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Das Passiv wird von uns verstanden werden

I thought it was a clever title...

Anyway, I thought I'd do a post with the aim of helping some (English speaking) German learners who might be struggling with the passive voice, get a better grasp of it. This is because, for a long time, I struggled with the passive voice until a light came on in my head! So, I thought I'd try and help the same happen for some others in the learning community.

The reason why a lot of people struggle with the passive voice in German, is because at first glance it looks like you are combining the future tense with the past. See the example below for illustration:

,,Das Auto wird repariert."

Now, looking at that my initial translation is "The car will repaired." which doesn't make any sense so my mind quickly adjusts to "The car will be repaired." which is fair enough... except that that simply is not a correct translation. The correct translation is "The car is being repaired." or "The car is getting repaired." - hopefully the inclusion of the second translation will make more sense by the end.

Upon learning the sentence above is not in the future tense but in fact in the present, this prompts most to then ask "How would you say 'The car will be repaired.'?" - to which the answer is:

,,Das Auto wird repariert werden."

Which then often leads to the learner having an emotional breakdown and seeking out one of the many Mark Twain quotes on the insanity of the German language, before moving on and then either vowing to NEVER use the passive voice in German (good luck) or to just try and memorise it like every other soul crushing aspect of the German language (yes, I'm looking at you adjective endings).

Yep, and normally, that would be the end of that. HOWEVER, the revelation I had not too long ago was something that I now can't believe how long it took me to realise - the actual translation for the verb:

,,werden" - "to become"

Which is indeed primarily used when forming the future tenses, however this is not all. Take a look at the sentence below:

,,Ich werde besser."

Which means "I'm getting better." (hopefully now the pieces are starting to come together!), and not what some people might automatically think which would be "I will be better." (,,Ich werde besser sein."). As you can see "I'm getting better." is not only in the present tense, it should describe how you're feeling about the passive voice. This is because if you think of ,,werden" as "to get" in the sense of "I'm getting better." then suddenly the passive constructions make sense! In every tense! Look now! :

,,Das Auto wird repariert." - "The car is getting repaired."

,,Das Auto wird repariert werden." - "The car will get repaired."

,,Das Auto wurde repariert." - "The car got repaired."

Suddenly the German passive looks eerily similar to our own, and in fact German even has a ,,sein" passive construction which in our example above would directly translate to "The car is repaired." in the present tense; but I don't want to get too much into that. For those who have read this far and want to learn more about the passive voice (maybe you're weird like me) there are two kinds of passive - static and dynamic; ,,sein" used to construct the static and ,,werden" used to construct the dynamic. The difference is the static focuses on the state of the object, and the dynamic focuses on the action acting on the object. The reason I've only looked at the ,,werden" (dynamic) passive is because that is the one used more frequently.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful to someone and didn't bore too many others in the process.

Danke schön fürs Lesen, tschüss!

July 12, 2016



No its interesting! Danke! Are you also a Mark Twain fan?


Thanks! Gern geschehen! Alas, I haven't looked him up nearly as much as I should have; I've just seen a load of different quotes from him all speaking unfavourably of the beautiful German language :P


ah yes he was a funny and sometimes severe critic. But he was a very wise person. I always love to read his writings whenever I come across a new one.


Ah thanks, I'll have to go check him out!

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