Word of the Day – “werden – Future and Passive”

werden-future-passive-pictuHello everyone,

and welcome to the second part of our Word of the Day werden. Last time we were cut short quite abruptly right in the middle of the explanation, so if you haven’t rea… er I mean listened to it yet you  can find part 1 here:

What we’ve learned so far is that werden once meant to turn before it turned into a word that expresses self development… like to become. And we’ve seen that this is not a weird change of meaning because it happened in English too.

  • Winter wird Frühling.
  • Winter turns to spring.
  • The leaves are turning yellow and red.
  • Die Blätter werden gelb und rot.

Then, we started talking about the second usage of werden, the future tense. Latin had a grammatical future tense 2000 years ago.  Not so the Germanic languages. They originally did not bother expressing future with a special tense at all. Basically, they just made a difference between things that are past and all the rest. And especially German is still very Germanic about that and uses present tense for future events about 80% of the time in daily conversation.

  • Nächsten Sommer fahre ich ans Meer.
  • Next summer I go to the sea (lit.)

But anyway. So, the Germans then started to have more and more contact with Latin, the people mixed, new coutries and new languages evolved but the world of science and the world of the church was in Latin for centuries. Maybe that spurred the desire to have a future tense too. So… ways evolved to express the idea that an action is in the future using grammar.
In English, they used the word will, which was originally doing nothing more than stating an intention. This

  • will have another beer….

used to mean this:

  • I want to have another beer…. (and in German it still has that meaning)
  • Ich will noch ein Bier.

Maybe English speaker were just incredibly optimistic about achieving whatever they wanted and so will changed from expressing intentions into expressing the future . 

  • Thomas will become bald because his dad is too.

Today, the intention-part has almost disappeared…. just like Thomas’ dad’s hair. But if you really look closely you can find some left overs… of the old intentional-will I mean.

  • Make of that whatever you will. (want)

By the way… the shift of will is the reason why English, unlike German or French or Spanish, does NOT have a modal verb that expresses desire anymore. English uses to want for that but this is NOT a modal verb in English.

In German, they came up with a different way to express future grammatically. They didn’t change their version of will (wollen). Instead they used werden to do the job… the word didn’t even have to give up its “normal” meaning. Both functions exist side by side.
Now, the big question is: why? How? What has becoming to do with the future? Well… it is not that big of a stretch. Let’s look at this example.

  • Morgen wird das Wetter besser.

Based on what we know about werden, this means:

  • Tomorrow, the weather gets/becomes better.

And now let’s look at this:

  • Tomorrow, the weather will be/become better.

The meaning is pretty much the same.
The key to understanding why werden is a sensible choice to express future is this… becoming implies not being.. YET. 

  • become tired.
  • Ich werde müde.

You’re not tired yet but in the near future you’ll be. The result of becoming is being.  In English it is the same… will be implies that you aren’t yet. But in the future you’ll be. And there you have it. The idea of future is an integral part of self development, hence also of the verbs … like to become or werden. So it is completely understandable that people would start using such a verb to express future…. I mean … why not? There was no right or wrong way to do it.
In English, they expressed it using intentions. In German, they expressed it using the process of self development… in Swedish they are using “shall” and “comes at, arrive”, in Dutch they also use “shall” and “to go” . All those do make sense and there is  no better or cooler. It is evolved differently. Do the different ways tell us something about the way of thinking, about ways of looking at the future? I really don’t know… I’d actually say no. Maybe it does tell us something about the people who lived when these forms evolved…  for us today it is mainly a grammatical concept that we have hard wired in our brains.
Anyway … let’s do  excelmples (like examples… just cooler)… here’s how the future-werden evolved.

  • Ich werde nächste Woche viel arbeiten.
  • turn/wind working a lot next week (using the original meaning of werden).
  • become working a lot next week. (super literal)
  • will work a lot next week.  (actual meaning)

and here it is back to back with the becoming-werden

  • Wer wird die Wahl gewinnen? Wer wird der nächste Kanzler?
  • Who will win the elections? Who will become the next chancellor?

We’re talking about the exact same event. In first sentence we’re using the future… in the second we don’t. That is to say… in German we don’t because German doesn’t use the future tense that much.
But the example leads us to an interesting question: how would we build the future of werden itself? How would we say this for instance…

  • The students know very well that they will become tired when the professor talk about grammar.

Could it possibly be a double werden? Wouldn’t that be too strange even by German standards? Let’s take a look…

  • Die Studenten wissen ganz genau, dass sie, wenn ihr Professor über Grammatik redet, müde werden werden.

Ohhhhhh… and it IS a double werden… and it is at the end. German, you language you… you did it again!
Seriously though, this sentence is a little contrived and it is definitely bad style. And since it wouldn’t make any noteworthy difference in meaning anyway, people would just leave out one werden. Which one? The blue one of course. Keep that in mind for your next test… don’t leave out the green one ;).
Now… although this very example was weird the combination of becoming-werden and future-werden is actually acceptable. When there is no context, we even need the double werden to make clear that it is future.

  • Ich werde müde.
  • am getting tired.
  • will get tired.
  • Ich werde müde werden.

Does that sound weird or funny? Not so much actually… no more than this…

  • I will want to remember that… (at least to me, with my German “ich
    will”-glasses on, that is a bit like intending to intend)

or this…

  • Next week,I am going to go to Berlin.

All right. Now, I don’t want to discuss all the grammar of the German future tense here. You don’t really ever need to use it anyway. German did come up with a future tense but in daily conversation we mostly do it the old way and just use the present. Maybe because we have another opportunity to use our beloved werden… the passive voice. But before we get to that I want to quickly mention one very common idiom, which is a good example for how close the becoming-werden and the future werden really are…

  • Das wird schon.
  • It‘ll be alright.

