Using "werden" - Future and Passive Voice | Your Daily German (2023)

Using "werden" - Future and Passive Voice | Your Daily German (1)Hello everyone,

and welcome to the second part of our look at

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:

  • werden part 1

What we’ve learned so far is that werden originally meant to turn before it .. ahem… turned into a word that expresses self development; just like to become. And itis not a weird change of meaning becauseit happened with the English to turn, too.

  • Die Milch wird sauer.
  • The milk turns sour.
  • The leaves are turning yellow and red.
  • Die Blätter werden gelb und rot.

Then, we started talking about the second usage of werden – a helper verb for thefuture tense.
And that’s where we’ll pick up today. And first we’ll explore how and why werden became the German counterpart of will.

Why “werden” and “will” express future


Latin had a grammatical future tense 2000 years ago, but the Germanic languages actually didn’t. They did not bother expressing future with a special tense at all. They just made a distinction between things that are past and all the rest. And German is still very Germanic about that, because in daily conversation, it uses present tense for future events about 80% of the time.

  • Nächsten Sommerfahreich ans Meer.
  • Next summer, Igoto the sea (lit.)

The Germanic tribes then started to have more and more contact with Latinand long after the Roman empire had fallen, Latin remained THE language for science and thechurch. Kind of ironic actually, since the two hated each other for quite a while.
But yeah, so the Germanic languagescame under the influence of Latin and at some point, they were like “Hey, I want my own future tense.”and so they came up with ways to express the future-ness of some action using grammar.
English ended up used the wordwill, which was originally doing nothing more thanstating an intention. This:

  • Iwillhave another beer….

used to mean (and in German still means) this:

  • Iwant tohave another beer….
  • Ichwillnoch ein Bier.

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

(Video) Learn German | Das Verb "werden" | German for beginners | A2 - Lesson 15

  • Thomaswillbecome 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.

  • Make of that whatever you will.

By the way… the shift of willfrom intention to helper is the reason why English, unlike German or French or Spanish, does NOT have a modal verb that expresses desire anymore. English uses to wantfor that but this is NOT a modal verb in English.
Yes, you may use that info to impress people at the next party. Work great.

Now, in German, they didn’t change their version ofwill(wollen). Instead they usedwerdento do the job of expressing future. And unlike the English will, werdendidn’t even have to give up its “normal” meaning. Both functions exist side by side.
And now the big question is: why? How? What has becoming,which is the “normal” meaning of werden to do with the future?
Well… it is not that big of a stretch because…becomingimplies that something isn’t YET but it’s on its way.

  • Ibecometired.
  • Ichwerdemüde.

You’re not tired yet, but you’re in the process of becoming it, so in the near future youwill be. There you have it – being is the future of becoming,if that makes sense.
So it is completely understandable that people would start using such a verb to express future…. I mean … why not?
In English, they expressed it using intentions. In German, they expressed it using the process of self development. And to give you some other options – 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 … here’s the core of what we’ve talked about in the best form – the example form :)

  • Ichwerdenächste Woche viel arbeiten.
  • Iturn/windworking a lot next week (using the original meaning of werden).
  • Ibecomeworking a lot next week. (super literal)
  • Iwillwork a lot next week. (actual meaning)

and here is the future-werden back to back with thebecoming-werden

  • Werwirddie Wahl gewinnen? Wer wird der nächste Kanzler?
  • Whowillwin the elections? Who willbecomethe next chancellor?

Notice something? 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 ofwerdenitself?

future-werden in practice

How would we say this for instance…

  • The students know very well that theywillbecometired when the professor talk about grammar.

Could it possibly be a doublewerden? 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, müdewerdenwerden.
  • The students know all too well, that they will get tired when their prof talks about grammar.

Ohhhhhh… and it isa doublewerden… 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 onewerden. 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 ofbecoming-werdenandfuture-werdenis actually acceptable. When there is no context, we even need the doublewerdento make clear that it is future.

  • Ichwerdemüde.
  • Iam gettingtired.
  • Iwillgettired.
  • Ichwerdemüdewerden.

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

(Video) Tenses: Passive Voice (Part 1): Present Tense - Lesson 8 - Under 9 minutes (B1/B2)

  • Iwill want toremember that…
    (at least to me, with my German “ich
    will”-glasses on, that is a bit likeintending to intend)

or this…

  • Next week,Iam going togoto Berlin.

All right. Now,I don’t want to discuss all the grammar of the German future tense here, or give you loads of examples because… you don’t really ever need to use it.In daily conversation, German reallymostly do it the old way and just use the present.
Maybe also because we have yet another opportunity to use our belovedwerden… 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 momopen 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 thatagentbutwe’ll call it thedo-er. On the other hand we’ve got to have something that is being read, seen or bought and we’ll cal thedone to-er.Do-er anddone to-er are roles in the real world. They have little to do with grammar.
Now, in a normal sentence thedo-er will have the grammatical role of a subject and thedone to-er will be in the role of thedirect object.

  • Ireada book.

And the passive reverses the grammatical roles.

