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Changing an Active Sentence to Passive in Arabic Posted by on Jul 24, 2018 in Grammar, morphology, Vocabulary

To a change an Arabic sentence from active مَعْلُوم to passive مَجْهُول, its verb must be transitive مُتَعَدِّي. That is, it must have at least one object مَفْعُول. The sentence that includes an intransitive لَازِم or non-conjugatable جَامِد verbs cannot be changed into passive. This post is about why passive is used in Arabic, and the change that the active sentence undergoes while changing it into passive.

Why Passive?

A passive sentence means leaving out the subject الفَاعِل of the sentence. In Arabic, the subject is omitted from the sentence if:

(1) It is not important, as in these example:

قِيْلَ لَنَا أَنْ نُغَادِر. It was said to us to leave.
نُشِرَ خَبَرُ وَفَاةِ الرَّئِيْس. The news of the president death was spread.
أُحْرِقَ الكِـتَاب. The book was burned.

(2) It is known, and it isn’t important to repeat it, as in these examples:

خُلِقَ الإِنْسَان مِنْ طِيْن. Man was created of clay.
فُصِلَ الوَزِيْر. The minister was sacked.
يُقْتَل اليَمَنِيُّون كُلَّ يَوْم. Yemenis are killed every day.

(3) It is not known, as in these examples:

اُغْتِيْل رَئِيْسُ الوُزَرَاء. The prime minister was assassinated.
سُرِقَتَ سَيَّارَة عَلِي. Ali’s car was stolen.
يُكْتَبُ تَقْرِير عَنَّا كُلَّ يَوْم. A report is written about us every day.

(4) We are afraid of him / her, as in these examples:

سَأُفْصَلُ مِنَ العَمَل. I will be sacked.
هذَا الطَالِب يُعَاقَب كُلَّ يَوْم. This student is punished every day.
أُخِذَتَ فُلُوْسُنَا بِالقُوَّة. Our money was taken by force.

(5) It is despised and not worth mentioning, as in these examples:

اُغْتِصِبَت المَرَأة. The woman was raped.
قُتِلَ الإِمَامُ عَلِي. Imam Ali was killed.
نُهِبَتَ ثَرْوَة هَذَا الوَطَن. The wealth of this country was looted.

Change in the Active Sentence:

Apart from leaving out the doer of the action (the subject), the object المَفْعُول becomes the grammatical subject of the verb, so it must agree with it in gender. In the table image above, you can see that the grammatical objects of the active sentences (i.e. the ones in orange) become the grammatical subjects of the passive sentences (i.e. the ones in blue). Also, the internal diacritical marks of the verb must change. With irregular verbs, the weak letter is changed to another.

Object-verb Agreement:

In sentence (أ), the verb in the active sentence سَرَقَ is in the masculine form. After it is changed into passive, السَّيَّارَة, which is feminine, become the grammatical subject of the verb, so the verb must agree with it in gender, hence it becomes سُرِقَتْ (i.e. ت which is the feminine marker is added to the verb). In sentence (ب), يُنَظِّف becomes تُنَظِّف in the passive (i.e. the تـ at the start of the verb is a feminine marker). In sentence (ج), the active verb أَخَذَ becomes أُخِذَتْ in the passive because is فُلُوسُنَا is feminine.

Active مَعْلُوم Passive مَجْهُول

(أ) سَرَقَ اللِّصُ السَيَّارَة.

The thief stole the car.

سُرِقَتِ السَّيَّارَة.  

The car was stolen.

(ب) يُنَظِّفُ الوَلَدُ الغُرْفَة.

The boy cleans the room.

تُنَظَّف الغُرْفَة.

The room is cleaned

(ج) أَخَذَ المُدِيْر فُلُوسَنَا بالقُوَّة.

The boss took our money by force.

أُخِذَت فُلُوسُنَا بِالقُوَّة.

Our money was take by force.

How Does the Verb Form Change?

Perfective Form of the Verb الفِعْل المَاضِي:

While changing the perfective form of the verb into passive, its type (i.e. regular or irregular) and its structure (i.e. simple or complex) determine how its form changes. That is,

(1) if the regular (i.e. does not include a weak letter) perfective form of the verb is tri-consonantal ثُلاثِي and is weighed as فَعَلَ on the Morphological Measure, such as كَـتَبَ, رَسَمَ, and طَبَخَ, its faa’ (i.e. the first letter) must be assigned ضَمَّة DHammah, and the ‘ain (i.e. the letter before last) must be assigned كَسْرَة kasrah. Hence, كَتَبَ become كُتِبَ; رَسَمَ become رُسِمَ; and طَبَخَ becomes طُبِخَ.

