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.
Active voice sentences

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

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

#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;

  1. Vorgangspassiv or processual passive
  2. 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…

VorgangspassivPerfekt
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
Difference between passive voice and perfect tense in German

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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;

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

Zustandspassiv/ Staatal Passive Voice

Zustandspassiv or statal passive as it is called in English, expresses a situation where something has been done already. That is to say it has been finished with. It is formed with the auxiliary verb sein + Partizip II of any main verb. And just like the Vorgangspassiv, it can be formed in different tenses (Präsens, Präteritum, Plusquamperfekt) except perfect and future tenses and of course it is coordinated by the tense of the auxiliary verb sein.

How to form the Zustandspassiv in the present tense

This is formed with the present tense of sein + the Partizip II of the referred verb. This can sometimes be similar to the perfect tense of those verbs e.g fahren, sterben, passieren etc. that use sein as their auxiliary. Nevertheless, it can be differentiated based on the context of the conversation. For example;

Usage
1.The car is bought.—— das Auto ist gekauft.

2. The old houses are painted.—— die alten Häuser sind gemalt.

3. You are observed.—— du bist beobachtet.
Sentence of the german zustandspassiv voice in the present tense

Observe that the conjugation of sein in English is not in the present continuous form (with –ing) like that of Vorgangspassiv in Präsens. This is a major difference, although several translations don’t tell the difference apart.

How to form the Zustandspassiv in Präteritum

To form the Präteritum of the Zustandspassiv, the auxiliary verb sein must be conjugated in the Präteritum (waren) at the second position while the Partizip II remains at the end of the sentence unaltered. In a simple form, the sentence is Formen with waren + Partizip II. For example;

Usage
1.The car was bought.—— das Auto war gekauft.

2. The old houses were painted.—— die alten Häuser waren gemalt.

3. You were observed.—— du warst beobachtet.
Sentence of the german zustandspassiv voice in Präteritum

How to form the Zustandspassiv in Plusquamperfekt

The Plusquamperfekt of the Zustandspassiv is form from the Plusquamperfekt form of the auxiliary verb sein (waren + gewesen) together with the Partizip II of the supported verb. The form becomes waren + Partizip II of supported verb + Partizip II of sein.

Usage
1.The car had been bought.—— das Auto war gekauft gewesen.

2. The old houses had been painted.—— die alten Häuser waren gemalt gewesen.

3. You had been observed.—— du warst beobachtet gewesen.
Sentence of the german zustandspassiv voice in Präteritum

How to mention the subject with von and durch in a passive sentence

Although it is stated earlier that the passive voice doesn’t require the subject or action performer which is true, the subject if it’s a living thing (humans, animals or plants etc.) can nevertheless be introduced using the prepositionvon” in German. This is translated as “by” in English. When the subject is inanimate, durch is rather used.

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

2. The patient was protected by the vaccine.—— die Patientin wurde durch den Impfstoff geschützt.

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

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/ past 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. Expressions 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 not be bought by Mario.—— das Auto konnte nicht 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

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