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Passiv

Diagnostic Exercises

You will be asked 20 questions. IF YOU GET A QUESTION WRONG, KEEP TRYING UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT. THE PROGRAM WILL ONLY CALCULATE YOUR SCORE IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED ALL THE QUESTIONS. Incorrect guesses will reduce your score. When you are finished, click "Submit" if you are satisfied with your score. Remember you need a score of at least 80% in order to get a "check" for this assignment.

Practice Exercises
Uses of the Passive

Formation of the Passive

  • "Werden" + Past Participle
  • Passive and Modals
  • Stating the Agent
Impersonal Passive "True" Passive vs Statal Passive
Summary of the Uses of "werden"

Common Pitfalls

  • Not all Active Statements have a Passive Counterpart
  • Mixing Active and Passive Voice
  • Passive and Dative

Related Topics:

Summary

  • The passive is used if the emphasis is on the action being performed rather than on the agent (i.e. whoever is performing the action). This can happen in any context and at any level of formality: sometimes I want to say that Benz invented the gasoline-powered automobile (active), sometimes I want to say that the gasoline-powered automobile was invented in 1885 (passive). Sometimes I get to say that the Lions made the Packers look stupid (active), but a lot of the time I have to admit that the Lions $%^&* were kicked (passive). Nevertheless, there are some factors that make it more likely for you to see the passive, and these include:
    • The agent is unknown, e.g. if a crime has been committed but it's not known who did it
    • Euphemisms of various sorts, such as politicians saying "taxes were raised" instead of "I raised taxes."
    • Reports on scientific experiments
    • You are more likely to see the passive in formal contexts than in informal contexts
      • In English, writing teachers strongly encourage their students to use the active voice in order for their writing to be more direct, forceful, and readable. This is also the case in German, but to a lesser extent.
    Click here for a slightly more detailed explanation of the uses of the passive
  • The passive is formed in German by combining the appropriate conjugated form of werden [which by itself means "to become"] with the past participle of the main verb. To change the tense of your passive sentence, change the tense of werden. Notice how in the following table it is only the forms of werden that change as the tense changes:
Präsens/Present
  • Ich werde festgenommen.
  • Du wirst dämonisiert.
  • Der Müll wird nach Kanada katapultiert.
  • Die Mäuse werden gefangen
  • I am (being) arrested.
  • You are demonised.
  • The trash is catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice are caught.
Perfekt/Perfect
  • Ich bin festgenommen worden.
  • Du bist dämonisiert worden.
  • Der Müll ist nach Kanada katapultiert worden.
  • Die Mäuse sind gefangen worden
  • I was arrested.
  • You were demonised.
  • The trash was catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice were caught.
Präteritum/ Simple Past
  • Ich wurde festgenommen.
  • etc.
  • I was arrested.
  • etc.
Futur/Future
  • Ich werde festgenommen werden.
  • etc.
  • I will be arrested.
  • etc.
Plusquamperfekt/ Past Perfect
  • Ich war festgenommen worden.
  • etc.
  • I had been arrested.
  • etc.

Click here for the full table and more info on how to form statements in the passive.

