Does it sound funny that a voice is active or passive? “Really, I thought it’s only with personality traits that something or someone could either be active or passive”, you probably said. Then you probably also wonder if this is in anyway related to the circumstances of “this child is too active” which means the child is very lively or always up and doing or “this child is too passive” which means the child is too calm, quiet or doesn’t socialize. Well it probably could 🤷♀️, maybe when the curriculum for German gets updated in the future 😃.
By active and passive voice doesn’t mean it is only in the aspect of speaking that it should be applied. Of course they can both be used also in writing. Anyway, the active voice is what you begin learning German with and by now are greatly familiar with. Hence, the most part of this topic would be focused on the passive voice.
|Content in this post|
|1. Introduction to the active voice|
2. Definition of the passive voice
3. The two types of passive voices
4. How to form the passive voice in german with werden and sein
5. How to express the passive voice in all tenses
The Active Voice
The active voice is one in which the subject/ Nominative performs the action. In other words, the subject is the doer of the verb. This is the normal standard of sentence formation in German where the subject is of great relevance to the verb. As a matter of fact, the verb can only be conjugated to the subject. Therefore, the subject must be present. The active voice can be expressed in present, future and all past tenses in German. Take as illustrations, the examples below.
|1.E; We are painting the wall.|
G; Wir malen die Wand.
2.E; My father drives a car.
G; Mein Vater fährt ein Auto.
3.E; The old woman has bought a new house.
G; Die alte Frau hat ein neues Haus gekauft.
4.E; Selma sold her old shoes.
G; Selma verkaufte ihre alte Schuhe.
The Passive Voice
A voice is said to be passive when it has no known subject or the subject is not relevant to the action performed and wished not to be mentioned. In such cases, the direct object simply acts as the subject and the object at the same time and is placed at the first position of the sentence. The object which is now the supposed subject (because the verb is conjugated to them) must use the articles of the nominative case (when needed).
As implied earlier in the active voice, a sentence could only be formed when the verb is conjugated to the subject which is the standard S+V+O order but this is no longer the case with respect to the passive voice. The order of sentence formation becomes reversed to “O + V +/- S” where the verb is instead conjugated to the object. Although the subject is not relevant to the passive voice, it can be mentioned in the sentence only with the use of prepositions such as von and durch. See the example below
|John repariert mein Handy|
(John is repairing my cellphone)
|Mein Handy wird (von John) repariert.|
(my cell phone is being repaired (by John))
#NOTE: The passive voice in german can be formed with any verb except those that are intransitive and reflexive. This is understandable because intransitive verbs don’t take an Akkusative object (which is very necessary for the passive voice) while a reflexive verb must have a subject and a corresponding pronoun object (which is not needed for the passive voice).
Types of Passive Voice
There are basically two types of passive voice in german namely;
- Vorgangspassiv or processual passive
- Zustandspassiv or statal passive
Just like the active voice, the passive voice can be used in all tenses (Präsens, Perfekt, Präteritum, Plusquamperfekt and Futur). The formation of the various tenses is controlled by the tense of the auxiliary verbs werden/ sein based on its type. These variations are illustrated below.
The Vorgangspassiv/ Processual passive voice
The Vorgangspassiv is used to express that something is constantly in the process or in the making. That is to say that there is yet no evident stop or end to whatever it is.
To form the Vorgangspassiv voice in German, the verb werden is used as an auxiliary together with the Partizip II of the supported verb (werden + Partizip II). The auxiliary verb werden is conjugated in the second position to the direct object while the Partizip II of the main verb is placed at the end of the sentence. This should not be mistaken with the formation of the perfect tense which is formed with haben/sein + Partizip II of the supported verb. This is the difference between both. See illustration below…
|ich wurde… gegessen|
du wurdest… gegessen
er/sie/es wurde… gegessen
wir wurden… gegessen
ihr wurdet… gegessen
sie/Sie wurden… gegessen
|ich habe… gegessen|
du hast… gegessen
er/sie/es hat… gegessen
wir haben… gegessen
ihr habt… gegessen
sie/Sie haben… gegessen
How to form the Vorgangspassiv voice in present tense
To formulate the passive voice in present tense, the present tense of the passive auxiliary verb which is “werden” + Partizip II of the supported verb is used. In English, werden is translated as “be” with the suffix “-ing” which then translates to it’s present continuous tense “being”.
