German IV Tutorial: Basic Phrases, Vocabulary and Grammar
     


61. Comparative & Superlative

For comparisons of equality, use the construction so + adjective or adverb + wie to mean as + adjective or adverb + as.  You can also add nicht in front of the so for a comparison of inequality.

Die Küche ist so gross wie das Wohnzimmer.  The kitchen is as big as the living room.
Eine Waschmaschine ist nicht so schwer wie ein Kühlschrank.  A washing machine is not as heavy as a refrigerator.

Comparative

1.  For comparisons of superiority and inferiority, add -er to the adjective or adverb, followed by als (than).  German always uses the -er ending, although English sometimes uses the word more before the adjective instead of the ending.

Ein radio is billiger als ein Fernseher.  A radio is cheaper than a TV.
Jens läuft schneller als Ernst.  Jens runs faster than Ernst.
Lydia ist intelligenter als ihr Bruder.  Lydia is more intelligent than her brother.

2.  Adjectives that end in -el, -en or -er, drop the -e in the comparative form.  Teuer becomes teurer instead of teuerer, and dunkel becomes dunkler instead of dunkeler.  Some one-syllable adjectives and adverbs whose stem vowel is a, o, or u add an umlaut in the comparative, such as alt, arm, dumm, grob, groß, hart, jung, kalt, klug, krank, kurz, lang, oft, scharf, schwach, stark, warm.  Adjectives that never add an umlaut are flach, froh, klar, rasch, roh, schlank, stolz, toll, voll and zart.

Superlative

1.  To form the superlative, add -(e)st to the adjective.  The ending -est is used when the word ends in -d, -t, or an s sound.  The adjectives that end in -el, -en, or -er retain the -s in the superlative form.  The same adjectives that took an umlaut in the comparative take an umlaut in the superlative as well.

2.  The superlative also has an alternative form:  am + adjective or adverb + sten.  When the adjective or adverb ends in a d, t or s sound, an e is inserted between the stem and ending (am grössten is an exception.)  This is the only form of the superlative of adverbs, but either forms of the superlative can be used for adjectives.

Hans is am jüngsten.  Hans is the youngest.
Sie ist am intelligentesten.  She is the most intelligent.

Irregular Forms

Adj. / Adv. Comparative Superlative
gern lieber am liebsten
gut besser am besten
hoch höher am höchsten
nah näher am nächsten
viel mehr am meisten

 

Common forms of the comparative

Je mehr, desto besser.  The more, the better.
Je mehr Geld er hat, desto glücklicher ist er.  The more money he has, the happier he is.
Die preise werden immer höher.  The prices are getting higher and higher.
Julia wird immer hübscher.  Julia is getting prettier and prettier.

Keep in mind that the comparative and superlative forms take normal adjective endings when they precede a noun.  And the adjective form of the superlative must always take an adjective ending because it is preceded by the definite article.

Haben Sie billigere Anzüge?  Do you have less expensive suits?
Diese Anzüge sind die billigsten.  These suits are the least expensive.


62. Sports & Hobbies

to do sports Sport treiben hang-gliding Drachen fliegen
golf Golf spielen windsurfing Windsurfing gehen
soccer Fußball spielen water-skiing Wasserski fahren
volleyball Volleyball spielen fishing angeln
football Football spielen aerobics Aerobic machen
basketball Basketball spielen bungee-jumping Bungee-jumping gehen
baseball Baseball spielen gymnastics turnen
hockey Eishockey spielen mountaineering bergsteigen gehen
tennis Tennis spielen climbing klettern
table tennis Tischtennis spielen judo Judo machen
bowling kegeln weight training Body-building machen
sailing segeln wrestling ringen
horseback riding reiten diving tauchen
boxing boxen to tinker, build things basteln
roller-skating Rollschuh laufen to listen to music Musik hören
ice-skating Schlittschuh laufen to play cards Karten spielen
skiing Ski fahren to collect coins/stamps Münzen/Briefmarken sammeln
bicycling Radfahren to play video games Videospiele spielen
swimming Schwimmen gehen photography fotografieren
jogging joggen to do ceramics töpfern
hiking wandern to draw zeichnen
camping Camping gehen to play chess Schach spielen
gardening im Garten arbeiten to knit stricken
go out with friends mit Freunden ausgehen to watch TV fernsehen
to lie around, be lazy faulenzen go to the movies ins Kino gehen

 

A lot of sports/hobbies exist as nouns and as verbs, so just as in English, you can say either I like to fish or I like to go fishing. If it's capitalized, it's a noun and if it's not capitalized, it's a verb.

kegeln - to bowl
das Kegeln - bowling


63. Nature

barn die Scheune (n) stream der Bach (ä, e)
bridge die Brücke (n) sky der Himmel
hill der Hügel (-) island der Insel (n)
mountain der Berg (e) air die Luft
beach der Strand (ä, e) meadow die Wiese (n)
lake der See (n) desert die Wüste (n)
river die Fluss (ü, e) pond der Teich (e)
street die Straße (n) grass das Gras
farm der Bauernhof (ö, e) leaf das Blatt (ä, er)
field das Feld (er) flower die Blume (n)
forest der Wald (ä, er) ocean der Ozean (e)
plant die Pflanze (n) tree der Baum (ä, e)
city die Stadt (ä, e) country das Land (ä, er)
sea die See / das Meer (e) valley das Tal (ä, er)
bay die Bucht (en) coast die Küste (n)
mountain range das Gebirge jungle der Dschungel (-)