This is used to reassure people when they stress about something… for instance your classmate is worried that he or she might not pass the test… then you can say “Das wird schon”. It sounds really nice. It kind of has a built in “Don’t worry”… . Now, although I translated it using the English future tense, to me this is actually more the becoming werden... mainly because there is no other verb in there. But it doesn’t matter after all.

  • I become…
  • I will be…

Those are the same just with a different focus… become focuses on the process of “evolving”, will be focuses on the result. And with those 2 points of view, we can now dive right into the passive.

werden – the passive

The passive voice is a grammatical role reversal. Sounds abstract. Is abstract. In fact, passive is one of the last things kids learn in their native language BECAUSE it is so abstract. Imagine a 3 year old watching mom open the box of the frozen piz… mix flour, yeast and olive oil for the pizza dough… what does the toddler see?

  • Mama makes pizza.
  • A pizza is being made by mama.

The second example is soooo much more complicated because the passive artificially switches grammatical roles while the real roles remain the same. What do I mean by grammatical roles? Well, for many activities, like reading, seeing, buying or opening we have to have at least 2 participants. First, we need someone who does it. In linguistics they call that agent but we’ll call it the do-er. On the other hand we’ve got to have something that is being read, seen or bought and we’ll cal the done to-er. Do-er and done to-er are roles in the real world. They have little to do with grammar.
Now, in a normal sentence the do-er will have the grammatical role of a subject and the done to-er will be in the role of the direct object.

  • I read a book.

And the passive reverses the grammatical roles.

  • The book is being read by me.

The book is still the done to-er but it is the grammatical subject now.
Okay… and… why should we do such a thing anyway? Why make things complicated?
Well, for this example it is not really useful, but passive is neat and handy whenever the do-er is unknown or uninteresting or if the effect, the result matters…. I’ll just do one example…

  • The diamonds were stolen last night…. sound more elegant than
  • Someone stole the diamonds last night.

So… passive may be abstract but it’s good to have it. And all languages I know of do have a way to build it. English as well as all the Roman languages (I don’t know how it works for Slavic languages) use the helper verb to be to form the passive.

  • Thomas painted a picture.
  • A picture was painted by Thomas.

German uses werden.

  • Thomas hat ein Bild gemalt.
  • Ein Bild wurde von Thomas gemalt.

There are 2 questions that we’ll talk about the first one being of course this:

  • Does that tie in with the werden we already know?

Yes. It totally does. Let’s recall. Werden has at its core the idea of self development. Now, when a picture is painted it also kind of develops… just the cause is external. So it’s really not that far away. What? Oh it is?… Okay… let me try again then. We’ve seen that werden can also be a translation for to get because to get sometimes expresses development. But what about this:

  • The president got elected.
  • The movie got made for the fans…. THAT’S why it blows… hahahaha.. sorry… … I … I  couldn’t resist

Now, what’s up with this got here? Sure, we could say that it is kind of “a change of state” which would be the same got as in “I got tired”… but the reality is, that we can simply replace it by was. Then, the sentences would be a pure passive but the meaning wouldn’t change a bit. So I hope you can see, that from “changing a state” and passive is actually the same when the reason for the change is external.
And if you’re still like… meh, I don’t get it… well, let’s remember that werden used to mean to turn.

  • The sky turns dark.

Now… what is that? It is a change of state, that’s for sure. But we can also read future into this because it is obviously not dark yet. And we can even interpret this as a passive because the sky isn’t doing much. It is clouds that do the work. They cover the sky. Or let’s take this…although I don’t know if that is proper English:

  • He watches the streets turn wet.

This is a change of state from dry to wet. It is also future because the streets are not wet yet. And it is clearly also passive because the street itself doesn’t squeeze out water. The rain is the do-er.
So… I hope you can see that it is not too far fetched to use verb that expresses the change of state as a helper for the passive AND the future at the same time.  And that is werden.

  • Das Bild wird gemalt.
  • The picture becomes painted.

This would be the literal translation… and it is not that wrong… the only thing is that to become doesn’t really work with an external cause.
All right.
Now the second question that is interesting is this:

  • So… German does it differently than many other languages… does that have any effect on the meaning?

And the answer is yes. Using to be and using werden leads to 2 major differences.
To understand the first one we need to make a short detour… it is really short, I promise. So… for most of the actions we can put a focus either on the on going process or the completed process/ the result.

  • was doing the dishes.
  • have done the dishes.

Both sentences are set in the past but the first one focuses on my doing the dishes much more than the second one. The second one is all about the result. The dishes are done now.
Now, to be is a verb of state. It talks about how something IS. Werden on the other hand talks about how something becomes – how it IS CHANGING. So to be stresses the resultwerden stresses ongoing process. That also affects the passive, mainly in present tense.

  • Die  Pizza wird gegessen.

This is all about the process and if we want to express that in English using the state-ish to be, we must somehow add this process idea and our sentence will seem a bit complicated.

  • The pizza is being eaten.

Or we could also say this, I guess…

  • The pizza gets eaten.

You can try it with your own mother tongue. If passive is built using to be, then you will have to use a work around to express the German version. Now… as soon as we leave present tense, the differences begin to blur but let’s keep this for when we actually learn passive. Just keep in mind that the German werden adds this idea of ongoing change to the passive that is not there if you build it using to be.
Cool… now, there is another difference between German and languages that use to be for their passive which is really fascinating.
The thing is… to be is a pretty busy verb because in most languages it is also used for the past in one way or another. So there is a lot of overlap and that restricts the use a bit. The German werden doesn’t have that problem.
And maybe that is the reason why in German you can do some funny stuff… and by funny, I mean stuff that will drive you INSANE if you build your passive using to be.  How about a passive of wollen

  • Zuviel wurde gewollt, zu wenig gemacht.
  • Too much was asked for, too little has been done. (lit.)
  • Too much asked for, too little done.