  • Modal verbs are always used with the infinitive of the verb they accompany. This is also the case in the passive ==> the pattern you will see for passive constructions involving modals is:
modal verb (conjugated) + past participle of main verb + werden (in the infinitive)
  • Although other tenses are possible, you will generally just have to deal with two tenses involving modal verbs in the passive: present and (simple) past. The past participle and the infinitive of werden are in bold type throughout the table below to help you recognize the pattern.
Präsens/Present
  • Ich soll festgenommen werden.
  • Du willst dämonisiert werden.
  • Der Müll muss nach Kanada katapultiert werden.
  • Die Mäuse können gefangen werden.
  • I am supposed to get arrested.
  • You want to be demonised.
  • The trash has to be catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice can be caught.
Vergangenheit/Past
  • Ich sollte festgenommen werden.
  • Du wolltest dämonisiert werden.
  • Der Müll musste nach Kanada katapultiert werden.
  • Die Mäuse konnten gefangen werden.
  • I was supposed to be arrested.
  • You wanted to be demonised.
  • The trash had to be catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice could be caught. [i.e. It was possible to catch the mice, not it might be possible to catch them]
  • Often, the point of using the passive is to avoid stating the agent, i.e. whoever performed the action. But sometimes you do want to state the agent in a passive sentence. When you do, use von [=by], or occasionally durch (roughly corresponds to "by means of" in this context) or mit (roughly corresponds to "using" in this context). If in doubt, you should always choose von, which is rarely wrong.
Ich werde systematisch von Idioten verfolgt. I am systematically persecuted by idiots.
Faust wurde von Goethe geschrieben. Faust was written by Goethe.
Das Tierheim wird durch Spenden finanziert. The animal shelter is financed by means of donations.
75% aller neuen Wohngebäude werden mit Gas geheizt. 75% of all new residential buildings are heated with (using) gas.
  • The grammatical subject of a passive sentence is the person or thing that the action is being done to: "Der [not den] Pudding wird gegessen." [Even though in the active voice you would certainly say "Ich esse den Pudding" to express the same thing.] Since the dative preposition von is usually used to state the agent, the agent will usually be in the dative if it appears in the passive sentence at all: "Der Pudding wird von mir gegessen."
  • Sometimes a passive sentence will have no grammatical subject, or only the "dummy subject" es. This is referred to as the impersonal passive. The subject in impersonal passive constructions is always assumed, by default, to be the third person singular--in other words, if a passive sentence has no grammatical subject (nothing in the nominative for the conjugated verb to agree with), then the conjugated verb will automatically be in the third person singular.
Mir wird geholfen. I am being helped. [Note that "mir" is dative and so cannot be the subject of the verb: the subject of a verb is always in the Nominative. Thus the verb is in the 3rd person singular by default, not in the first person singular. Hence the verb is "wird" and not "werde."]
Über uns wurde nicht gesprochen. We were not talked about. [Again, "uns" is accusative and so cannot be the subject of the verb. Hence the verb is "wurde" and not "wurden."]
Davon ist mir nichts gesagt worden. I was told nothing about that. [Again, neither "davon" nor "mir" can be the subject of the verb.]
    • An important type of impersonal passive construction is the passive with the dummy subject es. This is difficult to translate elegantly into English, but the meaning will generally be obvious: the activity described by the main verb is "being done." If the sentence contains an adverbial expression or a prepositional phrase, it will have the same underlying structure, but without es:
Es wird getanzt. There is dancing going on/People are dancing (e.g. at the party in the apartment above you while you are trying to sleep).
Es wird gefeiert. There is partying going on/People are partying.
Heute Abend wird gefeiert. People are partying tonight.
Auf der Party wird getanzt. There is dancing going on at the party/People are dancing at the party.
In der Deutschklasse wird kein Französisch gesprochen. Speaking French is not allowed in German class.
  • The "true" passive we have been discussing, which is formed by combining werden with the past participle of the verb, emphasizes the fact that the action is "becoming" done to someone or something. There is another form, called the "statal" passive, which is formed by combining "sein" with the past participle of the verb. This is used to describe the state that something is in (hence the name "statal"), as opposed to the action that is being performed on it. Here are two examples:
Die Tür wird geöffnet. [true passive] The door is (being) opened. When you read this, you picture the door in motion: a closed door is being opened.
Die Tür ist geöffnet. [statal passive] The door is open. When you read this, you picture a door that is in the "state" of being open.

 

Das Steak wird gebraten. [true passive] The steak is (being) fried. When you read this, you picture the steak sizzling away in the pan, and you feel the joyful anticipatory delight of the carnivore, or the anger of the vegetarian at an abomination in progress.
Das Steak ist gebraten. [statal passive] The steak is fried. When you read this, you picture a steak that is sitting there, having been fried, and is ready to eat. The carnivore salivates, knowing the time has come to dig in, and the vegetarian feels the despair of another abomination that has irreversibly come to pass.

Important to note especially about the second example is that English cannot distinguish between "true" and "statal" passive in the way German can, since only one auxiliary verb can be used to form the passive in English. Thus in English it is only from the context that you know whether "the steak is fried" refers to a steak sizzling in the pan, or to a steak that has been fried and is sitting on a plate waiting for a salivating carnivore to come and eat it. German makes the distinction by using werden + past participle when an action is taking place, and sein + past participle when the action has been completed.

