German Passive Voice.

The Passive Voice in English:

In the “normal,” active voice, the subject of the sentence acts upon an object: She snubs him.

Both German and English offer an alternative verb structure, the passive voice, in which the subject of the sentence receives the action: He is snubbed by her. To transform the active to the passive, we turn the direct object “him” into the grammatical subject “he” and place it in the customary first position. The active verb, “snubs,” becomes the past participle (“snubbed”), and “to be” is inserted as the auxiliary verb: thus She snubs him becomes He is snubbed. One purpose of the passive voice is avoid identifying the active subject – “Mistakes were made” – but if we do want to retain that information, we put it into a prepositional phrase: He is snubbed by her.

The passive sentence’s tenses are achieved through manipulation of the auxiliary verb: He was snubbed. He is being snubbed. He had been snubbed. He will be snubbed. Etc.

German uses a similar structure for the passive, but with “werden” as the auxiliary verb and sometimes also a form of “sein”. There are no conjugation tables in this section because we’ll only be using forms of “warden” and “sein” that we’ve already covered; learning the passive is not a matter of learning new endings, it’s about understanding the structure and word order of a passive clause. To highlight this, we’ll use the same sentence in all eight forms.

The present and simple past use the present and past conjugations of werden, respectively:

Die Wohnung wird durchsucht. (The apartment is [being] searched.)

Die Wohnung wurde durchsucht. (The apartment was searched.)

The Perfect tenses use “sein” with the participle and “worden” (a short form of werden’s participle geworden). Remember that the Perfekt translates the same as the Präteritum form above:

Die Wohnung ist durchsucht worden. (The apartment was searched.)

Die Wohnung war durchsucht worden. (The apartment had been searched.)

The future tense uses werden in the present tense, then the participle and another werden in the infinitive. The future perfect adds sein:

Die Wohnung wird durchsucht werden. (The apartment will be searched.)

Die Wohnung wird durchsucht worden sein. (The apartment will have been searched.)

Finally, the conditional forms of the passive use either the Konjunktiv I form of werden or the Konjunktiv II form of sein, as follows:

Die Wohnung würde durchsucht werden. (The apartment would be searched.)

Die Wohnung wäre durchsucht worden. (The apartment would have been searched.)

A few descriptive past participles are so common that they’ve essentially become adjectives, and you can use them without invoking the passive voice at all:

Ich bin [not werde] beeindruckt! (I’m impressed!)

Er ist [not wird] geschieden. (He’s divorced.)

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