Too easy, you say? Well how about a passive of schlafen then

  • Im Bett wird geschlafen.

Yep…the passive voice of to sleep. Try that in English. If you can do it, I you will get* one case of the best German beer (*for money in a store).
But there is more about this passive of schlafen.  Can you tell me, where the subject is in the German sentence? No… well that’s because there is none. If you’ve learned that German always has a subject in the sentence… well… just forget it…

All right. I think we’re done for today and we’re done with was our German Word of the Day werden. It started of as to turn but soon changed into a word with the meaning of to become. English speakers had it too, but the didn’t like it that much. Germans loved it and started using it for the future and the passive. Seems random at first but hey… as we can see by looking at the word to get, all those things are closely related and they all share the idea of change of state.
If you have any questions or suggestions about werden, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

66 responses to “Word of the Day – “werden – Future and Passive”

  1. I constantly use “war” instead of “wurde” by mistake. I guess I am confusing past with passive. Any tips to get this right in my head?


    • Actually you’re not… also “war” can be passive…

      – The church was built…

      This is English passive.

      – Die Kirche war gebaut…

      This is the literal translation and it is understandable as a past passive. The correct version would be:

      – Die Kirche wurde gebaut/ist gebaut worden.

      but there are situations where “war” works just fine.

      – The window was closed…
      – Das Fenster war geschlossen…

      The line between passive and a simple adjective starts to blur here :)… anyway, if you’re uncertain whether or not to use “wurde” try to transpose the sentence to present tense. If the English version is a simple “is” then use “war”. If the English version is “is being”, use wurde.

      – The church was built…
      – The church is being built…

      – The window was closed…
      – The window is closed…

      Hope that helps.


      • Sorry for the massive necro-reply :)

        If I’m understanding this correctly, the phrase ‘Was ist damit gemeint’ can also be said as ‘Was wird damit gemeint’, and ‘Was ist damit gemeint worden’?

        Also as a follow-up, how would you translate ‘Was ist damit gemeint’ non-literally? The translation ‘Was is meant by that?’ is logical enough to understand, until you start to see that ‘by that’ signifies passive tense in English, which should use werden, not sein. I’ve tried to think of it like a simple adjective as you’ve suggested, but ‘damit’ throws me off.

        Ist es blau? Ja. Was ist blau? Das Auto ist blau.
        Ist damit blau? Ja. Damit ist blau…doesn’t make sense to me.

        Perhaps I should use the literal translation ‘with that’ instead of ‘by that’, which removes the passive voice from the English translation, and thus removes the obligation to use werden in the German.

        Vielen Dank.


        • There are a few points here…

          1) Yes, “was wird damit gemeint” is also possible and used (more than 100.000 on Google). The werden-passive is more about the process and the “ist gemeint” version doesn’t sound very passive at all. So if people want to emphasize the passive, they might use “gemeint werden”.
          “Ist gemeint worden” is technically correct but I don’t think people would use it. They’d say “wurde gemeint”.

          2) My non-literal translation would be “What is that supposed to mean”… you can still regard this as a passive but there is no “agent” in this anymore… which makes it closer to the German version, because “damit” is, as you said, “with it”… a modal, not a subject put into passive… let’s look at active vs. passive:

          – Jemand meint A mit B.
          – A wird/ist mit B von jemand gemeint.

          In “What is meant by that”, the “that” is doing the meaning, whereas in German, the “jemand” is missing, and the “damit/mit dem” is just the tool…

          Let me know if that helps :)


  2. Schon wieder super! Tolle gründliche Erklärungen. Du denkst drüber genauso wie ich, also deshalb hat mir der Artikel gut gefallen. ;)
    Ich möchte dir auch ein paar Übersetzungen vorschlagen:

    Zuviel wurde gewollt, zu wenig gemacht.
    Too much was being wanted, too little has been done.

    Vielleicht ‘Too much asked for, too little done’ passt besser… ich weiß es eigentlich nicht aber trotzdem dachte ich, dass vielleicht das eine natürlichere Übersetzung sein könnte. Macht aber nichts.
    Und dann die hier:

    Im Bett wird geschlafen
    Am wörtlichsten bin ich nur soweit gekommen xD
    In bed, sleeping is done.

    Kein bisschen besser, na ja. ahahaa

    Ich wollte hauptsächlich einfach sagen, dass vor allem im umgangssprachlichen Nutz wird (hehehe…) ‘to get’ im Passiv echt oft benutzt. Ich meine extrem oft und definitiv in Australien, woher ich komme, mag ‘to be’ manchmal sogar etwas steif klingen. Zumindest ein kleines Stückchen steif. :P Schriftlich wird ‘to be’ aber im Gegensatz dazu ganz öfter gesehen. Aber das sind einfach meine ‘two cents’. (Vielleicht könntest du mir die deutsche Variante dieses Sprichworts erzählen ;) )

    Und nochmals vielen Dank für die Antwort zu meinen Fragen bei dem anderen Artikel über “eh, ehe, eher”, hast mir sehr geholfen. :)

    Mach weiter so, du super article writer! (because hey, my german is only coherent because of you)


