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werden-passive
Agentive passive

 
 
The werden-passive is the passive voice that is formed with the auxiliary werden and the past participle:

Der Hund wird (vom Kind) geschlagen.
Sie
wurde (von allen) sehr bewundert.

The werden-passive refers to the verb action in a way that does not focus on the agent (the performer of the verb action, here das Kind and alle). The agent may even be omitted.

Conversion active voice to passive voice
Expression of the agent introduced by von or durch
Function
werden-passive as a command
  
Verbs that cannot be used in the passive
Alternative constructions
Inflection


Conversion active voice to passive voice

We distinguish three types of conversion from the active voice to the werden-passive according to the sentence structure in the active voice and the corresponding sentence structure in the passive voice:

Transitive verbs (verbs with an accusative object)

This is the most common kind of werden-passive. When a transitive verb is is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive, the following conversions occur:

Active voice
  
Passive voice
Die Mutter gibt dem Jungen den Schlüssel.  »    Der Schlüssel wird dem Jungen (von der Mutter) gegeben.

      The subject of the sentence becomes an expression of the agent introduced by von or durch. The expression of the agent is very often omitted.
  
     The accusative object becomes the subject of the sentence.
 
     The finite verb form is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive.
 
     Other constituents (e.g. dative object) remain unchanged.

Example: Das Kind schlägt den Hund.
Active voice
 »   
Passive voice
Das Kind schlägt den Hund.  »    Der Hund wird (vom Kind) geschlagen.
agent (subject) das Kind  »  expression of agent (optional) vom Kind
accusative object den Hund  »  subject der Hund
verb in active voice schlägt  »  verb in passive voice wird geschlagen
 
Example: Die Mutter leiht der Tochter den Wagen.
Active voice
 »   
Passive voice
Die Mutter leiht der Tochter den Wagen  »  Der Wagen wird der Tochter (von der Mutter) geliehen
agent (subject) die Mutter  »  expression of agent (optional) von der Mutter
accusative object den Wagen  »  subject der Wagen
verb in active voice leiht  »  verb in passive voice wird geliehen
dative object der Tochter  = dative object der Tochter
 
Example: Der Richter verurteilte den Angeklagten zu einer Buße.
Active voice
 »   
Passive voice
Der Richter verurteilte den Angeklagten zu einer Buße.  »  Der Angeklagte wurde (vom Richter) zu einer Buße verurteilt.
agent (subject) der Richter  »  expression of agent (optional) vom Richter
accusative object den Angeklagten  »  subject der Angeklagte
verb in active voice verurteilte  »  verb in passive voice wurde verurteilt
prepositional object zu einer Buße  = prepositional object zu einer Buße


Intransitive verbs with a dative, genitive or prepositional object

When an intransitive verb with a dative, genitive or prepositional object is changed from the active voice to the werden-passiv, the following conversions occur:

Active voice
werden-passive
Der Lehrer hilft den Schülern.  »  Den Schülern wird (vom Lehrer) geholfen.

      The subject of the sentence becomes an expression of the agent introduced by von or durch. The expression of the agent is very often omitted.
  
     The finite verb form is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive.
 
     The object remains unchanged.

Example: Der Lehrer hilft den Schülern.
Active voice
 » 
Passive voice
Der Lehrer hilft den Schülern.  »  Den Schülern wird (vom Lehrer) geholfen.
agent (subject) der Lehrer  »  expression of agent (optional)  vom Lehrer
verb in active voice hilft  »  verb in passive voice wird geholfen
dative object den Schülern  =  dative object den Schülern
 
Example: Wir rechnen auf eure Hilfe.
Active voice
 » 
Passive voice
Wir rechnen auf eure Hilfe.  »  Auf eure Hilfe wird (von uns) gerechnet.
agent (subject) wir  »  expression of agent (optional)  von uns
verb in active voice rechnen  »  verb in passive voice wird gerechnet
prepositional object  auf eure Hilfe  =  prepositional object:  auf eure Hilfe

With this type of werden-passive the subject is empty, i.e. the sentence has no grammatical subject. It is possible to introduce the impersonal pronoun es as the formal subject of the sentence:

Es wird den Schülern geholfen.
Es wird auf eure Hilfe gerechnet.

