Passive Voice

What is the Passive voice?

The action itself is the most important in Passive voice, answering the question "What is happening?"

The subject of the sentence is NOT performing the action. Instead, something is done to the subject. Therefore, the person or thing performing the action is not that important.

Examples:   

  • „Die Suppe wird gekocht.“
  • „Die Frau wird fotografiert.“
  • „Das Haus wird gebaut.“

Difference between Passive and Active Voice

ACTIVE: In active voice, the person doing the action (the Subject) is important.

Example:

  • Frau Meier kocht eine Suppe.“
    Question: Wer kocht die Suppe?

(The acting person is important: who is doing something.)

PASSIVE: In passive voice, the action itself is important.

Example

  • „Die Suppe wird gekocht.“
    Question: Was passiert?

(The action is important. Who is cooking the soup doesn't matter or is unknown.)

If you still want to mention who did the action, you need to use a Preposition + von + Dative construction.

  • „Die Suppe wird von dem Koch gekocht.“


In German, there are two types of passive: Process Passive and Status Passive. They have different meanings, constructions, and uses. In the next two lessons I'll show you the difference. I've also included another lesson on the so-called "Impersonal Passive". Technically it's a type of process passive, but it can cause confusion for students so I gave it its own lesson to explain it in more detail.

Tip:

If German is not your native language:

  • How do you form the passive voice in your native language?
  • How does the passive voice work? I recommend you understand your native language before you continue!

What is the difference between the Process Passive and the Status Passive?

In German grammar, there are two different types of passive voice. The Process Passive and the Status Passive. These differ in meaning, formation, and usage.

The Process Passive

With the action passive voice, you always emphasize an action. You can always ask the following question: What is happening?

Who is the person doing the action is not so important or unknown.

  • „Die Frau wurde angefahren.“
  • „Ein Verband wurde der Frau angelegt.“
  • „Die Frau wird ins Krankenhaus gebracht.“

When speaking of the Passive voice in general, one always means the present Passive.

The Status Passive

With the Status Passive we describe the state after an action.

  • „Die Frau wurde angefahren. Sie ist verletzt.“

The „anfahren“ action is already completed here. During the action, the woman was injured.

⇒ Her current state: She is injured.

⇒ Who hit the woman again does not matter or is unknown.

Recommendation: The Status Passive (Zustandspassiv)

When we speak of the Passive voice in general, we are always speaking of the

Passive of action. Therefore, all further explanations in this lesson refer to the passive indicative. If you want more information about the passive of state, I recommend the following lesson: The Status Passive (Zustandpassiv).

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Word Order in Passive

In Normal Sentence:

Wortstellung Passiv HS

In Question:

Wortstellung Passiv Frage

Verbs without Passive Voice

Some verbs cannot form the passive voice. These are verbs that form the Perfect Tense with „sein“, Reflexive Verbs or Verbs that describe a state and not an action. (z.B. sein, haben, bleiben,... )

Example:

All verbs that form the Perfect Tense with „sein“:

  • „Ich bin (zum Zahnarzt) gegangen.

Passive is not possible because only I can go (to the dentist) myself. ⇒ No one can do it for me. ⇒ No passive possible.

True Reflexive Verbs

  • „Ich konzentriere mich.“

Passive is not possible because the subject is used for the action. Reflexive verbs always refer to the subject. Thus, the subject is always mandatory and cannot simply be removed, as in the Passive.

Also: „Niemand kann das für mich erledigen“. ⇒ No passive possible


Verbs that do not describe an action but a state:

  • z.B. „besitzen“, „haben“, „wissen“, „kennen“

In the Passive voice, the action is important. But with these verbs, there is no action. They describe a state. Consequently, if there is no action, there is no passive.

Interisting Fact: Process Passive for all Verbs

There is a way to form the Past Tense even with the verbs that are Reflexive, that describe a state, or that don't have an Accusative object. (Yes, you read correctly, this is the opposite of what I just explained to you).

However, these forms are only interesting from a B2 level and are called "Impersonal Passive". To avoid further confusion for beginners, I have created a separate lesson on the impersonal passive: The Impersonal Passive.

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