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Active voice and passive voice



The voice of a verb is a grammatical category that is subdivided into two categories: the active voice and the passive voice. The active voice is much more frequently used then the passive voice. There are two kinds of passive voice constructions: the werden-passive (agentive passive) and the sein-passive (stative passive).

Active Sie öffnet das Fenster. Inflection
werden-passive Das Fenster wird geöffnet Inflection
sein-passive Das Fenster ist geöffnet.


Like many other grammatical terms, the terms active and passive can be misleading:

The active voice is not only used for real actions:

Sie wohnt in Berlin.
Wir besitzen viele Aktien.
Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.

The passive voice is not only used when somebody or something undergoes an action:

Es wird gelacht.
Es wird auf eure Hilfe gerechnet.

The active voice and the passive voice differ rather in their focus on the action of the verb and the agent of this action. The agent is the perfomer of the action of the verb.


In the active voice the performer of the verb action and the subject are identical:

Der Lehrer öffnet das Fenster.

In this example sentence, the subject of the sentence, der Lehrer, is the agent of the verb action. In the active voice the agent is explicitly mentioned.


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.

More information about the werden-passive.


The sein-passive does not refer to an action, but to a state that is the result of a verb action. Usually, the agent is not mentioned:

Das Fenster ist geöffnet.

More information about the sein-passive.

Table of voice functions:

  Agent (performer) Action  Example
Active central yes Der Lehrer öffnet das Fenster.
werden-passive not central/not mentioned  yes Das Fenster wird (vom Lehrer) geöffnet.
sein-passive (usually) not mentioned no Das Fenster ist geöffnet.

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