See also Pronoun es.


Intransitive verbs without subject

When an intransitive verb without subject is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive, the following conversions occur:

Active voice
werden-passive
Die Zuschauer klatschen.  »  Es wird (von den Zuschauern) geklatscht.

      The subject of the sentence becomes an expression of the agent introduced by von or durch. Usually the expression of the agent is omitted. If the subject is the impersonal pronoun man, the expression of the agent is not possible.
  
     The finite verb form is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive.

Example: Die Kinder lachen.
Active voice
 » 
Passive voice
Die Kinder lachen.  »  Es wird (von den Kindern) gelacht.
agent (subject) die Kinder    »  expression of agent (optional)  von den Kindern
verb in active voice lachen  »  verb in passive voice wird gelacht
 
Example: Man schwieg.
Active voice
 » 
Passive voice
Man schwieg.  »  Es wurde geschwiegen.
agent (subject) man  »  no expression of agent  -
verb in active voice  schwieg  »  verb in passive voice wurde geschwiegen

With this type of werden-passive the subject is empty, i.e. the sentence has no grammatical subject. The impersonal pronoun es is introduced as the formal subject of the sentence:

Es wird (von den Kindern) gelacht
Es wird geschwiegen

See also Pronoun es.


Expression of the agent introduced by von or durch

When a sentence is changed from the active voice to the werden-passive, the agent (the doer of the verb action, the subject of the sentence in the active voice) is either omitted or introduced by the prepositions von or durch.

The choice between von and durch is not entirely free because there is a slight difference in meaning between the two prepositions:

 von tends to refer to an originator or a cause
 durch tends to refer to a mediator or an instrument 

Die Brücke wurde von den Alliierten zerstört.
Die Brücke wurde
durch Bomben zerstört.

Die Bevölkerung wird
von den Medien informiert.
(The media are the originator of the information)
Die Bevölkerung wird
durch die Medien informiert.
(The media are the instrument used to inform)

This difference can be seen most clearly when both prepositions occur in one sentence:

Der Präsident wurde von seinen Ministern durch einen Boten verständigt.

It is often very difficult to decide whether an agent is originator/cause or mediator/instrument. Then, either von or durch may be used. In general, von tends to be used for persons and durch for things and abstract concepts.


Function

The active voice and the werden-passive differ mainly in their focus on the action of the verb and the agent of this action. The agent is the performer of the action of the verb.

In the active voice the agent and the subject are identical:

Der Lehrer öffnet das Fenster.

The werden-passive refers to the same action, but the agent is less important than the object of the verb action or the verb action itself. The agent can even be omitted:

Das Fenster wird vom Lehrer geöffnet.
Das Fenster wird geöffnet.

Die Zuschauer applaudierten.
Es wurde applaudiert.

The use of the werden-passive allows the speaker/writer to emphasize the verb action and to put the agent into the background or even to omit it. Reasons for this can be:
  • The agent is already known or irrelevant to what is said.

  • The object of an action or the action itself is emphasized.

  • A statement without expression of the agent is intended to make the impression of greater objectivity, e.g. in scientific reports and legal texts.

  • Stylistically, using different verb voices can help to create more varied texts.
The active voice and the werden-passive are sometimes used together in a sentence to emphasize the difference between being the originator of an action and being the one undergoing the action:

Das Volk regiert nicht mehr, es wird regiert.
Fressen und gefressen werden.


Special use: werden-passive as a command

The indicative present of the werden-passive of some verbs – including verbs that otherwise cannot be in the passive voice – is sometimes used to express a command. This kind of command is more frequent in colloquial language than in standard German. It is often accompanied by jetzt or nun:

Und jetzt wird geschlafen!
Nun
wird wieder gearbeitet!
Das Zimmer
wird sofort aufgeräumt!

Cf. Imperative







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