  • When you see the verb werden in a sentence, there are now (i.e. now that we've learned the passive) three possibilities for what it's doing there:
    • werden by itself means "to become"
    • werden + infinitive indicates the future
    • werden + past participle indicates the passive voice

    Click here for more info about this.

  • Watch out for the following common pitfalls:
    • Not all Active Statements have a Passive Counterpart:

    Most active statements can be transformed into passive statements by discarding the agent (or restating it using von): Hertz entdeckte [=discovered] Radiowellen ==> Radiowellen wurden (von Hertz) entdeckt; Freud veröffentlichte [=published] 1900 die Traumdeutung [=The Interpretation of Dreams] ==> Die Traumdeutung wurde 1900 (von Freud) veröffentlicht. In a significant number of cases, however, this will not be possible:

    Ich habe geschlafen. I slept.
    Ich bin geschlafen worden./Von mir ist geschlafen worden. I was slept./Sleeping was done by me.
    Ich beeile mich. I hurry.
    Ich werde beeilt./Von mir wird sich beeilt. I am hurried up./Hurrying up is done by me.

    This generally applies to intransitive verbs (verbs which cannot take a direct object) and to reflexive verbs, for example, but it is difficult to come up with a simple and comprehensive rule. If you think about the meaning of the passive statements you try to form, however, you should be able to recognize when you are trying to put something in the passive that can't actually be put into the passive.

    • Mixing Active and Passive Voice

    There are two ways in which this mistake generally gets made: in creating a passive statement either from scratch or based on the corresponding active voice statement, one often has the "active" state of affairs in mind. As a result, one is tempted to

    • (1) Erroneously retain the subject of the active statement (the agent) as the subject of the passive statement, even though the point of creating the passive statement is precisely to either omit the agent, or to state it using von (or occasionally durch etc.):
      Active statement: Hertz entdeckte Radiowellen Hertz discovered radio waves.
      Correct passive statement: Radiowellen wurden (von Hertz) entdeckt. Radio waves were discovered (by Hertz).
      Incorrect passive statement: Hertz wurde Radiowellen entdeckt. Hertz was discovered radiowaves.
      Active statement: Ich habe eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv geschrieben. I wrote a warning about problems with the passive.
      Correct passive statement: Eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv ist geschrieben worden. A warning about problems with the passive was written.
      Incorrect passive statement: Ich bin eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv geschrieben worden. I am a warning about problems with the passive written.
    • (2) Erroneously keep the direct object of the active statement as the direct object of the passive statement, even though the point of creating the passive statement is precisely to turn the direct object of the active statement into the subject of the passive statement, i.e. to put it into the nominative and have the conjugated verb agree with it:


    • Active statement: Felix Wankel hat in den 50er Jahren den ersten Wankelmotor gebaut. Felix Wankel built the first rotary engine in the 50s.
      Correct passive statement: Der erste Wankelmotor ist in den 50er Jahren (von Felix Wankel) gebaut worden. The first rotary engine was built in the 50s (by Felix Wankel).
      Incorrect passive statement: Den ersten Wankelmotor ist in den 50er Jahren (von Felix Wankel) gebaut worden. [translation would be as above]
      Active statement: Mein Freund hat mich schamlos ausgenutzt. My (boy)friend exploited me shamelessly.
      Correct passive statement: Ich bin von meinem Freund schamlos ausgenutzt worden. I was exploited shamelessly by my (boy)friend.
      Incorrect passive statement: Mich ist/bin von meinem Freund schamlos ausgenutzt worden. [translation would be as above]

    • Passive and Dative

    Avoid the temptation to make the conjugated verb in a passive statement agree with a dative object in the statement. Remember that if a verb agrees with a noun or pronoun, that noun or pronoun must be in the nominative. Here are some cautionary examples. In each case, the subject of the passive sentence is in bold print (if there is one), and the dative object is in italics.

    Mir bin/ist geholfen worden. I was helped.
    Ihnen sind/ist geholfen worden. They were helped.
    Uns werden/wird ein Buch gegeben. We are given a book.
    Uns werden zwei Bücher gegeben. We are given two books.
    Dem Baby darf/dürfen keine Nüsse gegeben werden. The baby must not be given any nuts.
    Den Babys müssen/muss mehr Milch gegeben werden. The babies must be given more milk.