    • Ich hab’ dich fast vergessen :9…sorry… danke für den Kommentar und Glückwunsch zu deinem Deutsch. Das ist echt schon ziemlich gut.
      Danke für die Übersetzung von “To much asked for…” … klingt auf jeden Fall knackiger so.
      Ich hab’leider nicht wirklich eine gute Übersetzung für “my 2 cents”.. dict.cc schlägt “meine unbedeutende Meinung” which would literal be “my little, unimportant opinion” und das wäre vielleicht ein bisschen “Britisch”… in Deutsch sagt man solche Höflichkeitsfloskeln weniger :D… ich glaube, es gibt keine gute Übersetzung für “my two cents” und ich würde es einfach weglassen, wenn es wirklich nur um deine Meinung geht. Wenn es um deinen Standpunkt in einer Streitfrage geht, dann könntest du sagen “aber das bin nur ich… jemand anders mag das anders sehen.”

      hier mal ein paar kleine Korrekturen:

      – Das Wort “Nutz” existier im Deutschen nicht allein, sondern nur in zusammengesetzen Substantiven so wie zum Beispiel: Eigennutz or nutzlos.
      Das, was du meinst, ist “Verwendung”… es gibt zwar auch das Wort “der Nutzen” aber das hat seine Bedeutung in Richtung “benefit” verschoben.

      – “ganz öfter”… das funktioniert nicht :)… ganz impliziert einen Endpunkt, während “öfter” die Skala nach oben offen lässt. Man würde sagen “viel öften” oder “sehr viel öfter” oder “öfterer”… ok, das letzte nicht ;)… aber ich glaube vielen Muttersprachlern würde das garnicht als Fehler auffallen.


  3. Nel letto si dorme. In italian “si” is “sich” (si riflessivo), “man” (si impersonale) and… in this case it’s called “si passivante”. So it can technically translate that sentence.


    • I knew of this construction and I actually suggested it to an Italian friend when we were talking about the issue but he said, that for him the “si constructions” (no matter which) were not a passive at all… and he is right. At least from a grammatical point of view. Why? Because I can build a passive of the “si passivante”.

      – In Germania, si sarà forse domandato perché, in Germania, a differenza di quanto è successo in Grecia, in Italia, in Spagna, la ristrutturazion…

      Also, have a question… what distinguishes the “si impersionale” from the “si passivante”? Isn’t the bed-example also a “si impersionale”? Or is the terminology specifically for the translation of German?

      Anyway… all that is just linguistic theory. You’re totally right that the sentence is a translation and a pretty close one too :)


    • I totally forgot… of course the case of beer I promised is yours. I will have it shipped today and you can pick it up at any store in your area ;)


      • Oh you should keep it… I was actually wrong. The bed example is indeed a “si impersonale”, because you can substitute the “si” with an indefinite pronoun.
        So I tried to brush up my grammar. I don’t know your italian level, but you may try to look at this page: http://www.locuta.com/Si.html
        It’s a good example of how italian can mess everything up with little two letters words and bizarre endings.
        However I find that the difference is not made very clear there. I’m not a grammar pr0(I’m not even close to decently know grammar) but I’ll try to sum up:
        You have si impersonale when
        1) The verb is third singular person or (Si dorme nel letto, equivalent to qualcuno dorme nel letto)
        2) You can substitute it with “noi”, e.g. Si è pensato di andare in montagna domani. => (Noi) abbiamo pensato di andare in montagna domani. Note that you can’t translate this using man, so I guess that the correspondence is not 1:1. Actually I find this cathegorization quite dumb.
        On the other hand, you have “si passivante” only if the verb is transitive and you have an explicit object. In this case the sentence can be put in passive form and the object turns into the subject. And “dormire” is not even transitive, so this settles the bed example.
        In your sentence “si” is impersonal, and also the whole sentece is quite ambigous. An italian would think
        “In germania si sarà forse domandato perché…” In Deutschland, Sie haben sich es wahrscheinlich gefragt, …”
        Because I interpet that si as the reflexive pronoun of “domandarsi”. To obtain the effect you want, you could say:
        “In Germania ci si sarà forse domandati perché, a differenza di quanto successo in…”
        And here you can clearly see that is an impersonal form of “domandarsi” (when you have the impersonal form of a reflexive verb, you can’t say “si si sarà domandati”, you say “ci si sarà domandati”. For this reason the past participle is always plural.

        Hope this made a little sense.


        • Oh Italian :D… I think I understood it but it took me 2 readings with a little time in between. I also remembered that I my friend had mentioned the “ci si” thing. I think I just banned that from my consciousness right away. Ci is a monster anyway. It can definitely compete with any German short word I’d say :).
          Anyway… what I found most confusing about the page or the concept of the 3 si-s was the example for the si-impersionale (“Si e pensato di andare…”). That just feels totally passive to me and I would never translate it as “man”. My first impuls was “Es wurde daran gedacht in die Berge zu gehen”… I don’t know if this is accurate though because my Italian is not got enough to gauge the feel of a phrasing. Anyway… so I read that part on the page and then I was like… oh… oh… and this is NOT si-passivante :D.
          But now I got it and that’s great… another piece in the puzzle that is Italian. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. Si ringrazia :)


  4. “Im Bett wird geschlafen.” If I’m not mistaken, there is the so called ‘dummy es’ that can be put when the sentence in the active form doesn’t have a direct object, right? “Es wird im Bett geschlafen.”

    In Portuguese (and I’m almost sure that in Spanish too) there is a way to create the passive in subjectless sentences by using the ‘Índice de Indeterminação do Sujeito’, the particle ‘-se’. Dorme-se na cama = Im Bett wird geschlafen.


    • The dummy “es”… in jargon it is called an “expletivum” and you’re right. I can build the passive with it. But the point is not that it is passive….
      When there is no object in active, there can’t be a subject in passive. So far so good. That poses NO problem for German, as we can see with sentences like this:

      – Im Bett wird geschlafen.

