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Passive Voice in Portuguese

The passive voice – as opposed to the active voice – highlights the recipient that is acted upon by the agent of the verb. 

Accordingly, the recipient of the action (be it a person or thing) becomes the subject of the sentence, and is thus under the spotlight, whereas the active performer is relegated to second place.

Let’s see what the passive voice looks like in Portuguese.

Portuguese passive-voice vs. active-voice sentences

In Portuguese, passive-voice sentences comprise the auxiliary verb ser – either in the present, past, or future tense – followed by the past participle of the main verb.

Let’s take an example where we compare active and passive voice constructions:

Active voice
main verb (fazer)
O Paulo fez um telefonema.
Paulo made a phone call.

Passive voice
aux. verb (ser) > main verb (fazer)
Um telefonema foi feito pelo Paulo.
A phone call was made by Paulo.

As you can see above, in the active-voice sentence, Paulo is the subject and the agent who makes a phone call (the action). 

In the passive-voice sentence, on the other hand, the phone call itself becomes the grammatical subject of the sentence and Paulo the passive agent (and no longer the active performer).  

Again, the passive-voice implies a compound verb structure where the auxiliary verb ser is followed by the main verb  (fazer in the example above) in the past participle. 

Auxiliary verb – ser indicates the tense

By default, the auxiliary verb – ser – sets the tense of the passive-voice sentence. Here’s the verb ser conjugated in the present, past, and future tenses:

SER
present tense
presente
past tense
pretérito perfeito
future tense
(1) futuro simples
(2) futuro composto [ir + ser]
eusoufuiserei
vou ser
tuésfosteserás
vais ser
ele, elaéfoiserá
vai ser
nóssomosfomosseremos
vamos ser
vocês
eles, elas
sãoforamserão
vão ser

As you’ll see in the usage examples below, passive-voice sentences using progressive tenses call to auxiliary compound verb structures with both estar and ser. In that case, estar – not ser – will set the tense of the sentence.

Reading tips! In Portuguese, there are two to-be verbs, that is, ser and estar. Learn the differences: Portuguese Verbs Ser vs. Estar: How and When to Use Either.

 

Main verb – past participles’ anatomy

In passive-voice sentences, the main verb always comes in the past-participle form.

Regular participles

It is simple to form the past participle. We just need to replace the infinitive forms’ endings –ar, -er, and -ir with either –ado or –ido according to the table below: 

1st conjugation group 
-ar → -ado
2nd conjugation group 
-er → ido
3rd conjugation group 
-ir → ido
Chamar
call
Comer
eat
Partir
depart
chamadocomidopartido

Irregular participles

A few verbs have irregular past participles:

Infinitive formPast participle
abrir (open)aberto
cobrir (cover)coberto
dizer (say)dito
escrever (write)escrito
fazer (do)feito
pagar (pay)pago
ver (see)visto
vir (come)vindo
pôr (put)posto

Shifting participles

Finally, some verbs have two past participle forms, one conforming to the regular pattern we’ve seen above, and another that is irregular. 

While the regular form is used in compound verb structures with the auxiliary verbs ter/haver, the irregular one is used with ser/estar. 

In other words, the irregular alternative is the form to be used in passive-voice sentences.

Here are a few examples of verbs with shifting participles:

Regular participle
ter/haver
Irregular participle
ser/estar
aceitar (accept)aceitadoaceite
entregar (deliver)entregadoentregue
matar (kill)matadomorto
salvar (save)salvadosalvo
acender (light)acendidoaceso
eleger (elect)elegidoeleito
morrer (die)morridomorto
prender (arrest)prendidopreso
exprimir (express)exprimidoexpresso
imprimir (print)imprimidoimpresso

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that, in passive-voice sentences, the past participle will comply with the sentence’s subject’s number and gender.

That’s done according to basic declension patterns in Portuguese – o, a, os, as

Take for instance the verb cozer and its past participle cozido. Here are its endings according to the subject’s number and gender it refers to:

masculinefeminine
singularcozidocozida
pluralcozidoscozidas

It works the same way for all participles irrespective of if they belong to the regular, irregular, or shifting groups. 

Reading tips! Here’s a complementary read on the past participle: Past Participle in Portuguese: Conjugation and Usage.

Usage examples

Now that you have a good understanding of the verb forms involved in passive-voice sentences, it is time to look into a few usage examples for each of the three tenses: present, past, and future.

Present

For the present tense, I will be using verbs with regular participles. 

ser (present) > encontrar, catalogar (past part.)
Todos os anos, novas espécies animais são encontradas e catalogadas.
Each year, new animal species are found and cataloged. 

ser (present) > apanhar (past part.)
O Carlos é sempre apanhado de surpresa.
Carlos is always caught by surprise.

Here’s another example using the present continuous as auxiliary. 

As you may know, progressive tenses always call to the verb estar and the auxiliary verb will now be a compound structure with estar followed by ser (the former sets the tense).

Also, keep in mind that progressive tenses look slightly different in European and Brazilian Portuguese.

[PT-PT] estar (presente) + a + ser (inf.) > considerar (past part.) 
Essa possibilidade está atualmente a ser considerada.
That possibility is being considered at the moment.

[PT-BR] estar (presente) + ser (gerund) > considerar (past participle) 

Essa possibilidade está atualmente sendo considerada.
That possibility is being considered at the moment.

Reading tips! Learn more about the present tense: Portuguese Present Tenses – Usage Rundown Anchored to English.

Past

For the past tense, I am using verbs with irregular participles.

ser (preterite) > escrever (past part.)
Os Lusíadas foram escritos no século XVI.
Lusíadas was written in the 16th century. 

ser (preterite) + pagar (past part.)
As contas do mês passado foram pagas ontem.
Last month’s bills were paid yesterday.

Let’s now use the Portuguese equivalent of the past continuous as auxiliary. Again, the European and Brazilian Portuguese will look slightly different:

[PT-PT] estar (imperfect) + a + ser (inf.) > ver (past part.) 
A Raquel estava a ser vista pela médica quando o seu telefone tocou.
Raquel was being examined by the doctor when her phone rang.

[PT-BR] estar (imperfect) + ser (gerund) > considerar (past part.) 
A Raquel estava sendo vista pela médica quando o seu telefone tocou.
Raquel was being examined by the doctor when her phone rang.

Reading tips! Learn more about the past tense: Portuguese Past Tenses – Usage Rundown Anchored to English.

Future

Finally, to exemplify the future tense, I will be using verbs with shifting past participles.

ser (future) > eleger (past part.)
O novo primeiro-ministro será eleito dentro de uma semana.
Our new prime minister will be elected in one week.

ser (future) + prender (past part.)
O livro será impresso no próximo mês.
The book is going to be printed next month.

We often express the future tense with the auxiliary verb ir. In that case, our auxiliary verb becomes a compound structure consistsíng of ir conjugated in the present tense and followed vai ser in the infinitive:

ir (present) + ser (inf.) > eleger (past part.)
O novo primeiro-ministro vai ser eleito dentro de uma semana.
The new prime minister will be elected in one week.

ir (present) + ser (inf.) > imprimir (past part.)
O livro vai ser impresso no próximo mês.
The book is going to be printed next month.

Reading tips! Learn more about the future tense: Portuguese Future Tenses – Usage Rundown Anchored to English.

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