German: Passive Voice

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Exercise

Create ten active voice sentences (in any tense). Then, keeping the same tense, convert it into passive voice.

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by John Pustejovsky

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Banner - A Practical Guide to German Passive Voice!!sketch of Herr Prof Doc Pusto

What's it used for?

What is Voice?
Voice is a grammatical structure that conveys information on whether the sentence subject is doing, or receiving, the action of the verb.  Just like English, German has two voices:

  • Active (subject doing the action)
  • Passive (subject receiving the action)

Getting organized

Passive voice is something a child learns around age four or five; we switch from active to passive and passive to active without thinking about it. To be able to do this in German, you must know:

  1. How to conjugate the verb werden in all persons, numbers, and tenses
  2. The past participles of action verbs.

What's hard about passive?

The German language has developed ways of using passive that are idiomatic.

➤  They have no exact word-for-word equivalent in English.

What can you make of these?

Es wird hier über Kommunismus diskutiert.
They're talking about communism here.

Freitags wird bei Klaus gefeiert.
On Fridays, there's a party at Klaus' place.

When in doubt, look for an "invisible es" as a subject.
In English, that's the generic 'they' or 'one' or 'there is' as a subject!

Universal formula

1. Passive voice is always formed using werden and the action verb past participle.

The tense of the sentence is marked in the werden; the past participle is a constant.

Examples of tense in passive voice
Examples Tense English translation
Das Auto wird von der alten Frau verkauft. present The car is (being) sold by the old woman.
Das Auto wurde von der alten Frau verkauft. simple past The car was sold by the old woman.
Das Auto ist von der alten Frau verkauft worden. present
perfect
The car has been sold by the old woman.
Das Auto war von der alten Frau verkauft worden. past perfect The car had been sold by the old woman.
Das Auto wird von der alten Frau verkauft werden. future The car will be sold by the old woman.

2. Modal verbs require infinitives at the end:

When there is a modal verb involved ("The car must be sold."), the modal still requires an infinitive at the end.

Das Auto muß verkauft werden. (=infinitive, in last position as usual.)
The car must be sold.

2.1 Tense is marked in the modal verb.

When the tense of the modal changes, the tense change is marked in the modal verb.

Das Auto mußte (=past tense) verkauft (constant, past participle) werden (infinitive).
The car had to be sold.