Why is this present passive and not future passive? I expect "wird" to translate to "will" but that doesn't seem to be the case here.
I think "wird" doesn't have anything to do with future tense here. When "werden" is used with partzip 2 it has the meaning of passive. When it is used with indefinite form of verb, it has the meaning of future. If you want to say "the letter will be written" you say "der Brief wird geschrieben werden".
For the letter will be written, could you also say; der Brief wird geschrieben sein?
Yes. That's using the statal passive rather than the processual passive, i.e. focussing on the state of the thing instead of the process that happens to the thing. The statal passive uses sein as the helping verb, and the processual passive ('normal' passive) uses werden as the helping verb.
The "present contiues passive" (is being written) is going on here. It should be translated this way. However if you want to stress the continues aspect of this sentece in German you need to add more context.
Passive voice in differnt tenses:
In UK "it is written" would usually imply that a text exists. "It is being written" uses the extra word to show that the text is in the process of being generated. "It will be written" is a statement of intent. So from what people are saying, in German this is: 1.es ist geschrieben 2.es wird geschrieben 3.es wird geschrieben werden Is that right?
In short, yes. Of course "is written" doesn't necessarily imply that an action is past. It can, but when I say, for example, "letters are written for business and bureaucratic reasons" it has the same meaning as in the German sentence here (this is the so called "dynamic passive"). Secondly, there is no continuous tense in German. The "is being written" bit here is precisely to emphasize that it is in the present tense and to avoid the ambiguity between the two usages (yours and the one I've just explained). Hope that helps...
If i want to know who writes the letter, for example he writes, Can i say 'Der Brief wird ihm geschriben', just like in English ' The letter is being written by him' ?
The passive construction uses 'von' + Dative to state the actor, so: der Brief wird von ihm geschrieben
It's apparent that if you don't have a strong foundation in English grammar, you are never going to learn German properly. Present passive, future passive.....it's all Greek to me. I learned it all in grade school, but I'm 63 years old now and find that I have to learn it all over again. PLUS apply it to the German. Oy.
I wouldn't worry too much about it, especially if you're learning the language just for fun. Most Germans don't know those things by name either, yet they manage to speak German fluently. In the end, those names are just useful to abstract, learn and communicate with others about a particular feature of the language; you'll know you've learned a language when they become second nature and it just sounds right without actively thinking tense, gender, case, declension, etc. (This is called rather wonderfully Sprachgefühl, as if you acquired an extra sense). Learn them if they're useful to you and your learning style, not if they get in your way. Eventually it just clicks if you're exposed to it enough. Viel Spaß! :)
Then perhaps you might enjoy these: https://yourdailygerman.com/learn-german-online-course/
They are conceptual explanations of various issues of German grammar, written in a humorous style and without all the fancy grammatical terms.
"is being" - continuous form -
When we want to express 'continuous form' (which does not exist in German), we use the word "gerade" or stronger, if someone is impatiently waiting "gerade eben" to make it clear:
"Der Brief wird gerade (eben) geschrieben." It is happening just (right) now = "gerade eben" or "gerade"
Future - "Der Brief wird geschrieben werden." is correct, but not used in colloquial German. This is confusing. We drop the "werden" and say simply "Der Brief wird geschrieben".
What helps in spoken language: the melody of the sentence. If the word "wird" is stressed, you can be sure, the letter does not exist yet and it will be written in future, it's for sure.
So there are 2 translations ... the letter is being written and the letter is written. Isn't this a little confusing as to whether the activity has passed?
Not really. The difference between "Der Brief wird gescrieben" and "Der Brief ist geschrieben" is kind of hard to explain. "Wird" (passive voice) implies some kind of continuing action, as well as an actor, even if that actor is not stated. But if you say "ist," you're basically stating the simple fact that the letter is written. Some people discuss the difference here: http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/the-passive-voice-werden-sein.1554043/
Not too difficult. One is the Processual Passive: "Der Brief wird geschrieben" (The letter is being written).
And the other is Statal Passive: "Der Brief ist geschrieben" (The letter is written), meaning the action of writing the letter has been completed.
With Processual Passive, we are always stating what is, was, had been, or will be happening, and with Statal Passive, we are stating the situation or condition after the action has been brought to completion.
No big mystery :-)
How can I be sure that I know it's "was being" as opposed to "is being" --- written? Just curious.
"Wird geschrieben" is "is being written." "Wird"="become," so it's effectively "The letter is becoming written" --> "being written." So "was being written" would just be the past tense of "wird": "Der Brief wurde geschrieben."
"Werden" as an auxiliary verb has two different uses: future tense ("will X") and passive voice ("is Xed / gets Xed"). Just as in English, the future needs an infinitive ("will write") and the passive needs a past participle ("is written").
This exercise uses "geschrieben," a past participle, so it's passive. You'll notice that if you translate the sentence word for word with "will," you get "The letter will written," which doesn't make much sense. The meaning of "will" needs an infinitive rather than a participle.
"Will be written" is both future ("will") and passive ("be"), so it actually needs "werden" twice: that sentence would be "Der Brief wird geschrieben werden."