      Now… if I now decide that I don’t want to start my sentence with im Bett I could say this:

      – Geschlafen wird im Bett.

      But I want to have BOTH parts behind the verb, position 1 is empty and that is a NO GO, because that’s what makes a question. And that’s where the dummy es comes in. It just fills position 1 here.

      – Es wird im Bett geschlafen.

      But I can do the same thing in active.

      – Ein Mann isst eine Pizza.

      If I want to have Mann and Pizza behind the verb for some reason… dummy es to the rescue.

      – Es isst ein Mann eine Pizza.

      So it has nothing to do with passive but simply with the fact that position 1 needs to be filled. And there is even a very famous song using that construction:

      “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen”

      As for the Portuguese approach… it is quite similar to the Italian one (there is another comment here about that) but grammatically it is not a passive… but it doesn’t matter… it is definitely a translation for this passive :)


      • Hey, dude, how are you?

        Nice tip about the dummy es. Is it often to see people using it?

        Hehe, Enrico and I thought about the same thing… Anyway, I said so because there are two kinds of (-se) particles, the “Índice de Indeterminação do Sujeito” and “Partícula apassivadora”, the former is used when there is no direct object and the verb can only be in the third person singular and the latter is used when there is (or at least there is the possibility of) a direct object, and the verb can go either in singular or plural, depending on the direct object. Well, I’m no linguist so I can’t really explain much better the difference between them…

        By the way, when you used this example to explain that is possible to create a passive with the particle (se/si):

        “- In Germania, si sarà forse domandato perché, in Germania, a differenza di quanto è successo in Grecia, in Italia, in Spagna, la ristrutturazion…”

        Could you create a similar one in Spanish? I mean, I don’t know if you speak Spanish, but if you do, I’ll probably see the right correspondence in Portuguese and see if it’s really possible to create a passive sentence with (-se). I tried to create a sentence, but I’m quite stuck.


        • Ne…. the dummy is not used that much :)… it makes the language either sound stiff or more complicated than it needs to be for spoken German. But I think you can find it in newspapers.
          As for the Spanish example… I don’t speak enough to create a search phrase and in present tense it was impossible to find in Italian (because all the results would always be plain passive). So that’s why I used future. There wasn’t much either but the quote was one of the first results. So here’s a guide to building a search:

          – start with a country and then use “se” and the future of to be… maybe with verbs like to wonder”
          – put the whole thing in quotes.

          Google will find and suggest you remove the quotes but the results given might contain a hit :)
          Is it possible to do it in Portuguese anyway?


    • The dummy “es”… in jargon it is called an “expletivum” and you’re right. I can build the passive with it. But the point is not that it is passive….
      When there is no object in active, there can’t be a subject in passive. So far so good. That poses NO problem for German, as we can see with sentences like this:

      – Im Bett wird geschlafen.

      Now… if I now decide that I don’t want to start my sentence with im Bett I could say this:

      – Geschlafen wird im Bett.

      But I want to have BOTH parts behind the verb, position 1 is empty and that is a NO GO, because that’s what makes a question. And that’s where the dummy es comes in. It just fills position 1 here.

      – Es wird im Bett geschlafen.

      But I can do the same thing in active.

      – Ein Mann isst eine Pizza.

      If I want to have Mann and Pizza behind the verb for some reason… dummy es to the rescue.

      – Es isst ein Mann eine Pizza.

      So it has nothing to do with passive but simply with the fact that position 1 needs to be filled. And there is even a very famous song using that construction:

      “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen”

      As for the Portuguese approach… it is quite similar to the Italian one (there is another comment here about that) but grammatically it is not a passive… but it doesn’t matter… it is definitely a translation for this passive :)


  5. Hi!
    Do you know any Spanish? Because from what I understood in your post the werden passive voice is more or less like the “ser” passive voice in Spanish while the sein passive voice is the “estar” one in Spanish (both meaning “to be”, getting the difference for English-, French- and German-speaking people is almost impossible)
    El cuadro es pintado = Das Bild wird gemalt (It’s being painted)
    El cuadro está pintado = Das Bild ist gemalt (It has already been painted)

    However after some thinking I can’t tell if the second version is a passive voice or an active voice. The picture is in the state of having beein painted-ness, or it has already passed through the process of being painted?? (For the record, the “estar” passive voice doesn’t really always work, or at least I don’t recognize at such).
    In this thread (http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=591221) they use “la casa es(tá) rodeada por la policía. IF I have understood correcly:
    La casa es rodeada por la policía = Das Haus wird von der Polizei umgeben
    La casa está rodeada por la policía = Das Haus ist von der Polizei umbegen

    How can we know however if the second phrase is in the active voice telling us something about the state of the house, or rather if it’s telling us if something is done upon the house? I’m getting so confused…
    And for the record, Im Bett wird geschlafen = Se durmió en la cama (Although this is clumsy Spanish and I’d take it as “he slept in the bed”)

    Thank you a lot for your posts and hope you keep it up!!


    • Hahaha… I am confused a bit too… I do know some very basic Spanish so I was aware of the 2 “to be-s” but I haven’t gotten to the passive so I can’t really tell whether your translations are accurate…but it does make sense what you’re saying and you’ve touched on a very interesting feature of language (passive voice in particular). Any passive form built with “to be” (in this case I mean the “esta”) will always blur toward an active voice. Actually it is more a continuum with the poles “clearly passive” and “clearly active” with a lot of shades in between.
      We could say that there is an explicit passive, which would be the first version (the “es” one) and there is an implicit passive.

      – The car is red.
      – The car is painted.

      What we’re doing is we’re assigning features to the car… adjectives if you will. They answer to “how is the car”. And the second feature is a derivative of a verb. So it is the result of an action. Because the car doesn’t do much, especially no painting, it is easily interpreted as a form of passive. But for a computer it would just be an active I guess.

