Lesson 19: Introduction to the passive voice in Russian

Up until now, we’ve been covering how Russian works in the active voice, wherein a subject performs an action on an object. We’ll now go through how the passive voice works, wherein the object of an action becomes the grammatical subject.

There are three ways to form the passive voice in Russian: imperfective reflexive verbs with passive meaning, present passive participles, and past passive participles. Of these, the method you’ll probably see and use most often is the past passive participle.

For more information go here for the passive voice page in our Russian grammar resources.

Imperfective reflexive verbs with passive meaning

We were introduced to reflexive verbs in lesson 17 where we learned they convey the idea of “self.” As such, they can also be used in the 3rd person (он / они) along with or without the instrumental case to convey passive meaning.

Please note, using reflexive verbs with passive meaning is almost exclusively performed in the imperfective aspect.

Using reflexive verbs in the passive voice

  • Борис читает газету. → Газета читается Борисом. = Boris reads the newspaper. → The newspaper is read by Boris.
  • Борис будет читать газету. → Газета будет читаться Борисом. = Boris will read the newspaper. → The newspaper will be read by Boris.
  • Борис читал газету. → Газета читалась Борисом. = Boris read the newspaper. → The newspaper was read by Boris.

Present passive participles

Present passive participles are extremely rare in Russian these days. If you come across them, it will most likely be in a literary text or when a present passive participle has become common enough that you may mistake it for an adjective.

Some of the more commonly used present passive participles that you may have mistaken for adjectives include:

  • (не)забываемый = (un)forgettable
  • (не)обходимый = (un)avoidable
  • (не)объяснимый = (in)explicable

How to form the present passive participle

To form the present passive participle, add the endings, -ый, -ая, -ое, -ые,  to the 1st person plural (мы) stem of the imperfective present tense verb. For example:

  • readable: читать → мы читаем → читаемый
  • avoidable: обходить → обходим → обходимый

    Past passive participles

    Past passive participles are the most common way to use the passive voice in Russian. They are almost always derived from the perfective verb form.

    Past passive participles are often viewed as adjectives and have both long and short forms.

    How to form the past passive participle

    Past passive participles are formed from the past tense of perfective verbs. We’ll cover the main ways to form them here. For a more complete explanation, please view the participles page in our grammar resources.

    Ending -л is dropped, and you add the endings, -нный, -нная, -нное,-нные:

    • прочитать → прочитал → прочитанный (прочитан short form)
    • видеть → видел → виденный (виден short form)

    For verbs ending in -ить, the ending -ил is dropped, and you add the endings -енный, -енная, -енное, -енные:

    • получить → получил → полученный (получен short form)

    Using past passive participles

    Generally you’ll use the short form of past passive participles most often. Here’s how past passive participles can be used:

    • Маша напишет письмо. → Письмо будет написано Машой. = Masha will write the letter. → The letter will be written by Masha.
    • Маша написал письмо. → Письмо написано Машой. = Masha has written the letter. → The letter has been written by Masha.
    • Маша написал письмо. → Письмо было написано Машой. = Masha had written the letter. → The letter had been written by Masha.

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