Today, I had an exercise session with one of my students, and it got me thinking about the ever-mysterious German Passiv. If you’ve come across it before, you probably know that mastering the passive voice can be a bit of a bumpy ride. So let me try to break it down for you!
Simply put, it’s a way of expressing a sentence where the subject is the receiver of an action rather than the doer. The Person (doing an action) is omitted from the sentences and something is usually being done to another person or object. In English, we do this by using “to be” + past participle (e.g., “The apple was eaten”). In German, things get a little more messy.
Here’s a the simple steps for creating the German Passiv:
- Take a subject (the one receiving the action).
- Add the appropriate form of “werden” depending on the tense and subject. For example, “werden” changes to “wird” for “he/she/it.”
- Toss in the main verb, but hold up! It’s not the infinitive this time. You need the past participle of the main verb. That’s the form of the verb that looks like it’s done something. For example, “gelesen” (read), “gemacht” (done), “geschrieben” (written), and so on.
Here are some examples:
Active Voice: “Ich esse einen Apfel.” (I am eating an apple.)
Passive Voice: “Ein Apfel wird gegessen.” (An apple is being eaten)
Active Voice: “Ich wasche das Auto” (I am washing the car)
Passive Voice: “Das Auto wird gewaschen” (the car is being washed)
If you want to practice this even further, feel free to check out the following video:
Passiv Quiz Streams Video • Chatterbug
and even more examples:
Die Straße wurde gestern repariert.
Here, “Die Straße” (the road) is the subject of the action, and “gestern” (yesterday) indicates when the action took place. The verb “werden” is conjugated in the past tense (“wurde”) to form the passive, and “repariert” is the past participle of “reparieren” (to repair). The sentence means “The road was repaired yesterday.”
Das Buch wird von vielen Menschen gelesen.
In this sentence, “Das Buch” (the book) is the subject being acted upon, and “von vielen Menschen” (by many people) specifies who is doing the action. Again, “werden” serves as the auxiliary verb, and “gelesen” is the past participle of “lesen” (to read). The sentence translates to “The book is being read by many people.”
Die Blumen werden von mir gegossen.
In this sentence, “Die Blumen” (the flowers) are the subject receiving the action, and “von mir” (by me) indicates who is performing the action. “Werden” is the helping verb used to form the passive voice, and “gegossen” is the past participle of the verb “gießen” (to water). The sentence means “The flowers are being watered by me.”