The passive voice, though much less common than the active voice, can be very helpful in Russian, particularly in written and formal speech. What’s more, you’ll find many common words you learn early on in your Russian studies are in fact past passive participles in everyday use.
Whereas the active voice involves a subject performing an action on an object, the passive voice involves the object of that action becoming the grammatical subject. Here are the three forms of the passive voice in Russian:
Imperfective reflexive verbs with passive meaning
With imperfective verbs, you can form the passive voice by turning them into reflexive verbs with the suffix, -ся. You’ll generally find imperfective verbs in the passive voice are in the 3rd person – он/она/оно or они. There will commonly be an agent of action in the instrumental case in such sentences, but it is also possible for there to be an absent subject. For example:
- По радио передавалась нова песня. = A new song was being broadcast on the radio.
- Картина писалась художник в течение всего года. = the picture had been painted by the artist for the entire year.
- Дом строится нами. = The house is being built by us.
- Магазин открывается в один часов. = The shop opens at one o’clock.
- Осторожно, двери закрываются! = Careful, the doors are opening!
Now, it is possible, but rare, for passive perfective verbs to be expressed in the reflexive. This can only work for certain expressions involving covering, filling, illuminating.
Present passive participles
The present passive particle replaces the active “который” (which, that) and can also have the English meaning of adjectives that end in -able. For example:
- Машина, производимая в России. = Тhe car produced in Russia.
- Это необъяснимая загадка. = It’s an inexplicable mystery.
Forming the present passive participle
To form the present passive participle, add the usual -ый, -ая, -ое endings to the 1st person plural (мы) stem of the present tense verb. For example:
- readable: читать → мы читаем → читаемый
- (un)avoidable: обходить → обходим → (не)обходимый
Past passive participles
Past passive participles are derived almost always from perfective verbs. They are used all the time in Russian and are often viewed as adjectives. Just like adjectives, they have both a long and a short form. The past passive participle replaces the active “который” (which, that) and can also have the English meaning of adjectives that end in -ed. For example:
- Машина, произведённая в России. = The car produced in Russia.
- Роман в стихах «Евгений Онегин» был написан Пушкиным. = The novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was written by Pushkin.
- Картина была написана художником в 2014. = The picture was painted by the artist in 2014.
- Лекарство было использовано врачами. = The medicine was used by the doctors.
Forming the past passive participle
Past passive participles are derived almost always from perfective verbs. They are formed from the past tense.
Verbs ending in -ать
Drop the -л and add the ending -нный (-нная, -нное,-нные):
- читать → читал → читанный
Verbs ending in -ить
Drop the -ил and add the ending -енный (-енная, -енное, -енные):
- получить → получил → полученный
Verbs whose past tense does not end in -л
Add the ending -ённый (-енный) to the past tense:
- принести → принёс → принесённый
Verbs ending in -уть, -оть, -ыть, -ереть
Drop the -л and adding ending -тый (-тая, -тое, -тые):
- мыть → мыл → мытый
- петь → пел → петый
- начать → начал → начатый