Personal passive voice

(The passive of verbs with accusative object)

Table of contents – personal passive

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Personal passive voice
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What does personal passive mean in grammar?

The personal passive voice is one type of passive formation in German grammar. One of its particularities is that the person or thing concerned is mentioned. Apart from that, the personal passive can only be formed with verbs that allow an accusative object (which are the transitive verbs). Verbs that can only occur with genitive, dative, or prepositional objects cannot form a personal passive. Compare the following list:

  • Careful: Only verbs with an optional accusative object can produce the personal passive voice. Some examples of transitive verbs are:
    • malen (to paint), essen (to eat), sehen (to see), trinken (to drink), spielen (to play), etc.
  • During the transformation from active to passive sentence, only the accusative object (direct object) of the active sentence can become the subject of the passive sentence; other objects cannot take over this function. In addition, the passive statement usually omits the indication of the agent:
    • Sentence examples of the personal passive that show …
      • … the dynamic passive (werden passive):
        • Active: Jonas und Michaela spielen ein Spiel.“ (Jonas and Michaela are playing a game.)
          • This utterance includes the accusative objectein Spiel’ (a game) and ‘Jonas und Michaela’ as the subject.
        • Passive 1: Ein Spiel wird gespielt.“ (A game is being played.)
          • Passive sentence without naming the agent; the original accusative object becomes the subject here.
        • Passive 2: Ein Spiel wird von Jonas und Michaela gespielt.“ (A game is being played by Jonas and Michaela.)
          • This is the same passive sentence but with the agent ‘von Jonas und Michaela’ as a prepositional object.
      • … the static passive (sein passive):
        • Active: Der Hausmeister schließt die Tür.“ (The janitor is closing the door.)
          • This statement has the subjectDer Hausmeister’ (The janitor) and the accusative objectdie Tür’ (the door).
        • Passive: Die Tür ist geschlossen.“ (The door is closed.)
          • A static passive sentence, in which the actor, the agent, cannot be named. ‘Die Tür’ (The door) is the subject now.
    • Examples of passive sentences that do not constitute personal passives:
      • Active: Der Ehemann streitet mit seiner Ehefrau.“ (The husband is arguing with his wife.)
        • a clause with the prepositional objectmit seiner Ehefrau’ (with his wife)
      • Passive 1: Mit seiner Ehefrau wird gestritten.“ (Literally: There is an argument with his wife.)
        • This passive sentence has no subject.
      • Alternatively, the impersonal passive can be used here:
        • Passive 2: Es wird mit seiner Ehefrau gestritten.“ (Literally also: There is an argument with his wife.)
          • Es’ replaces the subject in this construction.

Further explanations referring to the ‘Personal passive voice’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Using the personal passive of verbs in German grammar’ and could also be helpful:

  • The active voice in grammar
  • Using verbs in German
  • The subject of the sentence
  • The object of the sentence