Practice Exercises

  • Tenses Five sentences about what has been done by the government appear here in various tenses. Get a feel for the various tenses in the passive voice by matching the sentences with the appropriate tense in each case. The "weiter" button will let you cycle through the five questions until you feel you've gotten enough practice.
  • Conjugation of werden Practice the conjugation of werden in the various tenses of the passive voice. The "weiter" button will let you cycle through the five questions until you feel you've gotten enough practice.
  • Kann man das sagen? Not every active statement has a passive counterpart (see the first item under "Common Pitfalls" on this page). Get a feel for this by deciding which of the statements in this exercise are legitimate statements in the passive voice, and which ones are not.
  • Was passiert in Köln? Practice putting sentences in various tenses into the passive. This is a convenient format for letting you practice the forms of the passive in various tenses, but please don't be led astray by this exercise format into thinking that every active sentence has a passive equivalent (or vice versa), or that it doesn't matter whether you express an idea in the active or the passive voice. Hopefully the rest of this page has made it clear that neither is the case!
  • True Passive vs. Statal Passive Decide whether the "true" passive or the "statal" passive is appropriate in the following situations.
  • Zigaretten This short paragraph about a change in German laws concerning cigarettes uses werden twice. Read the text and answer the questions about these uses of werden and about the text in general.

Uses of the Passive

The passive is used if the emphasis is on the action being performed rather than on the agent (i.e. whoever is performing the action). This can happen in any context and at any level of formality: sometimes I want to say that Benz invented the gasoline-powered automobile (active), sometimes I want to say that the gasoline-powered automobile was invented in 1885 (passive). Sometimes I get to say that the Lions made the Packers look stupid (active), but a lot of the time I have to admit that the Lions $%^&* were kicked (passive). Nevertheless, there are some factors that make it more likely for you to see the passive, and these include:
  • The agent is unknown, e.g. if a crime has been committed but it's not known who did it
  • Euphemisms of various sorts, such as politicians saying "taxes were raised" instead of "I raised taxes."
  • Reports on scientific experiments, where the use of the passive provides an illusion of objectivity
  • Stylistic choices. Thus, you are more likely to see the passive in formal contexts than in informal contexts, more likely to see it in newspaper articles than in everyday speech, more likely to hear it from a pedantic professor than from a kid who's being ticketed for skateboarding, etc.
    • In English, writing teachers strongly encourage their students to use the active voice in order for their writing to be more direct, forceful, and readable. This is also the case in German, but to a lesser extent.

Formation of the Passive

"Werden" + Past Participle

The passive is formed in German by combining the appropriate conjugated form of werden [which by itself means "to become"] with the past participle of the main verb. To change the tense of your passive sentence, change the tense of werden. Notice how in the following table it is only the forms of werden that change as the tense changes:

Präsens/Present
  • Ich werde festgenommen.
  • Du wirst dämonisiert.
  • Der Müll wird nach Kanada katapultiert.
  • Die Mäuse werden gefangen
  • I am (being) arrested.
  • You are demonised.
  • The trash is catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice are caught.
Perfekt/Perfect
  • Ich bin festgenommen worden.
  • Du bist dämonisiert worden.
  • Der Müll ist nach Kanada katapultiert worden.
  • Die Mäuse sind gefangen worden
  • I was arrested.
  • You were demonised.
  • The trash was catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice were caught.
Präteritum/ Simple Past
  • Ich wurde festgenommen.
  • Du wurdest dämonisiert.
  • Der Müll wurde nach Kanada katapultiert.
  • Die Mäuse wurden gefangen
  • I was arrested.
  • You were demonised.
  • The trash was catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice were caught.
Futur/Future
  • Ich werde festgenommen werden.
  • Du wirst dämonisiert werden.
  • Der Müll wird nach Kanada katapultiert werden.
  • Die Mäuse werden gefangen werden
  • I will be arrested.
  • You will be demonised.
  • The trash will be catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice will be caught.
Plusquamperfekt/ Past Perfect
  • Ich war festgenommen worden.
  • Du warst dämonisiert worden.
  • Der Müll war nach Kanada katapultiert worden.
  • Die Mäuse waren gefangen worden
  • I had been arrested.
  • You had been demonised.
  • The trash had been catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice had been caught.

