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Reading the question on English.SE Can you form the passive of "John tried to eat the worms." with the worms as the subject, I realized that I don't know how the construction of the passive would work in French with "faillir". Note that I am aware that the sense of "try to eat" and "almost eat" is different, since only the first implies a desire to do so, but I am still interested in the grammar.

So, if we have the phrase:

John faillit manger des vers.

Is the following passive correct?

Les vers faillissent être mangés par John.

And even if it is correct, would people actually use it? I find the use of a verb for "almost" counter-intuitive and using the same construction for active and passive is one of the reasons.

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Regarding intuition, different languages have different practices, only they're not so obvious between English and Frenchfor they are quite close to each other. But it is the most common way to express it in french (along with “quasiment” (or its more correct form “pratiquement”)). –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 13 '12 at 10:09
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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The right form is:

Les vers faillirent être mangés par John.

The "faillir" verb is conjugated using the "Passé simple". Even if this form is correct, I think that a "Passé composé" form will be more commonly used:

Les vers ont failli être mangés par John.

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Donc, il n'est pas possible de former le présent? Ou est-ce qu'il s'agit d'une référence à la forme "tried" dans la phrase anglaise? –  Phira Nov 25 '11 at 14:23
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Dans ce genre d'expression "faillir" est toujours au passé. Quand vous écrivez "John faillit manger des vers." On comprend "faillit" au passé simple. Une phrase plus courante serait: "John a failli manger des vers." au passé composé. –  oli Nov 25 '11 at 14:26
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@Phira : J'ai comme dans l'idée que le passé composé porte mal son nom, et qu'il n'est jamais qu'un présent qui se déguise avec le participe son ami. –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 13 '12 at 10:20
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