the verb is performed on the subject by an agent.

Example in French:
Le livre La Cousine Bette a été écrit par Honoré de Balzac.
(The book Cousin Bette was written by Honoré de Balzac).
The Passive Voice (voix passive) is used for two reasons:
  1. To focus on the person or thing performing the action.
  2. To focus on an action without identifying the performer.
Examples in French:

The passive voice is formed by using the verb être with the past participle of the principal verb. (The tense of the verb être determines the tense of the verb.) To indicate an agent (the person who performs the action), the preposition par is used:
  • Cette industrie sera bientôt développée dans le tiers monde.
    (This industry will soon be developed in the third world.)
  • Désolé, mais cette voiture a été achetée par un autre client.
    (Sorry, but this car has been purchased by another client.)
In French the passive voice is used sparingly. Occasionally, impersonal expressions with on are used in its stead, as are reflexive expressions:
  • Ici on parle français.
    (French is spoken here.)
  • Ce journal se vend partout.
    (This newspaper is sold everywhere.)

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