German Passive Voice Explained: Ultimate Step-by-Step Approach With Tons of Examples

German passive – a scary term indeed. But don’t let it frighten you!

Today, we’ll explain the German passive voice to you, so you can learn and use it effortlessly. It’s actually a super useful tool in your German grammar suitcase.

So, let’s pack everything in there, and make it even more sophisticated. If you’re more of a favorite of the video form, here’s a great explanation brought to you by Easy German with Super Easy German lessons:

In this post, we’ll explain the secrets of German passive constructions. From the common werden-Passiv to the sein-Passiv, we’ve got you covered.

1. What is the German passive voice?

Effortless Answers

The passive voice in German is called “Passiv”. It’s a way of constructing sentences that shifts the focus away from the doer of the action (the subject) and onto the receiver of the action (the object). You mainly use it when you want to focus on the object of the sentence, or when you want to be a bit formal.

It’s basically about turning the sentence around to emphasize what’s being done rather than who’s doing it.

In English, we can say things like “The cake was baked” instead of “Someone baked the cake.” The passive is useful when the actor of the action is unknown, not important, or when we want to be more formal or objective in our language.

When we’re talking about the German passive, we have to mention the auxiliary verb “werden” (to become). We use “werden” together with the past participle of the main verb.

The tricky part is remembering to conjugate “werden” to the tense and subject, while the past participle stays the same.

Before we go deeper into the explanations, let’s see a few example sentences.

ActivePassive
Der Bäcker backt den Kuchen. (The baker bakes the cake.)Der Kuchen wird gebacken. (The cake is baked.)
Die Studenten lesen das Buch. (The students read the book.)Das Buch wird gelesen. (The book is read.)
Die Firma stellt neue Mitarbeiter ein. (The company hires new employees.)Neue Mitarbeiter werden eingestellt. (New employees are hired.)
Der Lehrer korrigiert die Prüfungen. (The teacher corrects the exams.)Die Prüfungen werden korrigiert. (The exams are corrected.)
Die Polizei untersucht den Fall. (The police investigate the case.)Der Fall wird untersucht. (The case is investigated.)

2. Passive and active voice: what’s the difference?

Now you’ve seen some German sentences in active and passive form, too.

german passive voice illustrated with a beautiful view

The main difference between the two lies in how the sentence is structured and where the focus is placed.

German active voice

In the German active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb. It’s direct, clearn, usually more dynamic.

The German active sentence structure typically looks like this:

Subject-Verb-Object (SVO)

To illustrate it better, here’s a breakdown with a table:

Subject (S)Verb (V)Object (O)
Der Hundjagtdie Katze
The dogchasesthe cat

German passive voice

On the other hand, the German passive voice flips everything around. The subject of the active sentences become the object of the passive sentence.

With this little trick, the focus shifts to what is being done rather than who or what is doing it.

The sentence structure usually looks like:

Subject + werden/sein (conjugated) + Past Participle

Or to illustrate it with a real-life example:

Subjectwerden/sein (conjugated)Past Participle
Die Katzewirdgejagt
The catis beingchased

3. 4 types of passive voice in German

In German, we mainly talk about two types of passive voice: the “werden-Passiv” (which we already mentioned earlier) and the “sein-Passiv.” There’s also a related form called the “Zustandspassiv” (state passive) that’s closely linked to the sein-Passiv.

How about we go through each of these? It’ll help you get a clearer picture of how passive voice works in German.

Werden-Passiv (Process Passive)

This is the most common form of passive voice in German.

It focuses on the action or process itself and is formed using “werden” + past participle.

This form is used to describe actions in progress or actions that will happen.

GermanEnglish
Der Kuchen wird gebacken.The cake is being baked.
Die Straße wird repariert.The street is being repaired.
Das Projekt wird nächste Woche abgeschlossen.The project will be completed next week.
In diesem Restaurant werden traditionelle Gerichte serviert.Traditional dishes are served in this restaurant.

Sein-Passiv (State Passive)

This form uses “sein” (to be) instead of “werden” and emphasizes the result or state after an action has been completed.

It’s used with verbs that show change of state.

GermanEnglish
Der Film ist gedreht.The movie has been filmed.
Die Aufgabe ist erledigt.The task is completed.
Das Fenster ist geöffnet.The window is opened.
Die Verträge sind unterschrieben.The contracts are signed.

Zustandspassiv (Stative Passive)

This is very similar to the sein-Passiv and is sometimes considered a subcategory of it.

It describes a state resulting from a previous action, often with an adjectival quality.

GermanEnglish
Der Laden ist geschlossen.The shop is closed.
Die Wände sind frisch gestrichen.The walls are freshly painted.
Der Tisch ist gedeckt.The table is set.
Das Problem ist gelöst.The problem is solved.

