The passive voice

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The passive voice

We use the passive voice to emphasize what happened, or the result of an action, rather than who did it or what caused it.

Anna renoviert das Hotel. (Aktiv) Das Hotel wird von Anna renoviert. (Passiv)

Anna is renovating the hotel. (active) The hotel is being renovated by Anna. (passive)

Wir essen die Tomaten. (Aktiv) Die Tomaten werden gegessen. (Passiv)

We eat the tomatoes. (active) The tomatoes are eaten. (passive)

We generally form the passive using werden + the past participle of the main verb. The passive voice can be used in all tenses.

Betty wird von Sigi getragen. (Präsens) werden, Präsens

Betty is carried by Sigi. (present tense)

Betty wurde gestern von Sigi getragen. (Präteritum) werden, Präteritum

Betty was carried by Sigi yesterday. (simple past tense)

Betty wird morgen von Sigi getragen werden. (Futur 1)werden, Futur 1

Betty will be carried by Sigi tomorrow. (future tense)

We use von (by) + dative to indicate who carries out the action.

Die Rechnung wird vom Gast bezahlt. (Der Gast bezahlt die Rechnung). Bestimmter Artikel

The bill is paid by the guest (active voice: The guest pays the bill).

Betty wurde von ihr gemalt. (Sie malte Betty). Personalpronomen

Betty was painted by her (active voice: She painted Betty).

Notes:

  • In everyday spoken German, we also use the passive to give instructions or refer to things which are permitted.

Jetzt wird gegessen!

Let's eat now! (literally “Now it is eaten!”)

Hier darf geraucht werden.

Smoking is permitted here. (literally “Here it can be smoked”)

  • To refer to a state rather than action, we use sein instead of werden.

Das Schwimmbad wird geöffnet. Das Schwimmbad ist jetzt geöffnet. sein, Präsens

The pool is being opened. The pool is now open.

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