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Passive Voice in German

(das Passiv)


Till now, we have learned three tenses of the German language i.e.

  1. das Präsens (simple present)
  2. das Perfekt (perfect) and
  3. Futur 1 (simple future).

In this lesson, we will learn how to make the passive voice out of these three types of tenses.

This page contains topics:

  1. German passive construction
  2. Types of German passive voice
  3. Vorgangspassiv
    1. Vorgangspassiv of sentences with transitive verbs and intransitive verbs
    2. Passive voice of Präsens
    3. Passive transformation of German perfect tense
    4. "worden" and "geworden"
    5. Passive transformation of German future tense
  4. Zustandspassiv
    1. Statal passive of present
    2. Statal passive of perfect
    3. Statal passive of future
  5. German passive with modal verbs
    1. Passive voice of Präsens
    2. Passive voice of Perfekt
    3. Passive voice of Futur 1
  6. "von" or "durch" in a passive voice?

1. German passive construction

In an active sentence, the person who does something is important.
Herr Meier repariert das Motorrad. (Mr. Meier repairs the motorcycle.)
reparieren (to repair), das Motorrad (bike, motorcycle)
In a passive sentence, the acting person i.e. the subject is unimportant. The action is important and is the focus. In German passive is formed by the combination of verb "werden" or "sein" and Partizip 2 (past participle form). We have already discussed Partizip 2 (past participle) in lesson 27 (German Perfect Tense).
Das Motorrad wird repariert. (The motorcycle is being repaired.)

However, if the acting person or thing (agent) is to be mentioned in the passive form, it is done in two ways:

  1. von + dative
  2. durch + accusative

Das Motorrad wird vom Herrn Meier repariert. (The motorcycle is being repaired by Mr. Meier.)

2. Types of German passive voice

Passive sentences in German are of two types:

  1. Vorgangspassiv (Passive voice of an operation)
  2. Zustandspassiv (Passive voice of a state)

3. Vorgangspassiv

Operational passive

The German word "Vorgang" means "process". As the name "Vorgangspassiv" shows the undergoing process of an operation. Vorgangspassiv is formed by the conjugated form of the verb "werden" (to be) and Partizip 2 (past participle). In the German colloquial language, "Vorgangspassiv" is also called "Werden-Passiv" . We have seen one example of Vorgangspassiv above i.e.
Das Motorrad wird (vom Herrn Meier) repariert. (The motorcycle is being repaired by Mr. Meier.)
The "operational passive" describes a process from a perspective in which the "agent" (here the agent is Herr Meier) is pushed into the background or is totally left out.
Das Motorrad wird repariert. (The motorcycle is being repaired.)

3.1 Vorgangspassiv of sentences with transitive verbs and intransitive verbs

During active to the operational passive conversion of sentences with transitive verbs (verbs that take direct objects/accusative objects) and intransitive verbs (verbs that only take indirect objects/dative objects):

  1. The direct object becomes the subject of the sentence. The subject in the active form of sentence (i.e. the agent) is often left out.
  2. The conjugated form of the verb "werden" takes second place in the sentence.
  3. The main verb is converted into Partizip 2 (past participle).
  4. If there is any other part in the sentence (e.g. dative object or prepositional object) it retains its function in the sentence.

The verb "geben" is a transitive verb i.e. it takes a direct object (accusative object) and optionally an indirect object (dative object).
Der Chef gibt dem Fahrer den Schlüssel. (The boss gives the driver the key.)
Der Schlüssel wird dem Fahrer (vom Chef) gegeben. (The key is given to the driver (by the boss).)
Der Chef (the boss) here is the agent and can be left out completely. Der Schlüssel (the key) is the direct object (accusative object) and der Fahrer (the driver) is the indirect object (dative object).
Der Schlüssel wird dem Fahrer gegeben. (The key is given to the driver.)

The verb "helfen" is an intransitive verb i.e. it only takes an indirect object (dative object).
Der Chef hilft dem Fahrer. (The boss helps the driver.)
Der Fahrer wird (von dem Chef) geholfen. (The driver is helped (by the boss).)

In a passive sentence without a grammatical subject, the impersonal "es" is used in place of the grammatical object. The agent is totally left out in these types of passive sentences.
Alle Leute lachen. (All people laugh.)
Es wird gelacht. (There is laughter.)
die Leute (people), die Leute is a plural noun

Similarly, if we want to make impersonal passive of the above sentence, Der Chef hilft dem Fahrer.
Es wird dem Fahrer geholfen. (The help is being provided to the driver.)
Please compare the above sentence with the similar-looking sentence in the active form,
Es wird dem Fahrer helfen. (It will help the driver.) "Es" here is not the impersonal subject. This "es" means "it". The verb "helfen" is in the infinite form and not in the past participle form (Partizip 2).

Below are some examples of operational passive formation in Präsens, Perfekt, and Futur 1.

3.2 Passive voice of Präsens

We have already discussed many examples of passive voice in the German simple present tense. Below are few more examples.


Er repariert das Motorrad. (He repairs the motorcycle.)
Das Motorrad wird repariert. (The motorcycle is being repaired.)


Sie macht sauber. (She cleans.)
Es wird sauber gemacht. (It is being cleaned.)


Er schreibt ein Brief. (He writes a letter.)
Ein Brief wird geschrieben. (A letter is being written.)

3.3 Passive transformation of German perfect tense

When the verb "werden" is used as an auxiliary verb, its past participle is "worden".
The passive transformation of German perfect tense (das Perfekt) is:
Subject + conjugation of verb sein + past participle of main verb + worden.
Please see the below examples.


Er hat das Motorrad repariert. (He repaired the bike.)
Das Motorad ist repariert worden. (The motorcycle has been repaired.)


