Forum Rocket French French Grammar Passive and Active Verb Usage

Passive and Active Verb Usage


In Lesson 6.4 is the following example:  The French "Ça lui ferait plaisir d’entendre ça" translates to "She would be very pleased to hear that."  I think I've seen this type of construction before:  English uses the active tense, but French uses the passive tense.

In the Lesson 6.4 example, the English simply says, "She would be pleased," but the Fench says, "It would make her pleased."  Is this common in French that the passive is prefered over the active?

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Interestingly, my tutor tells me that the passive form is becoming less and less used in everyday French over the active form, and that they use it less than an Anglophone would because it conveys an impression of "distance".

However, she will also suggest that I use « on » whenever I say « nous » because it's more « la langue courante ». So in that case, even though « on » actually makes the sentence sound passive, it's preferred in casual conversation because it sounds more familiar/less distanced.


In English, the active is generally preferred to the passive, unless the passive is needed to convey meaning.  Take the following examples:  "John bought a car" is active, but "The car was bought by John" is passive.  In the former, John receives the emphasis, but in the latter, the car receives the emphasis.  I wonder if passive or active usage in French has the same effect.

Certainly, the English passive is more wordy than is the active, and I think the same is true of the French.


Salut vous deux!

I wouldn't say there is a preference to use the passive over the active voice in French but I would say that it is used more commonly than in English. Also, I rarely use 'nous' but rather 'on'. The former has an ever so slight inclination towards being formal and the conjugations are slightly more complicated whereas the latter doesn't.

I think the passive voice issue may not only be a reflection of cultural preference but also the structure of the language. I think the structure of the French language lends itself to forming the passive more easily than in English, perhaps because many verbs innately contain prepositional meanings that would otherwise have to be be 'manually' added in English. This is just my (potentially biased) opinion but I think it is an interesting area of study; i.e. whether the use of the passive is based more on cultural preference, convention etc. or whether it is facilitated by the structure and nature of the language itself.

Any one else have any opinions? It's a great topic for discussion!

Keep up the good work!

   -   Marie-Claire


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