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Active vs Passive Voice
Review Two Voices
German vs. English Passive in three easy steps
Übung mit Antworten

Review
There are two main types of verbs, strong verbs (irregular verbs with vowel changes in some of their forms and with -en endings in the past participle), and weak verbs (regular verbs with -te endings in Simple Past and -t endings for their past participles). A given verb always stays within the same category: e.g. the past participle of kaufen is always gekauft, never gekaufen!  This is summarized on the page on strong, weak and mixed verbs.

In addition, verbs can be in two main moods, indicative (factual) and subjunctive (counterfactual), each existing in various tenses (whereas there are 5 indicative tenses, there are only two subjunctive tenses: past and present--but there are two ways to form the present subjunctive).  This is summarized on the page on verb moods.

We will now see that there are also two possible "voices," active and passive.

Two Voices

1. Active Voice: this is the "normal" voice, in which the subject of the action is really the person or thing carrying it out, and the direct object is in the accusative: "I pet the dog"--"Ich streichele den Hund"

2. Passive Voice: in the passive, the object of the action becomes the subject (nominative) of the sentence: "The dog is petted"--"Der Hund wird gestreichelt"

Both voices exist in all tenses and moods, but we won't make you care about the passive subjunctive (although it really would be easy!). So you just need to know how to form the five possible indicative passive tenses.

German vs. English

German uses the verb "werden" to form the passive; English uses the verb "to be." So where English says "The dog is petted," German literally says "The dog becomes petted." This extends to all the tenses. Here are the passive forms of the various tenses of "I pet the dog" ("Ich streichele den Hund"):
 
Present The dog is petted Der Hund wird gestreichelt ("The dog becomespetted")
Narrative Past (Präteritum) The dog was petted Der Hund wurde gestreichelt ("The dog became petted")
Perfect (Conversational Past) The dog was petted Der Hund ist gestreicheltworden ("The dog became petted")
Past Perfect The dog had been petted Der Hund war gestreicheltworden ("The dog had becomepetted")
Future The dog will be petted Der Hund wird gestreicheltwerden ("The dog will becomepetted")
Modal--present tense The dog must be petted Der Hund muß gestreicheltwerden ("The dog must becomepetted")
Modal--narrative tense The dog had to be petted Der Hund mußte gestreicheltwerden ("The dog had to becomepetted")

Note how both German and English always insert the past participle of the main verb (here: petted/gestreichelt) in all passive tenses. In English, the various tenses are indicated by the various tenses of the verb "to be"; in German, by the various tenses of "werden."

Note: Don't confuse passive voice and subjunctive mood. Passive is about what is (or was or will be) being done to someone or something. Subjunctive is about what someone would/might do or have done. What would be done is passive (be done) and subjunctive (would) at once, and it's something we don't discuss much, although it would be easy to do! If this confuses you, look back at the above table carefully, and compare it with what you know about the subjunctive.

Passive in three easy steps

1. The object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence (with which the verb werden agrees). The subject of the active sentence doesn't need to be stated in the passive version (often, that's the point of the passive), but if you want, you can state it by inserting von + dative (equivalent to English by ___). All other nouns and pronouns remain unchanged; in particular, dative objects remain dative.
 
Er isst das Ei ==> Das Ei wird (von ihm) gegessen.  Er isst die Eier ==> Die Eier werden (von ihm) gegessen.
He eats the egg ==> The egg is eaten (by him). He eats the eggs ==> The eggs are eaten (by him).

2. Always insert the past participle of the main verb: note how past participles occur in every row of the above table.

3. Decide on the proper tense and choose the appropriate tense of werden.

Übung mit Antworten
Now practice this by putting some active sentences into the passive AND CHECK YOUR ANSWERS BELOW:

1. Der Wolf frißt Rotkäppchen
2. Der Wolf frißt Rotkäppchen und die Großmutter

3. Er verbrennt sein Bett

4. Er verbrennt seine Betten

5. Ich gebe ihr eine Dose SPAM

6. Ich gebe ihr viele Dosen SPAM

7. Du findest das Baby

8. Du findest die Babys

9. Du fandest das Baby

10. Du fandest die Babys

11. Du hast das Baby gefunden

12. Du hast die Babys gefunden

13. Wir helfen dir [careful: note there's no accusative object in this sentence ==> nothing to become the subject of the passive sentence ==> by default, the passive sentence uses third person singular]

14. Wir helfen euch [everything I said above still applies!]

15. Wir müssen das Baby waschen

16. Wir müssen die Babys waschen

17. Wir mußten das Baby waschen

18. Wir mußten die Babys waschen

19. Wir müssen dem Baby helfen

20. Wir müssen den Babys helfen

21. Wir mußten dem Baby helfen

22. Wir mußten den Babys helfen

ANTWORTEN
1. Rotkäppchen wird gefressen

2. Rotkäppchen und die Großmutter werden gefressen

3. Sein Bett wird verbrannt

4. Seine Betten werden verbrannt

5. Ihr wird eine Dose SPAM gegeben/Eine Dose SPAM wird ihr gegeben [dative "ihr" stays dative]

6. Ihr werden viele Dosen SPAM gegeben/Viele Dosen SPAM werden ihr gegeben [dative "ihr" stays dative]

7. Das Baby wird gefunden

8. Die Babys werden gefunden

9. Das Baby wurde gefunden

10. Die Babys wurden gefunden

11. Das Baby ist gefunden worden

12. Die Babys sind gefunden worden

13. Dir wird geholfen [dative "dir" stays dative]

14. Euch wird geholfen [dative "euch" stays dative]

15. Das Baby muß gewaschen werden

16. Die Babys müssen gewaschen werden

17. Das Baby mußte gewaschen werden

18. Die Babys mußten gewaschen werden

19. Dem Baby muß geholfen werden [the baby remains in the dative ==> this sentence has no subject (subjects are nominative!) ==> by default, the passive sentence uses third person singular]

20. Den Babys muß geholfen werden [the babys remain in the dative ==> this sentence has no subject (subjects are nominative!) ==> by default, the passive sentence uses third person singular]

21. Dem Baby mußte geholfen werden [the baby remains in the dative ==> this sentence has no subject (subjects are nominative!) ==> by default, the passive sentence uses third person singular]

22. Den Babys mußte geholfen werden [the babys remain in the dative ==> this sentence has no subject (subjects are nominative!) ==> by default, the passive sentence uses third person singular]



   
 

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