  • The bookis being readby me.

The book is still thedone to-er but it is the grammaticalsubjectnow.
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 thedo-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 verbto beto form the passive.

  • Thomaspainteda picture.
  • A picturewas paintedby Thomas.

German useswerden.

(Video) The Passive Voice In German – All Tenses and Forms ✅

  • Thomashatein Bildgemalt.
  • Ein Bildwurdevon Thomasgemalt.

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

Does that tie in with thewerdenwe already know?

Yes. It totally does. Let’s recall.Werdenhas 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 thatwerdencan also be a translation forto getbecauseto getsometimes expresses development. But what about this:

  • The presidentgotelected.
  • The moviegotmade for the fans…. THAT’S why it blows… hahahaha.. sorry… … I … I couldn’t resist

Now, what’s up with thisgothere? 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 bywas.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 thatwerdenused to meanto turn.

  • The skyturnsdark.

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 streetsturnwet.

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 thedo-er.
So… I hope you can see that it is not too far fetched to use verb that expresses thechange of stateas a helper for the passive AND the future at the same time. And that iswerden.

  • Das Bildwirdgemalt.
  • The picturebecomespainted.

This would be the literal translation… and it is not that wrong… the only thing is thatto becomedoesn’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. Usingto beand usingwerdenleads 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 theon goingprocessorthe completed process/ theresult.

  • Iwas doingthe dishes.
  • Ihave donethe 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 beis a verb ofstate. It talks about how something IS.Werdenon the other hand talks about how something becomes – how it IS CHANGING. Soto bestressesthe result,werdenstressesongoing process.That also affects the passive, mainly in present tense.

(Video) Werden in German| Use of werden in German| Presen , Past and Perfect Tense|

  • Die Pizzawirdgegessen.

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

  • The pizzais beingeaten.

Or we could also say this, I guess…

  • The pizzagetseaten.

You can try it with your own mother tongue. If passive is built usingto 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 Germanwerdenadds this idea ofongoing changeto the passive that is not there if you build it usingto be.
Cool… now, there is another difference between German and languages that useto befor their passivewhich is really fascinating.
The thing is…to beis 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 Germanwerdendoesn’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 usingto be. How about a passive ofwollen

  • Zuvielwurdegewollt, 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 ofschlafenthen

  • Im Bettwirdgeschlafen.

Yep…the passive voice ofto 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 Daywerden. It started of asto turnbut 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 wordto get, all those things are closely related and they all share the idea ofchange of state.
If you have any questions or suggestions aboutwerden, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

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(Video) German B1 Lesson 2: Modal Future

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FAQs

How do you use werden in a German sentence? ›

Using Werden To Talk About The Future

Example: Im July wird er Urlaub machen. (He will go on vacation in July.) Example: Wir wissen nicht ob sie kommen werden. (We don't know if they will come.)

How do you do passive voice in German? ›

Passive voice is always formed using werden and the action verb past participle. The tense of the sentence is marked in the werden; the past participle is a constant. Das Auto wird von der alten Frau verkauft. The car is (being) sold by the old woman.

What is werden? ›

First of, werden is the German word for to become. But it's also used as a helper to build the future tense. And as if that wasn't enough, it's also used to build the passive voice.

Where does werden go in a sentence? ›

In this case, the order of the two verbs shifts and werden goes after the full verb: Ich strenge mich an, so dass ich nächste Jahr auf die Uni gehen werde. I'm working hard to go to college next year. Sie ist so schüchtern, dass sie ihn nicht ansprechen wird.

What is the verb werden in German? ›

Werden means “to become.” The incautious German student might think that bekommen means “to become,” but be careful! Bekommen is a falscher Freund (false friend). It actually means “to receive.”

Does German have a passive voice? ›

In German, the passive voice is formed with the auxiliary verb "werden" and the past participle of the main verb, except in the perfect and pluperfect tense where the auxiliary verb is "sein" and the past participle of the main verb is followed by "worden".

Is werden a modal verb in German? ›

As it is a modal verb, it also has irregularities in its verb conjugation: ich will. du willst. er will.

Does werden take nominative? ›

for predicate nouns: when the main verb is sein or werden, use the nominative for both subject and predicate nouns.

How do you use werden in the future? ›

The structure of a sentence in the future tense is as follows: subject + conjugated form of werden werden, Präsens + rest of sentence + infinitive verb. Anna wird nach Berlin kommen. Anna will come to Berlin.

How do you politely address someone in German? ›

"Guten Tag" (Good day) or “Hallo” (Hello) are the most common verbal greetings used in Germany. In the South, some people may say “Grüß Gott” (literally translating as 'Greet God'). In formal situations, one should address another person with their title and last name, “Herr” (Mr.) for men and “Frau” (Mrs.)

What is the difference between Werden and sein? ›

Therefore the werden-passive describes an action taking place which affects the meadow, whereas the sein-passive merely describes its state.

What is the difference between Wollen and werden? ›

These two verbs have completely different meanings: “wollen” means to want, and “werden” means to become or is used to express the future tense.

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