The following table summarizes the main points regarding the formation of the past participle. This is important since every passive statement includes the past participle of the verb (festgenommen, dämonisiert, entdeckt and gefangen in the table above):
 

strong [irregular] verbs weak [regular] verbs mixed verbs
"Normal" verbs Du hast gesehen/ gegessen/geschlafen

Du bist gelaufen/ gegangen/gestorben

Du hast gelacht/gesagt/ gearbeitet

Du bist gewandert/ gehüpft

Du hast gebracht/ gekannt/gedacht/ gebracht/gewußt

Du bist gerannt.

Separable Prefix Verbs Du hast mitgenommen/ ferngesehen/ abgenommen

Du bist umgezogen/ weggegangen/ eingeschlafen

Du hast eingekauft/ abgeholt

Du bist aufgewacht

Du hast mitgebracht

Du bist weggerannt.

Inseparable Prefix Verbs Du hast verstanden/ begonnen/bekommen

Du bist entkommen/ entstanden

Du hast entdeckt/ verkauft/übersetzt

Du bist entflammt [=burst into flames]

Du hast erkannt

Du bist verbrannt

-ieren Verbs   Du hast studiert/ diskutiert/probiert

Du bist explodiert/ kollidiert

 

 

Passive and Modals

Modal verbs are always used with the infinitive of the verb they accompany. This is also the case in the passive ==> the pattern you will see for passive constructions involving modals is:

modal verb (conjugated) + past participle of main verb + werden (in the infinitive)

Although other tenses are possible, you will generally just have to deal with two tenses involving modal verbs in the passive: present and (simple) past. The past participle and the infinitive of werden are in bold type throughout the table below to help you recognize the pattern.

Präsens/Present
  • Ich soll festgenommen werden.
  • Du willst dämonisiert werden.
  • Der Müll muss nach Kanada katapultiert werden.
  • Die Mäuse können gefangen werden.
  • I am supposed to get arrested.
  • You want to be demonised.
  • The trash has to be catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice can be caught.
Vergangenheit/Past
  • Ich sollte festgenommen werden.
  • Du wolltest dämonisiert werden.
  • Der Müll musste nach Kanada katapultiert werden.
  • Die Mäuse konnten gefangen werden.
  • I was supposed to be arrested.
  • You wanted to be demonised.
  • The trash had to be catapulted to Canada.
  • The mice could be caught. [i.e. It was possible to catch the mice, not it might be possible to catch them]

Stating the Agent

Often, the point of using the passive is to avoid stating the agent, i.e. whoever performed the action. But sometimes you do want to state the agent in a passive sentence. When you do, use von [=by], or occasionally durch (roughly corresponds to "by means of" in this context) or mit (roughly corresponds to "using" in this context). If in doubt, you should always choose von, which is rarely wrong.

Ich werde systematisch von Idioten verfolgt. I am systematically persecuted by idiots.
Faust wurde von Goethe geschrieben. Faust was written by Goethe.
Das Tierheim wird durch Spenden finanziert. The animal shelter is financed by means of donations.
75 % aller neuen Wohngebäude werden mit Gas geheizt. 75% of all new residential buildings are heated with (using) gas.

The grammatical subject of a passive sentence is the person or thing that the action is being done to: "Der [not den] Pudding wird gegessen." [Even though in the active voice you would certainly say "Ich esse den Pudding" to express the same thing.] Since the dative preposition von is usually used to state the agent, the agent will usually be in the dative if it appears in the passive sentence at all: "Der Pudding wird von mir gegessen."

Impersonal Passive

Sometimes a passive sentence will have no grammatical subject, or only the "dummy subject" es. This is referred to as the impersonal passive. The subject in impersonal passive constructions is always assumed, by default, to be the third person singular--in other words, if a passive sentence has no grammatical subject (nothing in the nominative for the conjugated verb to agree with), then the conjugated verb will automatically be in the third person singular.

