The passive verb / الفِعْل المَبْنِيّ لِلْمَجْهُول

Arabic dialects map

To talk about the passive voice in Arabic, we use the word مَجْهول (unknown). 

The passive form is used when the performer of the action is unknown, ignored, or unimportant. Two components are inherent to a passive tense in Arabic:

  • The subject-like / نائِب الفاعِل
  • The passive verb / الفِعْل المَجْهُول

The subject-like and the passive verb / نائب الفاعل والفِعْل المَجْهول

We know that the active form is used in Arabic when the performer of the action is the subject. In the passive form, because the subject isn’t mentioned, then the direct object takes the place of the subject and goes to the nominative case. This is called the subject-like or نائب الفاعل (which literally means ‘the deputy of the doer’). It may be an explicit noun or a pronoun. We will then use a passive verb that agrees with it in person, gender, and number (same as the active verb with the subject).

Only internal vocalization differentiates a passive verb (فِعْل مَجْهُول) from an active verb (فِعْل مَعْلوم): the context generally makes it possible to make the difference, otherwise, one notes a distinctive vowel. Passive form verbs generally have the ḍamma on the first radical and the kasra on the second for all forms. They are generally built on pattern فُعِلَ in the perfect tense (الماضي) and يُفْعَلُ in the imperfect tense (المُضارِِع المَرْفوع):

يَقْرَأُ الطالِبُ الكِتَابَ
The student reads the book
يُقْرَأُ الكِتَابُ 
The book is read
أَصْلَحَ السَبّاكُ آلةَ الغَسْلِ
The plumber fixed the washing machine 
أُصْلِحَ آلةُ الغَسْلِ 
The washing machine has been fixed
أَكَلَتْ الفَتاةُ التُفاحَ
The girl ate the apples
أُكِلَ التُفاحُ
The apples were eaten

Note: When a verb is constructed in the active form with two direct object complements, it can be converted to passive in two ways:

  • The recipient of the action can become subject-like while the given object remains in the accusative case (مَنْصُوب). 
  • Alternatively if desired, the given object can take on more of a subject role while the addressee will be preceded by the preposition لِ (but this is more a dialectal influence).
The woman was granted a sonوُهِبَتْ المَرْأَةُ وَلَدًا
A son was granted to the womanوُهِبَ وَلَدٌ للمَرْأَةِ

The complement of agent

There is no complement of agent expressed in traditional Arabic, so if the performer of the action is mentioned, an active verb should be used instead. However, Modern Arabic is increasingly using compound prepositions to express the semantic agent in passive sentences, often due to European language influence, even though these are considered erroneous by purists. The most common compound prepositions used to express the passive agent are; مِن طَرَف / مِن قِبَلِ / مِن جانِبِ all meaning ‘by’.

مِن جانِبِمِن قِبَلِمِن طَرَف
from the side of, on behalf of = by


The changes were made by the researchersأُجْرِيَتْ التَغْيِيراتُ مِن جانِبِ الباحِثِينَ.
The request is taken by the staffيُؤْخَذُ الطَلَبُ مِن قِبَلِ المُوَظَّفِينَ
The task has been requested by the directorطُلِبَتْ المُهِمّةُ مِن طَرَف المُدِيرِ

Passive verb conjugation

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