      – I am exhausted.
      – I am beaten.

      These sentences are incredibly close …but the second one is an implicit passive because that’s how we understand it.

      – I am being beaten.
      – The car is being painted.

      This is an explicit passive because the grammar reflects it.

      – The car is painted.

      This is just a description of the car…. at least to me.

      So… any passive that is based on simply “to be” plus a participle 2 is, in my opinion, always ONLY a passive because we read it into the sentence. From a strictly grammatical point of view I would call it active and save the term “passive” for the explicit ones.

      As for the bed-example… seems like SPanish, Portuguese and Italian all share the same structure (there are other comments here) and that is indeed a good translation… and just a little thing… surround as in what the police does is “umstellen”… “umgeben” is what trees do to a lake :)


    • So I kept thinking about it and it dawned to me that I have to at least partially take back my statement.

      – Plastic is made from oil.

      This is a passive with “to be” and the participle 2 and yet, it is pretty explicit in its being passive…. so… I guess it really is a continuum and a sentence can be more or less “passive-ish”. This is the same in German with what they call “Zustandspassiv”…

      – Das Essen ist gekocht.

      In the really fat Duden Grammatik they actually say that it is up to interpretation in many occasion whether you call it a passive or not..


  6. the cognate of the german verb raten in english is to read
    how on earth could it mean to advise or to recommend
    and how beraten means the same as raten = to advise or to recommend
    where has gone the inflict idea of it
    in other words , how could “to inflict reading on something means to advise or to recommend)
    danke in advance ( by the way how could one say (thanks in advance in german ) is it Vielen Dank im Voraus


    • The real question is actually why “read” means what it means because the German meaning “advice” is much closer to where the verb comes from… here’s a link where you can check it


      And now about the difference to “beraten”… beraten is basically “to inflict advice on someone”…
      For one thing, that means that you’re not only giving one advice but several. “Berater” is actually a job and they do nothing but give people advice all day. And also, the “be” makes the person the advice is given to the direct target of the verb… while with “raten” the person getting the advice is in Dative case… the he or she is the receiver.

      – Ich rate dir etwas.
      – Ich berate dich.

      A good translation for beraten would maybe be “to counsel”…” recommend” is not a very good translation because it has a different grammar. You always recommend something but you can just beraten someone for a while without being specific as to what you’re giving advice about.
      So I hope that clears it up a little… and you’re right. Vielen Dank im Voraus is perfect :)


  7. how can annehmen means to suppose or to assume
    sine nehmen means to take and an means on or at
    so it means to take on or to take at
    and another question
    der satz ” das geht dich nichts an” =”it is none of your business”=”it does not belong to you”
    how could angehen means to belongs
    its literal meaning is ” that goes at you nothing” may be I be wrong

    please explain
    und Vielen Dank im Voraus
    and by the way how “im voraus means in advance”


    • please give me a response on this
      vielen dank im voraus


      • “Annehmen” first and foremost means to accept. The “an” is similar to the one in “anziehen”. If you then think of “to accept” as “to accept as truth” it is not that far from “suppose, assume” anymore.
        As for “angehen”… a thing that concerns you kind of approaches you, it goes toward you… hence “Das geht dich nichts an” would literally be “This doesn’t go at/toward you”.
        As for “vorraus”.. it is just what it means without a deeper secret behind it.
        Lastly I would like to inform you about a forum where you can ask all your questions and get a quicker response. I have a lot of things to do and this blog is done in my free time… so I don’t always answer comments right away…


        You can ask all you want to know there and you’ll get answers within a day.


  8. what is the difference between aufzeichnung and aufnahme
    since the two means recording
    Vielen dank im voraus


  9. teil means part
    how could anteil means portion
    or ratio
    please explain
    Vielen dank im voraus


    • Teil is on my list for things I want to talk about in the near future, so I won’t give it away here. But I’ll give you a hint… portion and ratio are definitely not the best translations of Anteil…. “share” is.


  10. fassen means to grasp
    how could befassen means to consider
    and what is the meaning of ” sich befassen ”
    I could not understand the verb fassen
    vielen dank im voraus


    • Well, “befasse” would literally be “to inflict grabbing” on something and this makes sense as to consider… you kind of turn the thing you consider in your hands and touch it from all sides. However, “befassen” is nowadays only used with the reflexive pronoun “sich”. Sich mit etwas befassen means to consider or better “to deal with something” and I don’t really know where the “sich” came from.


  11. Hallo!
    Thanks for the awesome article, however I’m still confused about “Im bett wird geschlafen.”
    I understand that you’re saying there is no direct translation of this passive voice into English. There has to still be a way to explain in English what is being conveyed here in German, right? Please explain so I can sleep at night!
    I want to show you what google-translate gave me: “In bed is sleeping.” LOL
    To be honest, I barely understand the grammatical differentiation of the passive/active voices in my own language. This article really helped though, so thanks again! Sometimes I think you’re teaching me more about my own language than German hahaha.
    So here is what goes through my brain when I see this sentence:
    Im Bett = In dem Bett = (located) in the bed. CHECK
    wird = 3rd person singular of werden = became/is becoming. MAYBE CHECK.
    geschlafen = past tense of schlafen = slept. CHECK.
    So I put them together and magically: “In the bed became slept.” …. Well that makes 0 sense. So I punch myself in the face and try again.
    Here is the only thing my English (American at that) brain can reason:
    The bed is being slept in or The bed is going to be slept in.
    Is that anything close to the meaning?

    Thanks for the third time this post! Please explain this to my feeble mind!!