Mir wird geholfen. I am helped. [Note that "mir" is dative and so cannot be the subject of the verb: the subject of a verb is always in the Nominative. Thus the verb is in the 3rd person singular by default, not in the first person singular. Hence the verb is "wird" and not "werde."]
Über uns wurde nicht gesprochen. We were not talked about. [Again, "uns" is accusative and so cannot be the subject of the verb. Hence the verb is "wurde" and not "wurden."]
Davon ist mir nichts gesagt worden. I was told nothing about that. [Again, neither "davon" nor "mir" can be the subject of the verb.]
  • An important type of impersonal passive construction is the passive with the dummy subject es. This is difficult to translate elegantly into English, but the meaning will generally be obvious: the activity described by the main verb is "being done." If the sentence contains an adverbial expression or a prepositional phrase, it will have the same underlying structure, but without es:
Es wird getanzt. There is dancing going on/People are dancing (e.g. at the party in the apartment above you while you are trying to sleep).
Es wird gefeiert. There is partying going on/People are partying.
Heute Abend wird gefeiert. People are partying tonight.
Auf der Party wird getanzt. There is dancing going on at the party/People are dancing at the party.
In der Deutschklasse wird kein Französisch gesprochen. Speaking French is not allowed in German class.

"True" Passive vs Statal Passive

The "true" passive we have been discussing, which is formed by combining werden with the past participle of the verb, emphasizes the fact that the action is "becoming" done to someone or something. There is another form, called the "statal" passive, which is formed by combining "sein" with the past participle of the verb. This is used to describe the state that something is in (hence the name "statal"), as opposed to the action that is being performed on it. Here are two examples:

Die Tür wird geöffnet. [true passive] The door is (being) opened. When you read this, you picture the door in motion: a closed door is being opened.
Die Tür ist geöffnet. [statal passive] The door is open. When you read this, you picture a door that is in the "state" of being open.

 

Das Steak wird gebraten. [true passive] The steak is (being) fried. When you read this, you picture the steak sizzling away in the pan, and you feel the joyful anticipatory delight of the carnivore, or the anger of the vegetarian at an abomination in progress.
Das Steak ist gebraten. [statal passive] The steak is fried. When you read this, you picture a steak that is sitting there, having been fried, and is ready to eat. The carnivore salivates, knowing the time has come to dig in, and the vegetarian feels the despair of another abomination that has irreversibly come to pass.

Important to note especially about the second example is that English cannot distinguish between "true" and "statal" passive in the way German can, since only one auxiliary verb can be used to form the passive in English. Thus in English it is only from the context that you know whether "the steak is fried" refers to a steak sizzling in the pan, or to a steak that has been fried and is sitting on a plate waiting for a salivating carnivore to come and eat it. German makes the distinction by using werden + past participle when an action is taking place, and sein + past participle when the action has been completed.

Summary of the Uses of "werden"

Note: this section does not address the use of werden in the Subjunctive (in particular, würde + infinitive). Click here to go to the Subjunctive II page if you would like to review this.

There are three possibilities if a sentence contains the verb werden in the indicative:

(a) Become

If the clause contains no other verb, werden is being used as an independent verb. In this case it means to become:

Ach, wie klein du geworden bist! My, how small you’ve become! [try this on growing kids]
Was möchtest du einmal werden? What would you like to become one day?

(b) Future

If the clause contains another verb in the infinitive, werden is being used as an auxiliary to indicate the future tense. Note that the other verb could be a modal, or a modal + infinitive (third example), or it could even be werden itself (see the second example).

Mehr und mehr Leute werden Computer kaufen. More and more people will buy computers.
Computer werden immer besser werden. Computers will become better and better.
Eines Tages werden Computer uns Deutsch beibringen können. One day, computers will be able to teach us German.


If the sentence contains haben or sein in the infinitive together with a past participle, werden is being used as an auxiliary to indicate the future perfect tense [what will have happened]. Do not confuse this with option (c) below, where werden + a past participle (but no infinitive of haben or sein) indicates the passive! We don't talk much about the future perfect tense, but here are two examples:

Wenn du ankommst, wird das gute Essen schon verschwunden sein. When you arrive, the good food will already have disappeared.
Die anderen werden schon alles gegessen haben. The others will already have eaten everything.


(c) Passive

If the clause contains a past participle, werden is being used to indicate the passive.

