Passive voice with “potere”, “volere”, and “dovere”: Italian grammar lesson 232

Key Takeaways

Readers will learn how to form and use the passive voice with the Italian verbs dovere, potere, and volere.

  • The passive voice with dovere is used for rules, orders, and ways of doing things.
  • With potere, the passive voice is used to give permission to do something.
  • Using volere in the passive voice expresses someone’s desire.
  • The structure involves the conjugated form of dovere, potere, or volere + verb in the past infinitive (essere + past participle).
  • The past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject.

Quick facts

What is the emphasis shift in passive voice?

In passive voice, the emphasis shifts from the subject performing the action to the object receiving the action.

How do dovere, potere, and volere typically function in Italian?

These verbs are usually followed by an infinitive verb, such as mangiare (to eat) or dormire (to sleep).

What is the structure for passive voice with dovere?

The structure is the conjugated form of dovere + essere + past participle of the main verb.

Why is essere essential in passive constructions with dovere, potere, and volere?

Essere is always used in its infinitive form to construct passive voice with these verbs.

How does the past participle agree with the subject in passive voice?

The past participle changes to match the gender and number of the subject, ending in -o, -a, -i, or -e.

When is the passive voice with dovere commonly used?

It's frequently used in rules, orders, and prescribed actions, emphasizing necessity and obligation.

How is the passive voice with potere typically employed?

It is often used to give permission or indicate what is allowed, such as "Il parcheggio può essere usato dai residenti."

In what context is the passive voice with volere utilized?

It is used to express someone's desires or wishes, like "Non voglio essere portata in ospedale."

Can you provide an example of passive voice with potere?

Sure, "I diplomi possono essere ritirati in segreteria" means "Diplomas can be collected at the administrative office."

How does passive voice with volere reflect personal desires?

It highlights what someone doesn't want to happen to them, e.g., "Non vogliono essere disturbati da nessuno" means "They don’t want to be bothered by anyone."

My Thoughts

What is the passive voice?

Let’s look at an example of the Passive voice in Italian:

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!

Gli uomini devono essere rispettati.

What are 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, the construction is the conjugated form of dovere, potere, or volere + verb in the present infinitive.

  • Above examples: devo/posso/voglio + studiare/uscire/mangiare
Il vestito deve essere lavato a mano.

How to form the 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, or volere + verb in the past infinitive (essere + past participle) + da. Like the 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.

Questi documenti devono essere firmati entro oggi.

How to use the passive voice with dovere?

The passive voice with the verb dovere is more common than with the other two verbs.

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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.

How to use the 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.

How to use the 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.

If you’re interested, you can read about the Passive voice with the verb venire and Passive voice with the verb andare.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions


How to form the Passive voice with potere, dovere, and volere?

Conjugated Like this: form of dovere/potere/volere + verb in the past infinitive (essere + past participle) + (da)

Dovere is used with Passive voice in...

Rules, orders, and ways of doing things.

Potere is used with Passive voice when...

We’re giving permission to do something

Volere is used with Passive voice when..

We talk about someone’s desire.

Italian word of the day
Non capivo più niente dal sonno.
I was so tired that I couldn’t think.
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2 Responses

  1. It is said that the Passive is used much less often in Italian than in English. Instead ‘one uses’ (passive) the Si Impersonale.

    I went back to find that Si Impersonale was covered in Lesson 117.

    But, I thought I read that Si Impersonale can sound stilted in spoken language ie…. One can see that this is obviously incorrect sounds as though the subject is being talked down to. One can leave their baggage at the front desk sounds pretentious.

    Can you comment on anything regarding when to use Passive vs Si Imperonale. ie…. is one used more in writing than in spoken Italian, etc…

    1. Ciao!

      The impersonal si is used in Italian to talk in a detached way about events or situations regarding an indefinite and non-specific subject such as people or everyone. It’s more common to find it in written texts.

      It is only used in the third-person singular or plural with essere as an auxiliary.

      We listed 5 ways in which you can use the impersonal si:

      1. With transitive verbs simple tenses. Example: Al ristorante si berrà vino e si mangerà pasta.

      2. With intransitive verbs simple tenses. Examples: D’estate si va al mare.

      3. With reflexive verbs simple tenses. If there is the reflexive pronoun it is used ci si. Example:In vacanza, ci si alza sempre tardi.

      4. With compound tenses. There are a lot of specifications depending on the type of verb.

      5. With another pronoun referring to the same verb. The structure is pronoun + si + verb. Example: Si è andati in vacanza a Madrid l’anno scorso e ci si è andati per celebrare un anniversario.

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