The grammatical voice in German

(Active/passive – the voice in German grammar)

Table of contents – grammatical voice

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Explanation of the grammatical voice
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What does voice mean in grammar?

The voice (in German: Genus Verbi) denotes a grammatical category of the verb that indicates the direction of action. German grammar distinguishes between two possibilities: One is the active voice, and the other is the passive voice.

Concerning the use of the grammatical voice, a speaker or writer may pursue various intentions. For example, transforming an active sentence into a passive sentence shifts the primary focus of the statement from the subject to the object, which in turn becomes the subject of the sentence.

Grammatical voice in different tenses

Now, compare the voice in the following example sentences. Note that it is always expressed in every tense:

  • The active and passive voice in direct comparison in different tenses (Tempora):
    • Präsens (present tense):
      • „Die neue Kollegin macht gerade Kaffee.“ (The new colleague is making coffee.)
        • active
      • „Kaffee wird gerade gemacht.“ (Coffee is being made.)
        • passive
    • Perfekt (perfect):
      • „Der Kunde im Anzug hat vorhin das Auto gekauft.“ (The customer in the suit bought the car earlier.)
        • active
      • „Das Auto ist vorhin gekauft worden.“ (The car was bought earlier.)
        • passive
    • Futur I (future):
      • „Er wird den Brief schon noch schreiben.“ (He’ll surely write the letter.)
        • active
      • „Der Brief wird schon noch geschrieben werden.“ (The letter will surely be written.)
        • passive

Subdivision of the passive voice

The German language makes a further division into dynamic passives and static passives. Here are some more example statements with passive constructions for illustration:

  • „Die Waschmaschine ist schon repariert worden.“ (The washing machine has already been fixed.)
    • Perfekt (perfect), dynamic passive
  • „Die neue Brücke wurde letztes Jahr gebaut.“ (The new bridge was built last year.)
    • Präteritum (preterite), dynamic passive
  • „Die Wohnung ist gereinigt.“ (The apartment has been cleaned.)
    • Präsens (present), static passive

Information: When learning German, take into account that you can use all German verbs in the active voice. However, only verbs with the corresponding ability can form and occur in passive constructions.

Further explanations relating to the ‘Grammatical voice in German’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘The voice (active/passive) in German grammar’ and may help you as well:

  • The subject in German grammar
  • The object in German grammar
  • The predicate in German grammar
  • Conjugation of verbs