Das Essen ist in der Kantine gekocht worden. [perfect tense] The food was cooked in the cafeteria.
Dann wurde es von den Studenten gegessen. [narrative/simple past] Then it was eaten by the students.
Im Moment wird es verdaut. [present] At the moment it is being digested.
Morgen wird wieder etwas anderes gekocht werden. [future] Tomorrow, something else will be cooked.

Common Pitfalls

Not all Active Statements have a Passive Counterpart

Most active statements can be transformed into passive statements by discarding the agent (or restating it using von): Hertz entdeckte [=discovered] Radiowellen ==> Radiowellen wurden (von Hertz) entdeckt; Freud veröffentlichte [=published] 1900 die Traumdeutung [=The Interpretation of Dreams] ==> Die Traumdeutung wurde 1900 (von Freud) veröffentlicht. In a significant number of cases, however, this will not be possible:

Ich habe geschlafen. I slept.
Ich bin geschlafen worden./Von mir ist geschlafen worden. I was slept./Sleeping was done by me.
Ich beeile mich. I hurry.
Ich werde beeilt./Von mir wird sich beeilt. I am hurried up./Hurrying up is done by me.

This generally applies to intransitive verbs (verbs which cannot take a direct object) and to reflexive verbs, for example, but it is difficult to come up with a simple and comprehensive rule. If you think about the meaning of the passive statements you try to form, however, you should be able to recognize when you are trying to put something in the passive that can't actually be put into the passive

Mixing Active and Passive Voice

There are two ways in which this mistake generally gets made: in creating a passive statement either from scratch or based on the corresponding active voice statement, one often has the "active" state of affairs in mind. As a result, one is tempted to

  • (1) Erroneously retain the subject of the active statement (the agent) as the subject of the passive statement, even though the point of creating the passive statement is precisely to either omit the agent, or to state it using von (or occasionally durch etc.):
  • Active statement: Hertz entdeckte Radiowellen Hertz discovered radio waves.
    Correct passive statement: Radiowellen wurden (von Hertz) entdeckt. Radio waves were discovered (by Hertz).
    Incorrect passive statement: Hertz wurde Radiowellen entdeckt. Hertz was discovered radiowaves.
    Active statement: Ich habe eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv geschrieben. I wrote a warning about problems with the passive.
    Correct passive statement: Eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv ist geschrieben worden. A warning about problems with the passive was written.
    Incorrect passive statement: Ich bin eine Warnung über Probleme mit dem Passiv geschrieben worden. I am a warning about problems with the passive written.

 

  • (2) Erroneously keep the direct object of the active statement as the direct object of the passive statement, even though the point of creating the passive statement is precisely to turn the direct object of the active statement into the subject of the passive statement, i.e. to put it into the nominative and have the conjugated verb agree with it:
    Active statement: Felix Wankel hat in den 50er Jahren den ersten Wankelmotor gebaut. Felix Wankel built the first rotary engine in the 50s.
    Correct passive statement: Der erste Wankelmotor ist in den 50er Jahren (von Felix Wankel) gebaut worden. The first rotary engine was built in the 50s (by Felix Wankel).
    Incorrect passive statement: Den ersten Wankelmotor ist in den 50er Jahren (von Felix Wankel) gebaut worden. [translation would be as above]
    Active statement: Mein Freund hat mich schamlos ausgenutzt. My (boy)friend exploited me shamelessly.
    Correct passive statement: Ich bin von meinem Freund schamlos ausgenutzt worden. I was exploited shamelessly by my (boy)friend.
    Incorrect passive statement: Mich ist/bin von meinem Freund schamlos ausgenutzt worden. [translation would be as above]

Passive and Dative

Avoid the temptation to make the conjugated verb in a passive statement agree with a dative object in the statement. Remember that if a verb agrees with a noun or pronoun, that noun or pronoun must be in the nominative. Here are some cautionary examples. In each case, the subject of the passive sentence is in bold print (if there is one), and the dative object is in italics.

Mir bin/ist geholfen worden. I was helped.
Ihnen sind/ist geholfen worden. They were helped.
Uns werden/wird ein Buch gegeben. We are given a book.
Uns werden zwei Bücher gegeben. We are given two books.
Dem Baby darf/dürfen keine Nüsse gegeben werden. The baby must not be given any nuts.
Den Babys müssen/muss mehr Milch gegeben werden. The babies must be given more milk.

 

 

 



   
 

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