Bekommen-Passiv (Recipient Passive)

There’s also a less common form called “Bekommen-Passiv” or “Recipient Passive”.

This passive form is used in spoken German and focuses on the recipient of an action.

It’s formed with “bekommen” (or similar verbs like “kriegen” or “erhalten”) + past participle.

GermanEnglish
Ich bekomme den Ausweis zugeschickt.I am having the ID card sent to me.
Sie kriegt das Geld überwiesen.She is getting the money transferred to her.
Wir bekommen die Ergebnisse mitgeteilt.We are being informed of the results.
Du bekommst das Paket geliefert.You are having the package delivered to you.

4. Form the passive voice: sentence construction in German

Remember, in all the German passive constructions:

  1. The conjugated verb (werden/sein/bekommen) always takes the second position in the main clause.
  2. The past participle of the main verb always goes to the end of the clause.
  3. If there’s a time element, it usually comes before manner and place.
  4. The subject (if not in Position 1) typically comes right after the conjugated verb.

Werden-Passiv sentence structure

Position 1Position 2SubjectOther ElementsEnd of Sentence
Subject or other elementConjugated form of “werden”Subject (if not in Position 1)Time, manner, place, etc.Past participle
Der Briefwirdmorgengeschrieben

Sein-Passiv sentence structure

Position 1Position 2SubjectOther ElementsEnd of Sentence
Subject or other elementConjugated form of “sein”Subject (if not in Position 1)Time, manner, place, etc.Past participle
Die Türistjetztgeschlossen

Zustandspassiv sentence structure

Position 1Position 2SubjectOther ElementsEnd of Sentence
Subject or other elementConjugated form of “sein”Subject (if not in Position 1)Time, manner, place, etc.Past participle (often with adjectival quality)
Das Fensteristweitgeöffnet

Bekommen-Passiv

Position 1Conjugated form of “bekommen/kriegen”Subject (if not in Position 1)Other Elements (Time, Manner, Place, etc.)End of Sentence (Past Participle)
Ichbekommemorgendas Paket geliefert

5. Verbs that can’t form the passive

Generally, verbs that cannot form the passive voice in German fall into several categories:

CategoryVerbsDescription
Intransitive Verbsschlafen, laufen, fallenVerbs that do not require a direct object and typically cannot form passive constructions.
Reflexive Verbssich freuen, sich erholen, sich beeilenVerbs that are used with a reflexive pronoun and do not typically form passive constructions.
Verbs Expressing a State or Conditionsein, bleiben, scheinenVerbs that describe a state of being rather than an action, not typically used in the passive voice.
Modal Verbskönnen, müssen, dürfenWhen used as main verbs, these do not form passives, as they express capability, necessity, or permission.
Verbs of Possession or Belonginghaben, besitzen, gehörenVerbs that indicate possession or belonging, describing a state rather than an action.
Verbs of Receiving or Experiencingbekommen, erhalten, kriegenVerbs that describe the action of receiving or experiencing something, where the subject is not active.

It’s worth noting that while these verbs generally don’t form passives, there can be exceptions in certain contexts or in more advanced or poetic language use.

lso, some of these verbs might be used in passive-like constructions with “man” (one) or in impersonal passive constructions.

For example:

GermanEnglish
Es wird geschlafen.There is sleeping going on. / People are sleeping.
Hier wird nicht geraucht.No smoking here. / Smoking is not allowed here.
Es wird getanzt.There is dancing going on. / People are dancing.
Im Sommer wird hier viel gewandert.In summer, a lot of hiking goes on here. / People hike a lot here in the summer.
Bei uns wird abends oft gespielt.Games are often played in the evenings at our place.
Im Park wird viel gelaufen.A lot of running takes place in the park. / People run a lot in the park.

These impersonal constructions don’t have a specific subject but express a passive meaning.

6. Practice worksheet for German passive

Fill in the gaps with the correct form of German passive!

If you want to practice more, you can request the full practice worksheet for this and all of the other exercises!

7. Learn German grammar with Conversation Based Chunking and multiple exercises

We’re nearing the end of this blog post about German passive voice. It’s pretty evident that this grammar topic can make your language skills better.

It’s also evident that it’s not the easiest of grammar topics. That’s why we don’t even directly teach grammar definitions and grammar rules on this website. Instead, we advocate for the Conversation Based Chunking method.

This method helps you internalize passive constructions like “Es wird gemacht” or “Das ist erledigt” as complete units. In no time, you’ll understand the entire phrase in context, and you won’t even have to think about the underlying grammar.

You’ll naturally use these German sentences in real-life scenarios. The only thing you have to do is to take the first step, which is…

Sign up for the German Conversation Based Chunking Guide.

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