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
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 son وُهِبَتْ المَرْأَةُ وَلَدًا A son was granted to the woman وُهِبَ 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 جانِبِ||مِن قِبَلِ||مِن طَرَف|
|from the side of, on behalf of = by|
|The changes were made by the researchers||أُجْرِيَتْ التَغْيِيراتُ مِن جانِبِ الباحِثِينَ.|
|The request is taken by the staff||يُؤْخَذُ الطَلَبُ مِن قِبَلِ المُوَظَّفِينَ|
|The task has been requested by the director||طُلِبَتْ المُهِمّةُ مِن طَرَف المُدِيرِ|
Passive verb conjugation
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