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The passive in German grammar

What is passive?

The passive emphasizes an action (Process passive) or a state (State passive). Who / what caused the action or the condition is unimportant, unknown or is assumed to be generally known.

In our explanation you will find out how the passive voice is formed and used in German. In the exercises you will learn to form passive sentences yourself in different tenses.


What is the difference between process passive and status passive?

The Process passive we use when we want to emphasize an action (what happens?). Who is doing the act is not so important or unknown.

A man was hit.
A bandage was put on the injured man.
Now the man is being taken to the hospital.

So the most important information in these sentences is that someone has been hit, they have been bandaged and the man is now being driven to the hospital. Who hit the man, who put the bandage on him and who is driving him to the hospital is not so important or not known in this case.

With the State passive we describe the state after an action.

He is hurt.

During the act, the man was injured - now he is injured.

How do you form the German tenses in the passive voice?

German times in process passive

If we are to use a passive verb in German, we need the conjugated form of become as well as the participle II of the main verb. In the following table you will find an example sentence in the process passive for each German tense.

German times in the state passive

We form the state passive in German with the conjugated form of be and the past participle of the main verb. In the following table you will find an example sentence in the passive state for each German tense.


Some times in the active are similar to the state passive. If we want to know whether a sentence is active or passive, we simply try to form the process passive here. If this is not possible, it is an active form.

An accident happened. (Active perfect; no state passive!)
not possible:

When do you use active or passive?

active we use to emphasize who, what performs the action.

The teacher explained the passive to us.

passive we use to emphasize the action itself. Who / what is doing the action is left out in many passive sentences.

The passive voice was explained to us (by the teacher).

Verbs that cannot form a passive voice

Verbs without an accusative object cannot form a passive. This includes:

  • Verbs whose perfect form starts with be is formed (
    I went to Berlin myself.

    Passive is not possible because I drove myself.

    But:drive can also with to have + Accusative object can be used. In this case, a passive sentence is possible.

    My father droveme to Berlin.

    Passive: Iwas driven (by my father) to Berlin.

  • reflexive verbs
    I was hiding. ()
  • other verbs without an accusative object
    He's sleeping. ()

    But: In everyday language we can often use one of these verbs impersonal passive form (see special features), e.g. B. as a request.

    Now sleep!

Transitive verbs that cannot form a passive voice

Even with the accusative object, not all verbs can form the passive. These include, for example, the verbs have, know, know, there are.

I have a dog. ()
I know the woman. ()
I know the answer. ()
There are a lot of museums. ()

How do you convert active sentences into passive sentences?

When converting from active to process passive, the following happens:

  • The accusative object from the active clause becomes the subject in the passive clause.
  • The subject from the active sentence is omitted or inserted with “von (+ dative)”.
  • The verb is used in the past participle, we also need the auxiliary verb become in the conjugated form.

The following overview contains an example of the conversion from an active clause to a passive clause for each German tense.


Only the accusative object becomes the subject. If there is a dative object in the active sentence that should slide to the first position, it remains in the dative.

A bandage was put on the injured man.
A bandage was put on the injured man.

Active sentences without an object can also be converted into passive (impersonal passive). We use the personal pronoun 'es' or an adverbial definition for this.

We danced a lot (yesterday). - There was a lot of dancing yesterday.