    • Nice try :)… so… the sentence “Im Bett wrd geschlafen” might not exist in English but the respective question in fact does.

      – What is being done in bed?
      – Was wird im Bett gemacht?

      In German you could also just answer “geschlafen”.
      This doesn’t work in English. But there are examples where it does work in English too…

      “What is being discussed in parliament?”

      This is passive voice… the “what” is asking for the done to-er… the “do-er” are the politicians. An answer could be this.

      “Whether or not taxes should be raised.”

      If you want to make it into one sentence (I think, I am not sure) you have to add an “it” to have the usual subject-verb structure of English.

      “In parliament, it is being discussed whether or not taxes should be raised.”

      This is already quite similar to the German bed example. What is the grammatical subject here? … it is “it” but actually it is the whole whether-sentence. German doesn’t need the “it”. And German doesn’t need the whether-sentence… if the answer to the “what”-question is just a ge-form… well fine.

      – Es wird diskutiert.

      – Hier wird diskutiert.

      So… to understand how to translate the bed example you just have to answer the question with the means English provides

      – What is being done in bed?

      – People sleep in bed.

      This is what the German sentence means and I could also say

      – Im Bett schläft man.

      Using the passive for the bed-example was an extreme to illustrate what can be done. But in real life no one would say that as it sounds super stiff… all human life has been sucked out artificially.
      But for more complex information, these things can be handy (and they are too in English).

      – For 3 days, it is being debated within the party whether or not they should care… (no pun intended).
      – Seit 3 Tagen wird in der Partei diskutiert ob…

      You don’t know who exactly is debating and who is on which side and so on… you could also do it differently and say

      – For 3 days, members of the party have been debating…

      But to me there is a different tone to that… it sounds like less people are discussing to me. Anyway… so … they main difference between English and German in this regard is this:

      In German you can just skip the whether-part and say

      “Seit 3 Tagen wird in der Partei debatiert.”

      And that is not possible in English because English needs a subject in every sentence. If you want to translate that you just have to answer the respective question with the ways English offers.

      – What is being done within the party for 3 days?
      – People/the members are debating.

      Phew… that was long but I hope you find it helpful. If not, then keep on asking. Dir wird geantworter werden :D


      • Ah thank you so much! You explained that perfectly. Sorry, it was driving me crazy thinking about what it meant! Jetzt weiß ich! Danke für alles!


        • one little correction for sake of sounding 110% idiomatic :)… in German we say

          “Jetzt weiß ich es”

          Without the “es” it sounds incomplete. Skipping the es only works if the “ich” is in position 1

          – Ich weiß.
          – I know.


  12. Dir wird geantworter werden
    I think it may be translated into english as
    lit. : ” To you it will be answered ” but in german this would be ” Dir wird geranwortet werden” oder?
    I think you meant geantwortet and not geantworter
    if not please translate it to me in english
    und vielen dank im voraus


    • Your translation is exactly right and yes, I do mean “geantwortet” :) Danke!


    • I think I should also add the “real” translation… to me, the best English phrasing would be:

      “You will be given an answer”

      The words are different but as for tone and content this feels very similar to the German version. But I am not a native speaker of English so I might be wrong on that one


  13. Vinicius Martim

    Hallo, schöner Beitrag war es =D
    Ich bin brasilianisch und versuche Selbstlerner zu sein.
    Ich habe eine Frage bezüglich Ihres Beitrages:
    Man sieht sehr oft in Fachbegriff der Informatik: “loading…”, u.a., als “wird geladen”.
    Das heißt, “present continuous” auf Englisch wird (lol) als werden + Partizip II gebildet, wenn es kein Subjekt gibt? Ist es eine formelle Verwendung?

    Ihre Arbeit hier ist sehr hilfreich und das macht auch viel Spaß zum Lesen.
    Vielen Dank


    • Hmmm… also für mich ist “wird geladen” ein Passiv. Der Computer lädt, die Datei “wird geladen”. Es ist definitiv kein einfaches “present continuous”, denn das existiert in Deutsch schlicht nicht. Und das Passiv mit “werden” ist quasi per Definition ein continuous… wegen dem Wort “werden”.

      Im Computercontext stehen öfter solche Formulierungen.

      – Wird geladen
      – wird entpackt
      – wird heruntergefahren
      – Updates werden gesucht/heruntergeladen/installiert.

      Ich weiß nicht warum aber in Deutsch liegt der Fokus immer auf dem Objekt und nicht auf dem Computer. Man könnte auch

      – lädt
      – installiert

      schreiben. Aber dann habe ich das Gefühl, dass das Subjekt fehlt. Ich hätte den Impuls zu fragen”WER lädt”, obwohl ich es genau weiß. Wenn da steht:

      – Dateien werden geladen.

      dann ist das grammatikalisch korrekt.

      – Lädt die Dateien.

      ist es nicht.

      – Der Computer lädt die Dateien.

      Das ist einfach zu lang und super redundant.
      Ich hoffe das hilft ein bisschen und danke für das nette Feedback :)


  14. ubungmachtdenmeister

    EPIC post. A double werden whammy. mein verständnis wird immer besser mit jeder artikel. ich habe eine kleine frage. wenn du “ob” benutzt, meint es wie “obwohl”? danke im voraus


    • Nee, eigentlich nie… es gibt “obwohl”, “obgleich” und “obschon” und die heißen alle das gleiche, aber nur “ob” funktioniert nicht. Tatsächlich kann “ob” sogar das Gegenteil heißen…

      Ob des Wetters bleibe ich zu Hause.
      Because of the weather I stay at home.