Sie hat sauber gemacht. (She cleaned up.)
Es ist sauber gemacht worden. (It has been cleaned.)


Er hat ein Brief geschrieben. (He wrote a letter.)
Ein Brief ist geschrieben worden. (A letter has been written.)

"worden" and "geworden"

Please remember that "worden" is the past participle of "werden", only when "werden" is used as an auxiliary verb. When the verb "werden" is used as a main verb, where its translation is "to become" or "to get", then "geworden" is used as past participle form.
Future: Jann studiert Medizin. Er wird bald Arzt. (Jann is studying medicine. He's going to be a doctor soon.)
Perfect: Jann ist schon Arzt geworden. (Jann has already become a doctor.)
Herr Müller ist dick geworden. (Mr. Müller has grown fat./Mr. Miller has become thick.)

3.4 Passive transformation of German future tense

The sentence structure of passive transformation in Futur 1 is:
Subject + conjugated form of werden + past participle of main verb + werden.


Er wird das Motorrad reparieren. (He will repair the motorcycle.)
Das Motorrad wird repariert werden. (The bike will be repaired.)


Sie wird sauber machen. (She will clean up.)
Es wird sauber gemacht werden. (It will be cleaned.)


Er wird ein Brief schreiben. (He will write a letter.)
Ein Brief wird geschrieben werden. (A letter will be written.)

4. Zustandspassiv

Statal passive

"Zustandspassiv" indicates a state. It is constructed by the combination of the verb "sein" conjugation and "past participle" (Partizip 2) of the main verb. In the German colloquial language, "Zustandspassiv" is also called "Sein-Passiv".

4.1 Statal passive of present

"Zustandspassiv" of "Präsens" only differs from "Vorgangspassiv" in the auxiliary verb. In "Zustandspassiv" conjugated form of the verb "sein" is used instead of "werden".

Vorgangspassiv Zustandspassiv
Das Motorrad wird repariert.

(The motorcycle is being repaired.)
Das Motorrad ist repariert.

(The bike is repaired.)

Subject + sein + past participle of main verb

Das Motorrad ist repariert. (The bike is repaired.)
Der Boden ist sauber gemacht. (The floor is cleaned.)
Der Brief ist geschrieben. (The letter is written.)
Das Fenster ist geschlossen. (The window is closed.)
Das Glas ist gebrochen. (The glass is broken.)
Die Kartoffeln sind geschnitten. (The potatoes are cut.)

The German statal passive almost never mentions the agent.
Das Motorrad ist vom Mechaniker repariert. (The motorcycle is repaired by the mechanic.)
Die Kartoffeln sind vom Koch geschnitten. (The potatoes are cut by the cook.)

4.2 Statal passive of perfect

The "Zustandspassiv" (Statal passive) of "Perfekt" (perfect) is almost never used in real life. However, it is constructed as follows:
Subject + sein + past participle of main verb + gewesen

Das Motorrad ist repariert gewesen. (The motorcycle has been repaired.)

4.3 Statal passive of future

Statal passive of German simple future tense (Futur 1) follows the following pattern:

Subject + conjugated form of werden + past participle of main verb + sein

Das Motorrad wird repariert sein. (The bike will be repaired.)
Der Brief wird geschrieben sein. (The letter will be written.)

5. German passive with modal verbs

5.1 Passive voice of Präsens


Ich muss das Wasser trinken. (I have to drink the water.)
Das Wasser muss getrunken werden. (The water has to be drunk.)


Der Mechaniker muss das Motorrad reparieren. (The mechanic has to repair the bike.)
Das Motorrad muss repariert werden. (The bike needs to be repaired.)

5.2 Passive voice of Perfekt


Ich habe das Wasser trinken müssen. (I had to drink the water.)
Das Wasser hat getrunken werden müssen. (The water has to be drunk.)


Der Mechaniker hat das Motorrad reparieren müssen. (The mechanic had to repair the motorcycle.)
Das Motorrad hat repariert werden müssen. (The motorcycle had to be repaired.)

5.3 Passive voice of Futur 1


Ich werde das Wasser trinken müssen. (I will have to drink the water.)
Das Wasser wird getrunken werden müssen. (The water will have to be drunk.)


Der Mechaniker wird das Motorrad reparieren müssen. (The mechanic will have to repair the motorcycle.)
Das Motorrad wird repariert werden müssen. (The motorcycle will need to be repaired.)

6. "von" or "durch" in a passive voice?

If the acting person or thing (agent) is to be mentioned in the passive form, it is done in two ways:

  1. von + dative
  2. durch + accusative
  1. von refers to the originator, the cause
  2. durch refers to the mediator, the means


retten (to rescue / to save)
Der Arzt rettet den Patienten. (The doctor saves the patient.)
Der Patient wird vom Arzt gerettet. (The patient is saved by the doctor.)
Der Patient wird durch eine Operation gerettet. (The patient is saved by (means of) an operation.)


Die Firma Shell transportiert das Öl nach Europa. ( (The company) Shell transports oil to Europe.)
Das Öl wird von der Firma Shell nach Europa transportiert.
In the above passive voice, Shell causes the transport of oil to Europe i.e. Shell is the originator. A company can also be a "means" of transport, like an oil tanker is a means of transport.

Das Öl wird durch die Firma Shell nach Europa transportiert.
Das Öl wird durch den Öltanker nach Europa transportiert.

Both the "originator" and "means" can also be expressed in a single passive sentence.

Das Öl wird von der Firma Shell durch den Öltanker nach Europa transportiert.
der Öltanker (oil-tanker) plural: die Öltanker, die Operation (operation) plural: die Operationen, die Firma (firm, company) plural: die Firmen, transportieren (to transport), das Öl (oil) plural: die Öle, Europa (Europe),

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