Passive 1

In this module, you will learn more about the Passive Voice. Just like in English, action is typically expressed in German using transitive verbs in the Active Voice with the subject of the sentence indicating the agent (i.e., who is doing the action). For example:

In an active sentence (1), you will see an acting subject in the nominative case and an object in the accusative case:

  1. Die Studenten lesen das Buch. The students are reading the book.

In a passive sentence (2), the object from (1) becomes the subject in the nominative case, and the active subject from (1) becomes a prepositional object with von / durch or can be omitted:

  1. Das Buch wird (von den Studenten) gelesen. The book is being read (by the students).

The passive is used in both languages to shift the perspective from the agent to the action itself and the patient / experiencer of the action. This lends a more authoritative and objective tone to a text and is thus preferred in formal writing (e.g., newspapers, scientific texts, etc.). Note, however, that the passive is used with much greater frequency in German than it is in English.

Activity 1

Now, let’s pay attention to the verbs and review how the passive is being formed in the present tense by reading the examples below. They are taken from Das Digitale Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (DWDS), a large electronic collection of German texts known as a corpus.


Click on all (auxiliary and main) verbs (the total of 13):


Which rule best describes the formation of the present passive?

Activity 2

Read the active voice sentences below and decide how these sentences should be changed into the passive voice.

Choose the correct answers:

Summary for Activity 2:

Remember: to form the passive in the present tense, you need to use a conjugated form of the auxiliary (helping) verb werden in the present tense and a past participle of the main verb.

Activity 3

Please note that werden does NOT always mark the passive voice.


Read the examples taken from the DWDS website below and decide which sentence is active and which is passive. Pay attention to the verb forms!

Choose the correct answer:


Which statement best describes the role of werden in the active sentences (c, e, g) above?

Match active sentences with the correct statements about the role of the verb werden:

Summary for Activity 3:

As you may have noticed, the verb werden can have many uses in German.

  • Werden can be a helping verb used to form the future tense (‘will’ in English). When used this way, werden is in its finite, conjugated form, and the main verb is in the infinitive (vorbeikommen, gucken).
  • Werden can be a helping verb used to form the subjunctive mood in conditional sentences (‘would’ in English). When used this way, werden has the form würde (-st, -t, -n), and the main verb is in the infinitive (schenken).
  • Werden can be a main verb, not a helping verb. When used alone this way, it means ‘to become’. E.g., in (g): ‘The older the kids become, the more it becomes the role of the fathers.’
  • Werden can, as we just learned, be the helping verb which forms the passive voice (‘is / is being’). When used for the passive, werden is in its finite, conjugated form, and the main verb is in the past participle form (geimpft, gegeben, finanziert, abgewiesen).

Activity 4

Like the active, the passive can be used in any tense. To do so, you need to change the tense of the helping verb werden. The main verb stays in its past participle form. Read the DWDS examples below and decide in which tense the sentence is: Präsens, Präteritum, or Perfekt?

Click on the correct tense:

Summary for Activity 4:

To form the Präteritum Passiv (simple past passive): The passive is formed just like in the Präsens (present) except the simple past of the auxiliary verb werden is used => wurden

To form the Perfekt Passiv (present perfect passive): Werden still functions as the auxiliary verb when we have the passive in the present perfect, but we get into a situation with two past participles: that for the main verb and that for the auxiliary werden. In this instance, we have sein as the conjugated helping verb, used in combination with two past participles: the past participle of the main verb and the special past participle worden, which is used only in the passive. => Die Bücher sind gelesen worden.
Präsens: Die Kekse werden gegessen.
Präteritum: Die Kekse wurden gegessen.
Perfekt: Die Kekse sind gegessen worden.

Activity 5

Now, let’s see how the passive is formed with modal verbs. Read the examples taken from DWDS below and decide on the correct rules for creating the passive with modal verbs.

  1. Die Investitionen kamen lange zu kurz, das muss erst mal noch aufgeholt werden.
    Die Zeit, 26.01.2018, Nr. 02
  2. Jetzt sollen 7.000 Arbeitsplätze abgebaut werden.
    Die Zeit, 26.01.2018, Nr. 02
  3. In wenigen Wochen müssen die Anträge für die Forschungsprojekte eingereicht werden.
    Die Zeit, 10.01.2018, Nr. 53
  4. An der Terminbörse in Chicago dürfen Zukunftskontrakte auf Bitcoin gehandelt werden.
    Die Zeit, 09.01.2018, Nr. 02
  5. Welche Musik soll gespielt werden?
    Die Zeit, 08.01.2018, Nr. 02
  6. Das Auto soll zunächst ab 2019 in China verkauft werden, von 2020 an weltweit.
    Die Zeit, 08.01.2018 (online)
  7. ZEIT: Warum muss eine Banknote überhaupt gestaltet werden?
    Die Zeit, 08.01.2018, Nr. 02
  8. Ab sechs Monaten können die Kinder dann theoretisch selbst geimpft werden
    Die Zeit, 08.01.2018 (online)

Summary for Activity 5:

A passive voice sentence with a modal verb is formed by conjugating the modal verb in second position, a main verb in the past participle form in second to last position, and an infinitive form of werden in last position: Die Bücher müssen gelesen werden.

Activity 6

In the passive, you can either omit the agent or introduce it in a prepositional phrase. Read the sentences below and induce the correct rules.

  1. Die Empfindungen der meisten Menschen werden durch die Medien geprägt, nicht durch die Wirklichkeit.
    Die Zeit, 16.05.2007, Nr. 21
  2. Die Bibliothek wurde durch ein Feuer zerstört.
    Die Zeit, 02.03.1990, Nr. 10
  3. 1928 – Die griechische Stadt Korinth wird durch ein Erdbeben fast vollständig zerstört.
    Die Zeit, 21.04.2012 (online)
  4. 250 Kinder, in einer Klasse versammelt, wurden von einem Lehrer unterrichtet.
    Die Zeit, 11.06.1993, Nr. 24
  5. Ein junges Mädchen wird von einer Frau zum Zug gebracht.
    Die Zeit, 16.05.1957, Nr. 20
  6. Die oberflächlichen Ölteppiche werden durch den Wind gesteuert.
    Die Zeit, 22.06.2010 (online)
  7. Alle Experimente werden von den Wissenschaftlern per Video aufgezeichnet und ausgewertet.
    Die Zeit, 04.03.2015, Nr. 9

Activity 7

Now, bring together everything you have learned in this module and see if you can determine how werden is being used in the following sentences. Keep in mind that the main, auxiliary, and modal verbs can be used in different tenses, voice, and mood!

Activity 8

On your own. Write 5 sentences in the Passive voice. You may use any tense and any modal verbs. Pay attention if an agent is used. If the agent is a person, von + dative must be used, and if the agent is not a person, durch + accusative is used.

For example:

Die Computerspiele werden von den Kindern gespielt.
Die Häuser wurden durch das Feuer zerstört.
Die Luft ist verschmutzt worden.