Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Passive Leipzig


Leipzig has been anything but 'passive'. For example, it was here that the Monday Demonstrations, peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic of East Germany, began.

No, one of the German places we are studying on the Open University course L130 is Leipzig, and I'm going to use information about it to practice using the passive.

The passive voice is when the subject of the verb experiences the action rather than performs it. He was seen, rather than Somebody saw him.

The passive imperfect is formed by using the appropriate tense of the verb werden (to become) with the past participle, which goes at the end of the clause.

So, what do I (or Wikipedia!) know?

The University of Leipzig was founded in 1409. This is called the passive voice because the subject of the sentence (the university) is being acted upon by the verb (to found) rather than initiating the action. And it is in the imperfect past (well, everything is perfect today isn't it?).

The verb to found is gründen, which I'm pretty sure is a weak verb so we can give it a regular past participle formation gegründet.

Quick conjugation of the verb werden in the imperfect tense:
  • ich wurde

  • du wurdest

  • er/sie/es wurde

  • wir wurden

  • ihr wurdet

  • sie/Sie wurden
So here's goes:
  • Die Universität Leipzig wurde 1409 gegründet.
Or, perhaps a bit more elegently:

  • Im Jahre 1409 wurde die Universität Leipzig gegründet.

(The imperferct active voice would have been something like: Ich gründete die Universität 1409. But I'm not really claiming to be that old).


That's easy enough, so what else does google know about things being founded in Leipzig? How about:

  • Das Gewandhausorchester Leipzig wurde 1781 gegründet. The Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig was founded in 1781.

  • Der Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, die erste deutsche Arbeiterpartei, wurde in Leipzig am 23. Mai 1863 gegründet. The General German Workers Association, the first German Workers Party, was founded on 23rd May 1863 in Leipzig.

  • Die Handelshochschule Leipzig (HHL) wurde am 25. April 1898 gegründet und ist die älteste Wirtschaftshochschule Deutschlands. The Leipzig Graduate School of Management was founded on the 25th April 1898 and is the oldest business school in Germany.

  • Die Deutsche Bücherei wurde 1912 in Leipzig gegründet. The National German Library was founded in 1912 in Leipzig.

  • Der Deutscher Fußball-Bund wurde in Leipzig 1900 gegründet. The German Football Association was founded in Leipzig in 1900.

Switching from gründen to bauen to build, past participle gebaut:

  • Das Völkerschlachtdenkmal wurde zwischen 1898 und 1913 gebaut. The Monument of the Battle of the Nations was built between 1898 and 1913. And as an aside, Es ist das größte Denkmal Europas. It is the largest monument in Europe.

  • Das Altes Rathaus wurde 1556 gebaut. The old city hall was built in 1556.

  • Das City-Hochhaus wurde 1972 gebaut. The high-rise building was built in 1972. And, es ist das höchste Gebäude Leipzigs. It is the highest building in Leipzig.

Those buildings could also have been described using errichten to erect, which has the irregular past participle errichtet. So:

  • Das Altes Rathaus wurde 1556 errichtet. The old city hall was erected in 1556.

Another verb to describe buildings in the passive imperfect is when were they opened, eröffnen, which has a past participle of eröffnet. So:

  • Das neue Messegelände wurde 1996 eröffnet. The new trade-fair centre was opened in 1996.

  • Das Zentralstadion wurde 1956 eröffnet. The central sports stadium was opened in 1956.

  • Das BMW Werk Leipzig wurde 13. Mai 2005 eröffnet. The Leipzig BMW factory was opened on the 13th May 2005.

I guess a further way to describe buildings is when they were demolished, with the verb abreißen, to pull down, past participle abgerissen. My knowledge (for which read, Wikipedia's knowledge) isn't so hot on when things were demolished, but I guess that with Leipzig being such an old city (a trade fair there is first mentioned in 1165), but with a modern looking city centre (I nearly said grim, grey, concrete, seventies, Soviet-style wasteland), that at some point:

  • Die alten Fachwerkbauten wurde abgerissen. The old timber-framed buildings were torn down.

In Ordnung, I think I've got the hang of the passive imperfect. But of course the passive voice can be used in any tense. For the present tense, if you are describing an action as opposed to a state, you still use the past participle, but you use the present tense of werden. To give a reminder of werden in the present tense:

  • ich werde

  • du wirst

  • er/sie/es wird

  • wir werden

  • ihr werdet

  • sie/Sie werden

So, now we can say:

  • Das Altes Rathaus wird jetz renoviert. The old city hall is being renovated (now).

  • In Leipzig wird Deutsch gesprochen. In Leipzig German is spoken (not surprisingly!).

  • Neue Gebäude werden errichtet. New buildings are being erected.

On first impressions, it might seem a bit strange that you use the past participle for present activities, but if you think about what we say in English we do something similar. e.g. In Nottingham English is spoken (compare was spoken, has been spoken), rather than use to speak in the present tense (he speaks, they speak).

To add a different twist; if you are describing a state, then instead of werden you use the present tense of sein to be.

  • Hunde sind nicht erlaubt. Dogs are not allowed.

  • Das Geschäft ist heute geschlossen. The shop is closed today.

Sein is also used if you want to express the past perfect tense (things which happened and aren't continuing to happen). In this case you use the past participle of the main verb with the present of sein, then stick the past participle of werden, worden, on the end. Or rather you don't, because the past participle of werden is actually geworden. Drop the ge-, and this form worden is only ever used to form the passive. Examples:

  • In Leipzig, Neue Wohnblöcke sind gebaut worden. In Leipzig new blocks of flats have been built.

  • Im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert sind viele Fabriken auf dem Randgebiet von Leipzig konstruiert worden. In the twentieth century many factories have been constructed on the outskirts of Leipzig.

  • Ruhige Demonstrationen sind für Montag geordnet worden. Peaceful demonstrations have been arranged for Monday.

Sometimes you need to use von (by) in the passive. So, rather than the subject directly operating on the verb such as with Der Bürgermeister öffnete das neue Rathaus the mayor opened the new town hall, you could say that the town hall was opened by the mayor:

  • Das neue Rathaus wurde vom Bürgermeister geöffnet.

Because you are using von, the important thing is to remember that von causes what follows to be in the dative case. So it is von dem Bürgermeister rather than der Bürgermeister (contracted to vom).

Finally, a note about when you don't need to use the passive when you would in English, by using man one. In English you can say 'that isn't done' and it is in the passive voice. If you were a bit posh (or wanted to sound like you are), you could rephrase that as 'one doesn't do that', with the normal active voice word order of subject-verb-object and 'done' (past) becoming 'do' (present). In German using 'one' is not only not posh, but is often the usual way of phrasing a sentence which otherwise would be in the passive, so 'that isn't done' is 'Das macht man nicht'.

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