The passive voice in German

Part one, the “Vorgangspassiv” also called “weden-Passiv”

A very important fact:

In some books and also in some courses they talk about the passive voice in German, as if there were only one passive, which is a serious mistake, because the fact that the “Vorgangspassiv”is used more frequently does not mean that the other forms of the passive voice  should not be mentioned. There is also the so-called  “Zustandspassiv” and the substitute passive forms, which I will explain in another post.

In this chapter I will explain the most important passive voice:

The  “Vorgangspassiv”.

How is this passive form formed?

werden + Partizip 2. In this link you can read more about the Partizip 2-participle of the past

Example for the Vorgangspassiv:

Die Linsensuppe wird gekocht The lentil soup is cooked

* Only verbs that require a subject and express an action can be converted into the passive voice in German. Verbs such as regnen,schneien,hageln, (so-called weather verbs) cannot be converted into the passive.

* You cannot form the passive with reflexive verbs.

* The German passive voice can also be formed with so-called intransitive verbs (intransitive verbs are verbs which do not have a direct complement).

Dem Mann wird geholfen (the man will be helped)

* Verbs such as bekommen, sein, haben and werden cannot be used to form the passive voice in German.

The Vorgangspassiv in German is used when you want to give more importance to the fact or the action, than to the so-called actor.

Examples:

Active:

Sabine kocht die Linsensuppe ( here there is a subject “Sabine” who cooks the soup).

Vorgangspassiv

Die Linsensuppe wird gekocht (the grammatical focus here is on the action “the soup is cooked”, the actor is unknown or unimportant).

If you want to make the actor (subject) known, you can use the prepositions von with dative for direct causes, or durch with accusative for indirect causes.

Von with dative, to refer to persons

Die Linsensuppe wird von Sabine gekocht (the lentil soup is cooked by Sabine)

Durch with accusative, to refer to objects or indirect causes.

Die Ernte wird durch Hagel zerstört.

The crop is destroyed by a hailstorm.

The auxiliary verb for forming sentences in the Vorgangspassiv is the verb werden, as in the Futur 1 and Futur 2. The difference between these verb tenses is that in the Vorgangspassiv the verb is in participle 2.

The passive in German, table of the process passive

Präsens: Die Linsensuppe wird gekocht

Perfekt: Die Linsensuppe ist gekocht worden

Präteritum: Die Linsensensuppe wurde gekocht

Plusquamperfekt: Die Linsensensuppe war gekocht worden.

Futur I: Die Linsensuppe wird gekocht werden

Future II: Die Linsensuppe wird gekocht worden sein.

The Plusquamperfect and the Futur II have very little use in the German passive voice.

The participle 2 of the verb werde is basically “geworden” but in the process passive it is used as “worden” in combination with the participle, which is a particular form in the process passive.

Rule of thumb for forming the Vorgangspassiv:

Partizip II + werden (or in its preterite form “wurden”. When using the compound past with an auxiliary verb, “worden” is used in the Plusquamperfect and in the Perfect) in the same sentence Vorgangspassiv!

 

The German passive voice can be used in main sentences as well as in subordinate sentences.

Example (process passive in a subordinate clause)

Ich weiß, dass hier eine neue Siedlung gebaut wird

(I know that a new housing estate is being built here).

The use of modal verbs in the Vorgangspassiv

Let’s look at an example with a modal verb

Die Tür muss geschlossen werden (the door must be closed).

We can see that the modal verb as in a main sentence occupies the second position and the infinitive of werden goes to the last position.