      This is quite high brow though :)
      GIbt es ein Beispiel im Post, wo ich “ob” wie “obwohl” verwende? Wenn ja, dann ist das ein Fehler…


    • Grateful Reader

      “meint es wie “obwohl””


      Nur Personen können meinen ;)


  15. ubungmachtdenmeister

    ach, es ist “mit jedem artikel”, entschuldigung :D


  16. I don’t usually point out typos, but you have “bold” instead of “bald” in the bit about Thomas taking after his father – took me a couple beats to get the joke. :)


  17. Hi Emmanuel, do you have an article that explains when to use “werden….werden” and “werden….sein”. Or if it is not too complicated, maybe you could just explain it to me here. Thanks! :)


    • Well, “werden…. werden” is the becoming werden in future tense

      – Ich werde müde werden.
      – I will become tired.

      “werde … sein” is the future tense of “sein”

      – Ich werde müde sein.
      – I will be tired.

      But both are not used that much because German uses present tense in most cases and expresses future by just saying when it’ll happen.

      – Ich werde müde.
      – I’m getting tired.

      – Ich werde dann müde.
      – I’l get tired then.

      Hope that helps :)


  18. german studenten

    can you help me i have ten sentence in german active if it isnt very big problem for you could you change it for me into the german passiv voice (vorgangspassiv) it would be very much help for me.please help me.there are the sentence
    1. Man organisiert in vielen Städten Weihnachtsmärkte.
    2. Die Deutschen trinken viel Glühwein
    3. Die besten Schauspieler wählen die Filme aus
    4. Die besten Skilangläufer erreichen das Ziel in knapp eineinhalb Stunden
    5. Durchschnittlich verkauft man ca. 200.000 Bratwürste.
    6.In vielen Städten organisiert man Weihnachtsmärkte.
    7.Die Besucher kaufen auf der Buchmesse meistens Neuerscheinungen.
    8.Sechs Millionen Besucher trinken 60.000 Hektoliter Bier.
    9.Die Regisseure stellen die neuen Filme vor.
    10.Die besten Skilangläufer erreichen das Ziel in knapp eineinhalb Stunden.

    sory if i made some mistake in spelling of englisch it is not my first languange.


  19. Hi, I have been learning German and I’m a little confused when it comes to past tense of werden. I have seen it a few times in cases in which I understood it to be became but I was wondering what other meanings the past tense of werden has, and also what it means in passive. Thank you!


  20. for this one “Morgen wird das Wetter besser.”

    can I use Morgen wird das Wetter besser sein?



  21. Salvador Limones

    Hi, this is the first time I visit your page, and I have to say that is fucking awesome! You have an easiness explaining this kind of stuff very enviable. So, here’s my question, also the reason why I end here. If I understand you, “werden” means that something is in a process of change, and also a very difficult verb to translate, because no other language uses this term omitting the subject. Sigmund Freud writes this sentence: “Wo Es war, soll Ich werden”. I wish you could help me translate this sentence.


    • Thanks for the nice feedback :)
      So, the sentence is based on Freud’s terminology…. there’s “Ich”, “Es” and “Über-Ich” which are three parts of our self and the sentence means that a part of “Es” has to become “Ich”… which is the goal of his psycho analysis. I looked up the English version and it is something like this:

      – Where id was there ego shall be.

      The three parts are called “id” (Es) , “ego” (ich) and “super ego”.
      Here’s the English Wikipedia article if you want to dig in


      As for the grammar… this sentence does not have the same structure as

      – Es wird geschlafen.

      We do have a subject (Es) and it becomes something. So structure-wise the sentence is the same as

      – Thomas becomes a nurse.

      Hope that helps


  22. Regarding the “im bed” example, it’s interesting to mention that in English one can use “turn in” as in “go to bed” (I’m too tired, I think I’ll turn in). So it’s pretty much going back to the source, i.e werden = turn.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Wow, man, your site is amazing. I’ve just discovered it, but I’m already addicted. Keep up the good work!


  24. Isn’t it funny, to come back and read this page again for a different reason, almost 2 years later, having already had most of the concepts/ideas contained within learned, and still be reading from some of the examples being like “wow, i did not know you could do that”. I was looking for german passive voice, because i was using it, but had forgotten what it actually was. I needed to look up a new verbs passive construction and couldn’t find any rules in the conjugation dictionary for werden + ge-form and i was like “is this just some random, made up german verb form that everyone uses/understands but its unofficial/doesnt really exist”, then i came across this page once more and the order of the world was once more restored. Im bett wird geschlafen just blew me away. I think the last time i read it i was like, “Whaaaaat?” then just ignored it. I think the closest translation in english i can think of for that is something like “Sleeping happens in the bed”, at least thats what that phrasing sounds like to me, Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Once again, still amazed to read this page again and find it adding value for me on a different (hopefully better/deeper) level than before. Tell me, do you know if there is a way to chronologically sort previous comments you have made on a wordpress site, so you can see them for example, in order of first to last? It would be interesting for me to see what my german looked like then, and what it looks like now. Maybe duolingo has some “classic” early examples…


    • Hey man, sorry for the late reply :). Always great to see Scotland still abood (that was probably wrong)
      “Sleeping happens in bed” does seem like a good fit. But the emphasis is different. In the English version it’s on the fact that it’s in BED. The German version has the focus on teh fact that SLEEPING is what happens. The reason is the word order.

      – Geschlafen wird im Bett.

      This would be pretty close to your version. Dunno if you’ve read the series on word order yet :).
      As for the comments, there’s no such feature. I can select all your comments in the backend and there I will have an order but I don’t think I can post a link to that without giving you a log in.


  25. I’ve just discovered your site too! Thank you German is easy! I loved to read it. I’m not writing a big comment though because I’m not English or German and I’m afraid of making mistakes here… Anyway, thank you, I’ll go on reading it! It’s really great!


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