Passive Constructions in Russian: Tips and Examples for Learners

Ever wondered how to express the idea of “The cake was eaten” in Russian, without explicitly mentioning who ate it? This is where the concept of passive voice comes in, a grammatical tool that shifts the focus from the “doer” of the action to the recipient.

This article will break down the different ways to form the passive voice in Russian, when to use it, and the benefits it offers for clear communication.

What Is Passive Voice?

Before we jump into the intricacies of passive constructions in Russian, let’s take a moment to understand what passive voice means. In any language, passive voice allows us to shift the focus from the person or entity performing the action to the action itself, the result, or the object of the action.

In Russian, passive constructions help us achieve this linguistic shift, and they are widely used in various contexts.

Passive Voice Example in Russian

Passive constructions are used to emphasize the action or the receiver of the action, rather than the doer of the action. They are quite common and can be a bit different from English, so let’s break it down step by step.

See Also: Impersonal Sentence Structures in Russian

Passive Constructions in the Present Tense

Picture a scene unfolding in front of you, something happening right at this moment. This is where present tense passive constructions come into play.

In Russian, to create a present tense passive construction:

Start with an active sentence, just like “Мама готовит обед” (Mom is cooking lunch).

For imperfective verbs, add “ся” to the verb to indicate that the action is happening on its own.

For instance, if you’re cooking lunch, and you want to emphasize the lunch rather than the cook, you’d say, “Обед готовится” (Lunch is being cooked).

So in such cases, we use the reflexive form of the verb – to show that the process happens by itself, as if no one is the one doing the action.

But of course, you can also add the subject of the action in the sentence.

Исследование выполняется командой учёных. – The research is being conducted by a team of scientists.

Картина пишется художником. – The painting is being painted by the artist.

Pay attention that in this case, we use the instrumental case. It is always needed when we mention the one who performs the action in the passive voice.

Passive Constructions in the Past Tense

Now, let’s shift our perspective to events in the past. To tell a story about something that happened a while ago, we need past tense passive constructions.

Here we have two options: either use the reflexive verb again, but in the past tense, or use the construction ‘verb to be + short past passive participle.’

It will depend on whether we mean the actual process or its result.

Обед приготовлен. – Lunch is prepared.

This form indicates that lunch is already prepared.

Обед был приготовлен. – Lunch was prepared.

This construction explicitly indicates that lunch was prepared in the past.

Another example:

Дом строился. – The house was being built. (process)

Доб был построен. – The house has been built. (result)

With the first case, everything is clear. But how do we form the short form of the past passive participle?

We simply remove the ending and one of the letters “н”. For example: построенный (built) – построен (built), сделанный (made) – сделан (made), and so on.

In addition, the past participle will change according to gender and number.

Задание было выполнено мной. – The task was completed by me.

Письмо было написано вчера. – The letter was written yesterday.

Город был освобождён. – The city was liberated.

Ошибка была исправлена. – The mistake was corrected.

Письмо было написано красивым почерком. – The letter was written in beautiful handwriting.

Often, we omit the verb ‘to be’ if we want to emphasize the result. For example:

Дело сделано. – The task is done.

Письмо написано. – The letter is written.

Книга прочитана. – The book is read.

Обед приготовлен. – Lunch is prepared.

Картина украдена. – The painting is stolen.

Урок закончен. – The lesson is finished.

Мост отремонтирован. – The bridge is repaired.

Этот фильм уже снят. – This film is already shot.

Билеты куплены. – The tickets are bought.

Дверь закрыта. – The door is closed.

Passive constructions in Russian

Future Passive Constructions

In this case, we have a similar situation: two different constructions for different scenarios.

We use ‘the verb to be in the future tense + reflexive verb form’ if we are describing the process.

Завтра будет проводиться собрание. – A meeting will be held tomorrow.

However, if we want to emphasize the result, we use ‘the verb to be in the future tense + short form of the passive participle.

Отчёт будет подготовлен к завтрашнему дню. – The report will be prepared by tomorrow.

Задача будет выполнена. – The task will be completed.

Дом будет построен в 2025 году. – The house will be built in 2025.

Этот фильм будет снят следующим летом. – This film will be shot next summer.

It’s a common way to talk about planned or scheduled future events.

See Also: How to Use the Verb БЫТЬ in Present, Past and Future Tenses

Choosing Between Active and Passive Voice

Understanding the different ways to form the passive voice in Russian opens the door to choosing the most appropriate voice for your message. While both active and passive voice have their place, here are some key points to consider when making your choice.

When to use the passive voice:

  1. Unknown agent: When the agent performing the action is unknown or unimportant, the passive voice can be a natural choice.
    Example: “Книга была прочитана” (The book was read). (It doesn’t specify who read the book.)
  2. Focus on the object/recipient: If you want to emphasize the object or recipient of the action, the passive voice can shift the focus.
    Example: “Письмо было доставлено адресату.” (The letter was delivered to the addressee.) (Focuses on the letter being delivered.)
  3. Formal style: In formal writing or speech, the passive voice can sometimes sound more formal and impersonal.

Another good example:

Билеты на концерт заказываются заранее. – Tickets for the concert are ordered in advance.

Here, we emphasize the action, the rule – what is accepted or needed to be done. Instead of modal verbs, we use the passive voice.

Штрафы выписываются за нарушение правил. – Fines are issued for violating the rules. (Highlights the rule, not the person issuing the fine.)

Authorities are especially fond of the passive voice.

Firstly, it sounds more “official”, immediately showing the difference between ordinary people who write simple sentences and officials who use complex, ornate, “beautiful” constructions.

Secondly, in many cases, the passive voice allows you to hide the subject of the action, which can be very convenient for the authorities.

Заявление рассмотрено. – The application has been reviewed. (Focuses on the action itself, not the reviewer.)

Разрешение на строительство выдано Департаментом строительства. – A building permit has been issued by the Department of Construction.

When the active voice is preferred:

  1. Clarity: In some situations, the active voice can be clearer and more direct, especially in informal contexts. Example: “Маша читает книгу.” (Masha is reading a book.) (Active voice is clearer here.)
  2. Emphasis on the agent: If the agent performing the action is important or needs to be highlighted, the active voice is usually preferred. Example: “Студенты подготовили доклад.” (The students prepared a presentation.) (Active voice emphasizes the students’ action.)

Choosing between active and passive voice ultimately depends on the specific message you want to convey and the desired level of formality.

Now you know how the passive voice is formed and used in the Russian language. These are quite complex constructions that are good to know, especially if you live in Russia.

Many commercial companies in recent years have sought to minimize the use of the passive voice, but be prepared to fully “enjoy” them when communicating with official bodies: housing and communal services, the tax service, the traffic police and other authorities with which people interact from time to time.

This topic is complex, so be sure to ask questions in the comments if something remains unclear to you.

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