(2) if the irregular (i.e. includes a weak letter) perfective form of the verb is tri-consonantal ثُلَاثِي and is also weighed as فَعَلَ, but its ‘ain (i.e. middle letter) is an alif, such as صَامَ, بَاعَ, and قَالَ, its faa’ must be assigned kasrah, and the ‘ain of the verb (i.e. the alif) must be changed to yaa’. Hence, صَامَ become صِيْمَ; بَاعَ becomes بِيْعَ; and قَالَ becomes قِيْلَ.

(3) if the regular perfective form of the verb is not tri-consonantal, and it starts with hamzat wasl, such as اِنْتَقَلَ, اِنْتَصَرَ, اِسْتَخْرَجَ, its first and third letters must be assigned DHammah, the pre-final letter must be assigned kasrah. Hence, اِنْتَقَلَ become اُنْتُقِلَ; اِنْتَصَرَ become اُنْتُصِرَ; and اِسْتَخْرَجَ become اُسْتُخْرِجَ.

(4) if the regular perfective form of the verb begins with تـ that is not part of the root verb, such as تَعَلَّمَ, تَقَدَّمَ, and تَنَعَّمَ, its first and second letters must be assigned Dhammah, and the pre-final letter must be assigned kasrah. Hence, تَعَلَّمَ becomes تُعُلِّمَ; تَقَدَّمَ becomes تُقُدِّمَ; and تَنَعَّمَ becomes تُنُعِّمَ.

(5) if the perfective form of the verb is irregular and is weighed as فَاعَلَ on the Morphological Measure, such as قَاتَلَ, خَاصَمَ, and طَارَدَ, its alif must be changed to waaw with DHammah assigned to the first letter, and the pre-final letter must be assigned kasrah. Hence, قَاتَلَ becomes قُوتِلَ; خَاصَمَ becomes خُوْصِمَ; and طَارَدَ becomes طُوْرِدَ.

Here are more example sentences:

Active مَعْلُوم Passive مَجْهُول

شَرِبَتِ النَّاقَة المَاءَ كُلَّهُ.

The female camel drank all the water.

شُرِبَ المَاءُ كُلُّه.

All the water was drunk.

قَاتَلَ اليَمَنِيُّون العَدُوَ لَيْلَ نَهَار.

Yemenis fought the enemy day in and day out.

قُوْتِلَ العَدُوُ لَيْلَ نَهَار.

The enemy was fought day in and day out.

شَاَهَد الطُّلَاب ُ فِيْلمَ الرِّسَالَة.

The students watch the movie The Message.

شُوْهِدَ فِيْلمُ الرِّسَالَة.

The movie The Message was watched.

صَاَمَ المُسْلِمُونَ رَمَضَان.

Muslims fasted Ramadan.

صِيْمَ رَمَضَانُ.

Ramadan was fasted.

Imperfective Form of the Verb الفِعْل المُضَارِع:

Changing the imperfective form of the verb is more straightforward than the perfective form. That is,

(1) if the imperfective form of the verb is regular (i.e. does not include a weak letter), such as يَكْتُب, يَذْكُر, يَنْتَقِل, and يَسْتَخْرِج, its first letter must be assigned DHammah, and its pre-final letter must be assigned fatHah. Hence, يَكْتُب becomes يُكْتَب; يَذْكُر becomes يُذْكَر; يَنْتَقِل becomes يُنْتَقَل; and يَسْتَخْرِج becomes يُسْتَخْرَج.

(2) if the imperfective form of the verb is irregular (i.e. includes a weak letter, namely the pre-final letter), such as يَقُول, يَصُوم, يَبِيْع, and يَسِيْر, its first letter should be assigned DHammah, and it pre-final letter must be changed to an alif. Hence, يَقُول becomes يُقَال; يَصُوم becomes يُصَام; يَبِيْع become يُبَاع; and يَسِيْر become يُسَار.

Here are more example sentences:

Active مَعْلُوم Passive مَجْهُول

يَشْرَبُ النَّاسُ القَهْوَةَ كُلَّ يَوْم.

People drink coffee every day.

تُشْرَبُ القَهْوَةُ كُلَّ يُوْم.

The coffee is drunk every day.

تُشَاهِدُ الأُسْرَةُ التِّلْفَازَ.

The family is watching TV.

يُشَاهَدُ التِّلفَازُ.

The TV is being watched.

يَنْتَقِدُ بَعْضُ الأَمْرِيكَان تَرَمب.

Some American criticize Trump.

يُنْتَقَدُ تَرَمْب.

Trump is criticized.

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About the Author: Ibnulyemen اِبْنُ اليَمَن

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. To learn more, you can also visit my website Ibnulyemen Arabic or my facebook page.