Seite 2

Passive Voice

The concept of the passive voice is only strange when one has to think about it. It is natural to say such things as "Mistakes were made." or "The song was played." But who made the mistakes? And who played the song? In this kind of sentence, the actor is not important.

Übung 11-2a Try this in English: Get rid of the subject. For example: We drink a lot of beer. --> A lot of beer is being drunk Turn these active sentences into passive sentences:

  1. John is closing the door.
  2. People are reading books.
  3. They cooked the food in the kitchen.
  4. The chemicals change the color of the liquid.
  5. I will cut down the tree tomorrow.
  6. The printer printed the document.
  7. The president is signing the bill.
  8. Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis bacterium.
  9. Edison invented the light bulb.


ACTIVE/AKTIV

  • Ich schreibe den Brief.
  • I'm writing the letter.

PASSIVE/PASSIV

  • Der Brief wird von mir geschrieben.
  • The letter is being written by me.

  1. To form the passive, German uses werden (to become) + the past participle, while English uses "to be."

  2. The word "letter" (Brief) in the ACTIVE sentence is an object being acted upon (active) by the subject "I" (ich). In the PASSIVE sentence the former object (Brief) becomes the subject, while the former subject (I, ich) is now the agent (by me/von mir).

  3. Only transitive verbs (those that take a direct object) can be made passive.

  4. The direct object (accusative case) in the active voice becomes the subject (nominative case) in the passive voice.

    1. Active and passive voice forms are not tenses.

    2. The active or passive voice can be in the present, past, future or any other tense.

    3. To conjugate verbs in the passive voice, you must know the forms of werden (see below).

    4. A passive voice sentence may or may not include the "agent" (by whom something was done).

    5. If the agent (by me, by Anna) is a person, it is expressed in German with a von-phrase: von Anna (by Anna).

    6. If the agent is not a person, then a durch-phrase is used: durch den Wind (by the wind).

PresentDie Tür wird geschlossen.The door is being closed
Perfect Die Tür ist geschlossen worden. The door was/is closed.
Preterite Die Tür wurde geschlossen. The door was being closed.
Plusquamperfect Die Tür war geschlossen worden. The door had been closed.
Future Die Tür wird geschlossen werden. The door will be closed.
Future perfect Die Tür wird geschlossen worden sein. The door will have been closed.


Übung 11-2b Here are the German equivalents of the sentences above. Change them to passive voice. Example: Johann schließt die Tür. (Remove the subject "Johann". --> Make "die Tür" the subject. --> Make "werden" the verb (wird) --> Place the past participle of "schließen" at the end of the sentence: Die Tür wird geschlossen.)

  1. Die Leute lesen die Bücher. (pp. gelesen)

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  2. Sie kochen das Essen in der Küche.

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  3. Die Chemikalien ändern die Farbe der Flüssigkeit.

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  4. Ich werde morgen den Baum fällen. (future tense!)

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  5. Der Drucker druckt das Dokument.

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  6. Der Präsident unterzeichnet das Gesetz. (pp. unterzeichnet)

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  7. Robert Koch entdeckte das Tuberkel-Bazillus. (preterite!) (pp. entdeckt)

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  8. Edison erfand die Glühbirne. (preterite!) (pp. erfunden)

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