Voice

CA60

 

In the German language, there are two verb voices, the active and the passive. The passive voice, compared to the active, is more rarely used.

 

Examples verb voice
Der Mechaniker repariert den Motor. active
Der Motor wird repariert. passive

 

There are two types of passive voice, the Vorgangspassiv (werden-passive) and the Zustandspassiv (sein-passive), which is rarely used and will be further explained. When referring to the passive voice from this point on, we will be referring to the first type i.e. the Vorgangspassiv.

 


 

 

The differences between the active and the passive voice lie not only in the way they are formed but also in the way the action of the verb and the "agent" are presented.

 

Examples verb voice action agent
Der Mechaniker repariert den Motor. active yes yes
Der Motor wird repariert. passive yes no/ (yes*)
Der Motor ist repariert. Zustandspassiv no no

 

* The agent of the action is possibly, yet rarely, mentioned in the passive voice, because importance lies in the action and not in the agent. If the agent is important, the active voice is used.

 


 

 

The passive voice is formed with the auxiliary verb werden and the past participle (Partizip II). The Zustandspassiv is formed with the auxiliary verb sein and the past participle (Partizip II).

 

verb voice formation
passive werden + past participle (Partizip II)
Zustandspassiv sein + past participle (Partizip II)

 


 

 

When converting a sentence from the active to the passive voice, the syntactic structure of the active sentence is important. If there is an accusative object, the conversion takes place according to the rules of the personal passive; otherwise, it follows the rules of the impersonal passive.

 

active   passive
Er isst eine Pizza.
conversion
Eine Pizza wird gegessen. personal passive
Man wartet lange. Es wird lange gewartet. impersonal passive

 


 

 

The same rules of the personal and the impersonal passive apply for the conversion from the active to the passive voice of sentences that contain a modal verb. Modal verbs do not form a passive voice, they can, however, govern a passive infinitive.

 

  formation
passive with modal verbs modal verb + passive infinitive

 

Here are two examples:

 

active   passive
Er muss eine Pizza backen.   conversion Eine Pizza muss gebacken werden. personal passive
Man muss lange warten. Es muss lange gewartet werden. impersonal passive

 


 

 

Besides the passive (werden + past participle) there are other structures that can convey a passive meaning, the so-called alternative ways of passive formation.

 

These alternative structures are classified in two categories. The first includes the use of structures that denote modality, while the other does not

 

 

A summary of these structures is presented below:

 

alternative ways of passive formation without the use of structures that denote modality
bekommen, erhalten, kriegen + past participle (Partizip II)
empty verb + verbal noun
reflexive structure with impersonal subject
 
alternative ways of passive formation with the use of structures that denote modality
sich lassen + infinitive
sein + zu + infinitive
sein + adjective ending in -bar, -lich, -fähig