We use the passive voice if we want to switch the emphasis from the subject (the doer) to the object of an action.
This way we place more emphasis on the action itself.
To understand what we mean, let’s look at an example:
A: Il cane ha mangiato la gallina.
A: The dog eats the hen.
B: La gallina è mangiata dal cane.
B: The hen is eaten by the dog.
In sentence A, we place the emphasis on the dog, whereas in sentence B the emphasis is placed on the hen.
In this post, we’re going to focus on the passive voice with dovere, potere, and volere.
Let’s get started!
Dovere, potere, and volere
Dovere (to have to), potere (to be able to), and volere (to want) are special verbs because they are usually followed by a verb in the present infinitive (its base form like mangiare, dormire, etc.), like in the examples below:
Io devo studiare.
I have to study.
Non posso uscire.
I can’t go out.
Voglio mangiare la pizza.
I want to eat pizza.
As you can see, this is the construction:
- Construction: conjugated form of dovere/potere/volere + verb in the present infinitive
- Above examples: devo/posso/voglio + studiare/uscire/mangiare
Passive voice with dovere, potere, and volere
Now, have a look at the example below:
I libri devono essere riportati in biblioteca.
Books have to be returned to the library.
As you can see, in passive voice constructions, dovere (as well as potere and volere) goes before the past infinitive of the main verb (= essere + past participle of the main verb).
Here’s the structure:
- Conjugated form of dovere/potere/volere + verb in the past infinitive (essere + past participle) + (da)
- Above example: devono + essere + riportati
You’ll basically always see the verb essere in its infinitive form when it goes together with one of those three verbs in the passive voice.
Also, since we’re using the verb essere, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.
So, the past participle will end in -o, -a, -i, or -e depending on whether the subject is masculine or feminine, and singular or plural as you will see in the examples.
Passive voice with dovere
The passive voice with the verb dovere is more common than with the other two verbs.
Dovere is used with passive voice in rules, orders, and ways of doing things, like in the examples below:
Le tasse devono essere pagate da tutti.
Taxes have to be paid by everyone.
La multa deve essere pagata il prima possibile.
The fine has to be paid as soon as possible.
I bambini devono essere portati a casa prima delle 8.
Children have to be taken home before 8.
Il grano deve essere piantato prima della primavera.
The wheat must be planted before spring.
La medicina deve essere presa alla stessa ora.
The medicine has to be taken at the same time.
I cittadini devono essere protetti dallo Stato.
Citizens have to be protected by the State.
Passive voice with potere
We use the passive voice with potere when we’re giving permission to do something, as you can see in the examples:
Il parcheggio può essere usato dai residenti.
The parking can be used by residents.
I diplomi possono essere ritirati in segreteria.
Diplomas can be collected at the administrative office.
Le proposte possono essere presentate prima delle 17.
Proposals can be presented before 5pm.
Il documento può essere tradotto soltanto da un traduttore ufficiale.
The document can only be translated by an official translator.
Passive voice with volere
We use the passive voice of volere when we talk about someone’s desire:
Non voglio essere portata in ospedale.
I don’t want to be taken to the hospital.
Non vogliono essere distubarti da nessuno.
They don’t want to be bothered by anyone.
Vogliamo essere trattate bene.
We want to be treated well.
Le vittime vogliono essere rispettate.
Victims want to be respected.
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