In English, the derivative being can not be conjugated because it’s not a finite verb form. That is to say for example, you can’t say “I being…, you being… etc” Thus, it requires a help verb be. Hence, the various conjugation of be is used to its respective objects turned subjects. The conjunction of werden in present tense is shown below.
|ich||werde||i am being|
|du||du wirst||you are being|
|er/sie/es||wird||he/she/it is being|
|wir||werden||we are being|
|ihr||werdet||you guys are being|
|sie/Sie||werden||they/you are being|
|1. The red car is being bought.—— das rote Auto wird gekauft.|
2. The old houses are being painted.—— die alten Häuser werden gemalt.
3. You are being observed.—— du wirst beobachtet.
How to form the Vorgangspassiv voice in perfect tense
The passive voice of the past participle tense which is known as the perfect tense in German, is formed with the perfect auxiliary form of the passive voice auxiliary verb “werden” which is sein… worden.
The auxiliary verb sein of this passive voice auxiliary “werden” is conjugated to the object in the second position while the Partizip II form which is worden is placed at the end of the sentence. sein… worden in English is translated as to “have… been” where “have” is conjugated accordingly as shown below.
|ich||bin||worden||i have been…|
|du||bist||worden||you have been…|
|er/sie/es||ist||worden||he/she/it has been…|
|wir||sind||worden||we have been…|
|ihr||seid||worden||you guys have been…|
|sie/Sie||sind||worden||they/you guys have been…|
|1.The car has been bought.—— das Auto ist gekauft worden.|
2. The old houses have been painted.—— die alten Häuser sind gemalt worden.
3. You have been observed.—— du bist beobachtet worden.
How to form the Vorgangspassiv voice in Präteritum (imperfect tense)
In German, the Präteritum of passive voice is formed with wurden which is the simple past form of “werden” and it’s translated as the simple past form of “be” in English which may or may not be used together with the present continuous form “being”. Unlike the passive perfect tense, wurden here don’t require any auxiliary. They are simply conjugated and directly used as shown below.
|ich||wurde||I was being|
|du||wurdest||you were being|
|er/sie/es||wurde||he/she/it was being|
|wir||wurden||we were being|
|ihr||wurdet||you guys were being|
|sie/Sie||wurden||they/you were being|
|1.The car was being bought.—— das Auto wurde gekauft.|
2. The old houses were being painted.—— die alten Häuser wurden gemalt.
3. You were being observed.—— du wurdest beobachtet.
How to form the Vorgangspassiv voice in Plusquamperfekt tense
The Plusquamperfekt of the Vorgangspassiv is formed using the Plusquamperfekt of ‘werden’ together with the Partizip II of the main verb. Remember that the Plusquamperfekt of German verbs is formed with the Präteritum of the auxiliary of either haben or sein + the Partizip II of the main verb.
Originally, the Präteritum of the auxiliary is conjugated to the second position while the Partizip II of the main verb is placed at the end of the sentence. But in this case, the Präteritum of sein which is the auxiliary of the Vorgangspassiv auxiliary verb “werden” is conjugated to the second position while the Partizip II of werden is placed at the end of the sentence. The position of the Partizip II of the main verb becomes second to last directly before the Partizip II of werden. See illustration below.
|Subject||Präteritum of werden auxiliary||Partizip II of Passive werden||English|
|ich||war||worden||I had been|
|du||warst||worden||you had been|
|er/sie/es||war||worden||he/she/it had been|
|wir||waren||worden||we had been|
|ihr||wart||worden||you guys had been|
|sie/Sie||waren||worden||they/you had been|
|1.The car had been bought.—— das Auto war gekauft worden.|
2. The old houses had been painted.—— die alten Häuser waren gemalt worden.
3. You had been observed.—— du warst beobachtet worden.
How to form the Vorgangspassiv in future tense
In the future tense, the passive voice in German is formed with doubled werden— the auxiliary verb werden together with the main verb werden. The auxiliary is conjugated in the second position to the object while the main verb goes to the end of the sentence directly after the Partizip. This is illustrated below;
|Subject||auxilliary verb||main verb||English|
|ich||werde||werden||I will be…|
|du||wirst||werden||you will be…|
|er/sie/es||wird||werden||he/she/it will be…|
|wir||werden||werden||we will be…|
|ihr||werdet||werden||you guys will be…|
|sie/Sie||werden||werden||they/you will be…|
|1.The car will be bought.—— das Auto wird gekauft werden.|
2. The old houses will be painted.—— die alten Häuser werden gemalt werden.
3. You will be observed.—— du wirst beobachtet werden.