The passive form and related constructions

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1 The passive form and related constructions A passive form is defined as follows: a) the theme becomes the subject of the sentence (and the verb agrees with it) b) the subject is often not expressed, or when it is expressed it is introduced by a preposition c) some languages have inflectional forms for the passive voice (cf. Latin). Neither English nor Italian have an inflectional passive, they both use auxiliaries In general passive forms are used when the theme of the verb needs to be put under focus or highlighted, or the agent is not salient for the whole information. Therefore, the agent is often not expressed, or is in many cases a non referential Noun Phrase. 1. The passive forms in Italian Italian has at least four types of passive forms: a) passive with venire+past participle (1) Gianni viene arrestato dalla polizia tutti i mercoledì sera (2) Gianni veniva arrestato dalla polizia tutti i mercoledì sera finché non si è tagliato la barba (3) *Gianni è venuto arrestato The one formed with the auxiliary venire is generally a passive form indicating a development or a process, and cannot have compound forms as the ungrammaticality of (3) shows b) passive with essere +past participle (4)?Gianni è arrestato dalla polizia (5)?Gianni era arrestato dalla polizia tutti i mercoledì sera (6) Gianni è stato arrestato dalla polizia (7) Gianni era già stato arrestato quando sono intervenuti i carabinieri This type of passive is preferably used with compound forms, otherwise it indicates a state (often this type of passive is called adjectival passive or resultative passive) c) si passivante/impersonale (8) A cena si è parlato di te (9) Qui si balla This is the typical case in which the subject is not expressed but intended and can include the speaker (as in 8) or not (as in 9) d) passive with andare (which can have an additional deontic meaning= the book must be read) (10) Il libro va letto (11) Il libro è andato perduto Once again we have a difference between simple and compound tenses: with simple tenses the auxiliary conveys a deontic meaning ( = obligation), with compound tenses it does not, but the choice of the lexical verb is extremely restricted (only verb implying the distruction of the object are possible). 1

2 Italian does NOT tolerate either passive of intransitive verbs or passive of the indirect object, while English does. 2. The English passive(s): morphology a) English has various ways to express a passive, the first is with the verb be followed by the past participle. This construction can be used when translating the passive with venire, essere as well as with si passivante. (12) John has been arrested (13) While Bonnie was being arrested, Clide was shot (14) The bridge is being repaired As (13) and (14) show, the passive of a continuous form is perfectly possible and in this case with a two instances of the verb be, an inflected form, the gerund followed by the past participle of the main verb The passive form of a gerundive clause is simply being + past participle (15) I enjoy being taken out for dinner (16) I remember being taken to the Zoo by my grandfather (17) I remember having been a shy person until I was 14 years old Passive with become/get These cases are often translated in Italian as reflexive constructions, they are not real passives, but the subject in all these cases is not a true agent. (18) John became interested in politics when he came to Italy (19) I got engaged in politics when I came to Italy (20) They became aware of a strange smell in the dark and empty room The passive form with get is less formal (and more common) than the one with become. Notice that these are main verbs and behave as such: in interrogative and negative clauses they require dosupport. (21) He did not got elected in 1990 Generally get passives imply that the subject is affected English does not have clitic pronouns, therefore it has no si passivante, other impersonal forms are used as they, one or you (more colloquial), we (22) They are repairing the bridge = the bridge is being repaired (23) One is kept under constant watch in this place (24) We/They have been talking about you at the dinner (25) Wow! People dance here They in this case is NOT interpreted as referential, but as a generic agent, often the second person pronoun you is used in the same way 2

3 (26) When you cross the border you have to show your passport=when one Among other forms related to passive there is the causative construction with have (27) I had my car repaired last week =somebody else repaired my car for me (28) He had his hair cut =somebody else cut my hair for me (29) We had the documents checked by a lawyer (30) She ordered the records destroyed This type of construction is probably a mixture of a causative (I let the mechanic repair my car) and a passive. It is very common and can be used in all tenses: (31) At the moment I am having my car repaired, so I go to work by bus 3. Syntax Like in Italian, the presence of the agent is optional in passive constructions, when the agent is expressed it is introduced by the preposition by (generally when the agent is an animate) or with (with inanimate agents = complemento di causa efficiente of your traditional grammars) (32) The room was filled with smoke (33) The room was packed with people Contrary to Italian, English admits the passivization of the indirect object along with the passivization of the direct object: (34) He should have been told (35) John was given a book (36) A book was given to John and of the object of prepositions: (37) He must be written to (38) The children were being looked after by their granny This possibility is probably related to double object constructions. The English double object construction is characterized by the following features: a) the goal is found before the direct object b) it is expressed without the preposition c) the construction is optional (39) John gave Mary a book (40) John gave a book to Mary (41) *John gave to Mary a book (42) *John gave a book Mary When the double object construction is not used the goal HAS TO occur after the theme and must be preceded by a preposition. 3

4 NO inversion of the two object is possible (but see heavy NP shift) Most transitive clauses have a passive counterpart, but some verbs are impossible in passives: boast, have (possession) hold cannot be put into passive sentences: (43) *The town boasts a beach (44) *Three sisters are had by John (45) *Three litres are held by the jug 4. More on non agentive subjects Another construction related to passive (in the sense that the subject is not an agent) is found with verbs of thinking like: assume, believe, claim, consider, estimate, feel, find, know, presume, report, say, think, understand, suppose. Here the subject of the embedded verb becomes the subject of the verb of thinking: (46) John is said to be a liar (47) He is thought to be the culprit (48) He is known to have been in touch with the secret police for the last twenty years (49) You are supposed to be at work (=you should be at work) (50) I am not supposed to do this job (this is not my duty) N.B. often cases like (43) and (44) are translated with non sono supposto farlo please avoid this form! Medial constructions In Italian medial constructions are expressed with a si (51) Questa pasta si cuoce facilmente In English simply by the verb (52) (B)eurocrats bribe easily (53) This book sells well (54) This pasta cooks easily In English the presence of a manner adverb is strongly preferred Sentences to translate (55) Ieri sera si è parlato di te alla cena di Sofia (56) Ci si sente sempre imbarazzati quando si finisce in una situazione del genere (57) Questi libri vanno letti entro il primo semestre perché se ne discuterà all esame (58) Gianni è stato portato al cinema da un amico (59) Quest anno il viola si vende benissimo (60) Si ritiene che Gianni sia il colpevole (61) In questo preciso istante Gianni viene arrestato dalla polizia (62) Dovresti farti vaccinare contro il morbillo (63) Gianni è stato morso da un serpente (64) Si dice che sia partito 4

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