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The Passive Voice



Simple Past

Present Perfect

Past Perfect


Future Perfect

Strong Verbs

Modal Auxiliaries


Reflexive Verbs


Special Subjunctive

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Dartmouth German
  Studies Department

Using "werden" or "sein":

(Compare the statal passive). The current use of "werden" instead of "sein" as the passive auxiliary is a relatively recent phenomenon, unknown, for example, in Middle High German. It did not become firmly established until the 16th century, and even then mostly in the South. We still find — admittedly old-fashioned — examples of "sein:" "Er wollte nicht erkannt sein" (He didn't want to be recognized). This is particularly true when authors want(ed) to avoid the awkwardness of long verb chains. Thus "dass [er] ... in die Verbannung geschickt sein mochte," instead of "geschickt worden sein mochte".1

The use of "sein" instead of "werden" has stuck around in various set phrases, as with "gebären": "Ich bin im Krankenhaus geboren." (I was born in the hospital).

"Sein" is particularly prevalent in the third-person passive imperative:

    Sei gegrüßt! ([literally:] be greeted)
    Seien Sie gesegnet! (be blessed)
    Gott sei es gedankt! (may God be thanked for it)

In fact, "sein" is more common than "werden" in the passive imperative, although the latter appears in Luther's Bible: "Geheiligt werde dein Name." (holy be Thy name)

Other Auxiliaries:

Several other auxiliaries may be encountered in an unusual combination of the active and passive. The object of the action remains in the accusative, and the verb acting upon it becomes a past participle, but an active subject is introduced with a verb like "bekommen," "erhalten," "gehören," etc.
(Scroll down for vocabulary help):

    Ich habe das Geld überwiesen bekommen.
    Du bekommst das Geld von mir bezahlt.
    Mädchen bringen den Hut auf einer Stange getragen. [a quotation from Schiller's Wilhelm Tell]
    Sie nehmen ihn gefangen.
    Du gehörst ins Gefängnis geliefert.
    Jeder Student erhielt fünf Bücher zugezählt.


    bekommen = to receive
    bezahlen = to pay
    erhalten, erhielt, erhalten, erhält = to receive
    fangen, fing, gefangen, fängt = to capture; catch
    gebären, gebar, geboren = to bear (a child); to give birth
    gehören = to belong
    grüßen = to greet
    heiligen = to hallow
    liefern = to deliver
    die Semmel (-n) = bread roll (esp. in Bavaria)
    die Stange (-n) = pole
    tragen, trug, getragen, trägt = to carry
    überweisen, überwies, überweisen = to transfer
    die Verbannung = exile
    zuzählen = to deal out to (distribute), count out to

1 (That he might be sent into exile). See George O. Curme, A Grammar of the German Language (NY: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 296f.