The Impersonal Passive


In Chapter Three of Part II, I mentioned that there were two other items concerning the passive which I wanted to mention. The first of these two is the impersonal use of the passive. It is often a problem for students, especially for students who do not have an understanding of the use of participles in Arabic, or who have trouble understanding that verbs sometimes require prepositions before their objects. Look at the sentence below, which is in the active voice.

بحثنا عن الكُتُبِ.

The sentences says “We looked for the books.” Note that the verb in the sentence has a preposition before the object. The preposition is عن and it puts الكتب in the genitive case. The preposition is really an integral part of the verb. If we removed the word عن we would change the meaning of the sentence to “We discussed the books.” الكتب would then be the direct object of the verb and would be in the accusative case.

Now, let’s convert this sentence to the passive voice. We want to say “The books were looked for.” Now, what most students will do is the following: بُحِثت عن الكتبِ THIS IS WRONG,WRONG,WRONG. It’s just not right. Whenever the object of a passive verb is really the object of the preposition that goes with that verb, the verb must always be masculine singular. Thus the correct answer is: بُحِثَ عن الكتبِ

No doubt you need more examples. Look at the next two sentences in the active voice.

1.They criticized the recommendations.

١. ندّدوا بالاقتراحات

2. We agreed on the changes.

٢. وافقْنا على التغييرات

The verb in the first sentence is ندّد بِ which means “to criticize.” Now we wish to say that the recommendations were criticized. Since الاقتراحات “the recommendations” remains the object of the preposition, instead of becoming the subject of the passive sentence as would otherwise be the case, the verb ندد must be conjugated for the masculine singular. So you get نُدِّدَ بالاقتراحات.

The same thing goes for the second sentence. Now we wish to say “The changes were agreed on.” Again, “changes” cannot become the subject of the passive verb in the sentence we wish to create since it must follow the preposition that goes with that verb. Therefore the verb is made masculine singular and you get ووفِقَ على التغييرات .

The impersonal passive is used whenever the word which would normally be the subject of the passive sentence is instead the object of the preposition that goes with the verb in the sentence.

Here is a simple example of what I am not talking about. Look at this sentence.

درسنا الكتبِ في المكتبة.

This sentence means “We studied the books in the library.” Now the passive should be “The books were studied in the library.” In the Arabic sentence, the preposition في is not related to the verb or to the object of the verb. So when we convert the sentence to the passive الكتب will be the subject of the verb and not the object of a preposition. The sentence will be دُرِسَت الكتبُ في المكتبةِ The verb is feminine singular, since the subject is a non-human plural.

This use of the passive also occurs with the passive participles of verbs with prepositions. Let’s take the verb بَحَثَ as an example. The verb means “to discuss.” However,بحث عن means “to look for.” The passive participle of بحث is مَبْحوث

Now, if we want to say “the books which were discussed” we would say الكتب المبحوثة . Thus we have a nice noun-adjective phrase which follows all the rules you learned. But now we want to say “the books which were looked for,” which requires the use of the preposition عن Because of this, the participle must be masculine singular. We get الكتب المبحوث عنها. The suffix ها referring to the books is attached to the preposition, but the participle must be masculine singular. How would you say “The men who were looked for?” The answer is الرجال المبحوث عنهم Again, the pronoun suffix refers back to the noun, but the participle must be masculine singular.

Drill 39 will give you practice at this.

The other thing I would like to note about the passive is that in Form I the passive verb and the passive participle can also have the meaning of “able” as in “reasonable… … acceptable,” etc. Sometimes the meaning is “worth …” as in “worth mentioning.” For example: مَقْبول. often has the meaning of “acceptable” and مذكور often means “worth mentioning” in addition to “mentioned.” يُذْكر , which is the passive of the verb in the present tense, also is often used to mean “worth mentioning.” Here is a short list of some common passive participles used in this way.






مرغوب في


موثوق ب





If you are comfortable with most of the material you have covered so far then you are well on your way to learning what you need to know in terms of grammar. The rest of the grammar presented in Part Two will be a piece of cake if you apply yourself.


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