Chapter 19 - Active or Passive?
When we talk about action, we distinguish between someone or something doing an action, which we call the active voice, and someone or something which is acted upon, which we call the passive voice. For example, when an athlete hits a ball, we describe an active process which is done by the athlete, so we speak in the active voice. To refer to the ball, however, we say that the ball was hit by the athlete. The action was done to the ball, so we speak in the passive voice. The action of hitting was done by the athlete.
Here are some more examples.
Active voice Passive voice
He hit the ball out of the ball park. The ball was hit out of the park.
Joseph wrote this grammar book. This grammar book was written by Joseph.
Martin rolled a perfect strike. A perfect strike was rolled by Martin.
Sharon will send the package. The package will be sent by Sharon.
Both English and Italian use the same grammatical structure to express the passive voice, and there are two forms in both languages.
1. The most common form in English is the use of the verb to be plus the past form of the action verb and the preposition by. For example, “The song is sung by a tenor. The houses were built by carpenters. The plane will be flown by a pilot”. This form is identical in Italian, however it is employed (notice the passive voice!) only when the person or persons who performed the action are known to the speaker.
examples: The picture was painted by Picasso. La pittura fu pinta da Picasso.
The text was written by Joseph. Il testo fu scritto da Giuseppe.
The opera was composed by Mozart. L’ǫpera fu composta da Mozart.
My family has been invited by John. Mia famiglia ha stata invitada da Giovanni.
2. In Italian, when the person or persons who performed the action are unknown to the speaker, an impersonal form is used (here’s the passive voice again!).
examples: The bank was robbed today. Si rubò la banca oggi.
[We don’t know who the robbers were.]
The pyramids were built in Egypt. Si costruịrono le pirạmide en Egitto.
[The pyramid builders are unknown to us.]
In English, it is common to say things in a personal manner, even when nothing personal is actually meant.
examples: When do they open the store?
[We don’t know who will open the store.]
Does the store open at 8AM?
[We know that people open the store.]
We also make references to action which will be done by people who are unknown to us.
example: He will be punished for his crime.
[We don’t know who will punish the person.]
Likewise, we speak in general terms when the person is indefinite.
example: One can only do one’s best.
[In this case, the word one does not refer to a specific person.]
In Italian, all of these ideas are expressed using the impersonal form.
examples: Quando si abre il negozio? When do they open the store?
Si castigherà al criminale. The criminal will be punished.
Si parla italiano quì. Italian is spoken here.
In these examples, the persons who do the action are unknown to the speaker. This form is the most common way to express the passive voice in Italian.
In Italian, impersonal expressions such as “it is hoped.(si spera)”..“they say (si dice)”..and so on, are translated with the passive voice.
In commercial messages it is common to place the word siafter the verb.
example:Affittasi villino al mare. Seaside villa for rent. (instead of Si affitta villino al mare.)