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
5. How to express the passive voice in all tenses
6. Passive voice with modal verbs
Table of content for the passive voice

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.

Illustrations
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 subject or the subject is not relevant to the action performed. 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).

Earlier in the active voice, it was taught that 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.

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 (which is not needed for the passive voice).

Types of Passive Voice

There are basically two types of passive voice in german namely;

  1. Vorgangspassiv or processual passive
  2. Zustandspassiv or statal passive

Vorgangspassiv

To form the Vorgangspassiv voice in German, the verb werden is used as an auxiliary together with the Partizip II of the main verb. The auxiliary 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. While the passive voice is formed with werden + Partizip II, the perfect tense is formed with haben/sein + Partizip II. This is the difference between both. See illustration below…

AktivVorgangspassiv
John repariert mein Handy
(John is repairing my cellphone)
Mein Handy wird (von John) repariert.
(my cell phone is being repaired (by John))
Illustration

Just like the active voice, the passive voice can be used in all tenses. The formation of the various tenses is controlled by the tense of the auxiliary verb werden. These variations are illustrated below.

If the tense is to be in the present, werden is used. If it is intended for the simple past tense /Präteritum, wurden is used. While for the past participle/ perfect tense, the perfect auxiliary form of werden “sein… worden” is used. When the perfect auxiliary form of werden is used, the perfect tense auxiliary sein is conjugated to the direct object in the second position, while worden is placed at the end of the sentence directly after the Partizip II form of the main verb in the sentence.

Vorgangspassiv Präsens

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” and it’s present continuous tense “being”. Hence, the various conjugation of be is used to its respective objects turned subjects. The conjunction of werden in present tense is shown below.

SubjectsGermanEnglish
ichwerdei am (being)
dudu wirstyou are (being)
er/sie/eswirdhe/she/it is (being)
wirwerdenwe are (being)
ihrwerdetyou guys are (being)
sie/Siewerdenthey/you are (being)
Conjugation of werden in the present tense of passive voice
Usage
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.
Sentence of the german passive voice in the present tense

Vorgangspassiv 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.

SubjektHilfsverbPartizip IIEnglish
ichbinwordeni have been…
dubistwordenyou have been…
er/sie/esistwordenhe/she/it has been…
wirsindwordenwe have been…
ihrseidwordenyou guys have been…
sie/Siesindwordenthey/you guys have been…
Conjugation of werden in the perfekt tense of passive voice
Usage
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.
Sentence of the german passive voice in the perfect tense

Vorgangspassiv Präteritum

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.

SubjectsGermanEnglish
ichwurdeI was (being)
duwurdestyou were (being)
er/sie/eswurdehe/she/it was (being)
wirwurdenwe were (being)
ihrwurdetyou guys were(being)
sie/Siewurdenthey/you were (being)
Conjugation of werden in the praterum of passive voice
Usage
1.The car was 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.
Sentence of the german passive voice in the Präteritum

Vorgangspassiv Plusquamperfekt

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.

SubjectPräteritum of werden auxiliaryPartizip II of Passive werdenEnglish
ichwarwordenI had been
duwarstwordenyou had been
er/sie/eswarwordenhe/she/it had been
wirwarenwordenwe had been
ihrwartwordenyou guys had been
sie/Siewarenwordenthey/you had been
Conjugation of werden in the Plusquamperfekt of passive voice
Usage
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.
Sentence of the german passive voice in the Plusquamperfekt

Vorgangspassiv 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;

Subjectauxilliary verbmain verbEnglish
ichwerdewerdenI will be…
duwirstwerdenyou will be…
er/sie/eswirdwerdenhe/she/it will be…
wirwerdenwerdenwe will be…
ihrwerdetwerdenyou guys will be…
sie/Siewerdenwerdenthey/you will be…
Conjugation of werden in the future tense of passive voice
Usage
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.
Sentence of the german passive voice in the future tense

The Passive Voice with Modal Verbs

With modal verbs, the passive voice can only be expressed in present and past tense. when expressed in the present tense, the modal verbs are conjugated to the object turned subject in the second position while the auxiliary verb werden which means “be” here, goes to the end of the sentence in its finite form directly after the Partizip.

IN THE PRESENT TENSE; the modal verbs are conjugated in the present tense as illustrated below.

Usage
1.The old houses should be painted.—— die alten Häuser sollen gemalt werden.

2. You have to be observed by Sara.—— du musst von Sara beobachtet werden.

3. The car can not be repaired.—— das Auto kann nicht repariert werden.
Sentence of the german passive voice with modal verb in present tense

IN THE PAST TENSE; the passive voice of modal verbs are often expressed in the past in the präteritum. Expression in the perfect tense could be possible but then is more complex and not usually used. See illustration in the präteritum below;

Usage
1.The car could have been bought by Mario.—— das Auto konnte von Mario gekauft werden.

2. Why did you want to be taken to the museum?—— warum wolltest du zum Museen gebracht werden?
Sentence of the german passive voice with modal verb in past tense

Although it is stated earlier that the passive voice doesn’t require the subject or action performer which is true, the subject can nevertheless be introduced using the preposition “von” in German. This is translated as “by” in English.

Usage
1. The car will be bought by me.—— das Auto wird von mir gekauft werden.

2. The old houses were painted by Max.—— die alten Häuser wurden von Max gemalt.

3. You are being observed by Mary.—— du wirst von Maria beobachtet.
Sentence of the german passive voice with with superimposed subjects

Also, it is possible to have a passive sentence that has a dative or an indirect object. In this instance, the dative is solely benefiting from whatever there is in the sentence. In English sentences, the dative often resembles the subject or Nominativ in the passive voice.

Usage
1. I was given a plate of rice.—— mir wurde ein Teller Reis gegeben.

2. She is being bought a car.—— ihr wird ein Auto gekauft.

3. The people have been gifted a beautiful house.—— den Leuten ist ein schönes Haus geschenkt worden.
Sentence of the german passive voice with with superimposed subjects

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