64. Object Pronouns

Subject (Nom.) Direct Objects (Acc.) Indirect Objects (Dat.)
ich I mich me mir (to) me
du you (fam.) dich you dir (to) you
er he ihn him ihm (to) him
sie she sie her ihr (to) her
es it es it ihm (to) it
wir we uns us uns (to) us
ihr you (pl.) euch you euch (to) you
sie they sie them ihnen (to) them
Sie you (pol.) Sie you Ihnen (to) you

 

If there are two nouns in a sentence, one accusative and one dative, then the dative noun will be first. However, if there are two pronouns, one accusative and one dative, then the accusative pronoun will be first. In sentences with one noun and one pronoun (regardless of which is accusative or dative), the pronoun will be first.

Some verbs always take indirect objects, even if they take direct objects in English. For verbs that can take two objects, the direct object will usually be a thing, and the indirect object will usually refer to a person.

antworten to answer (a person) The following four need an object as a subject:
schenken to give schaden to be harmful to
bringen to bring schmecken to taste good to
danken to thank stehen to suit
zuhören to listen to passen to fit
gehören to belong to The following two need the subject and object
inverted from the original English construction:
glauben to believe
helfen to help
gratulieren to congratulate fehlen to be missing to
begegnen to meet gefallen to be pleasing to
vertrauen to trust    
empfehlen to recommend    
geben to give    
kaufen to buy    
leihen to lend, borrow    
sagen to tell, say    
schicken to give as a gift    
schreiben to write    
wünschen to wish    
zeigen to show    


65. Parts of the Body

body der Körper (-) chin das Kinn (e)
arm der Arm (e) knee das Knie (-)
eye das Auge (n) bone der Knochen (-)
cheek die Backe (n) head der Kopf (ö, e)
belly der Bauch (ä, e) lip die Lippe (n)
leg das Bein (e) stomach der Magen (ä)
chest die Brust (ü, e) nail der Nagel (ä)
finger der Finger mouth der Mund (ü, er)
foot der Fuss (ü, e) nose die Nase (n)
ankle das Fussgelenk (e) ear das Ohr (en)
brain das Gehirn back der Rücken (-)
hair das Haar (e) shoulder die Schulter (n)
neck der Hals (ä, e) forehead die Stirn (en)
hand die Hand (ä, e) tooth der Zahn (ä, e)
wrist das Handgelenk (e) toe die Zehe (n)
skin die Haut (ä, e) tongue die Zunge (n)
heart das Herz (en) face das Gesicht (er)
jaw der Kiefer (-) cheek die Wange (n)

 

Ich fühle mich nicht wohl. I don't feel well.
Mir ist schlecht. I feel sick.
Mir ist kalt/warm. I'm cold/hot.
Was fehlt dir? What's the matter?
Der Hals tut mir weh. My throat hurts.

 

The separable verb wehtun is used to say that something hurts. Remember when the noun is plural, the verb needs to be plural as well and that parts of the body do not use possessive articles.

Die Füße tun ihm weh. His feet hurt. (The feet are hurting to him.)

 

Other health expressions:

Ich habe Kopfschmerzen. I have a headache.
Ich habe Halsschmerzen. I have a sore throat.
Ich habe Rückenschmerzen. I have a backache.
Ich habe Bauchschmerzen. I have a stomachache.
Ich habe eine Erkältung. I have a cold.
Ich habe Fieber. I have a fever.
Ich habe die Grippe. I have the flu.
Ich habe Husten. I have a cough.
Ich habe Schnupfen. I have a head cold.
Ich habe zu viel gegessen. I ate too much.
Gute Besserung! Get well soon!


66. Relative Pronouns

Relative clauses begin with relative pronouns - words that correspond to who, whom, that and which in English.  These may be omitted in English, but must be included in German.  A comma always precedes the relative pronoun, which is put into the correct gender depending on the noun it refers to, and the correct case depending on its function in the clause.  (In the following example, the relative pronoun is in the masculine accusative case because Mantel is masculine, and is a direct object of the verb "to buy", therefore, it is accusative.)  The conjugated verb goes to the end of the sentence as well.

That's the coat (that) I bought yesterday.
Das is der Mantel, den ich gestern gekauft habe.


Relative pronouns have the same gender and number as the nouns they refer to, and the forms closely resemble those of the definite articles:

Masc. Fem. Neu. Plural
Nom. der die das die
Acc. den die das die
Dat. dem der dem denen
Gen. dessen deren dessen deren

Examples
Nominative Der Fluss, der durch Wien fliesst, heißt Donau.
The river, that through Vienna flows, is called the Danube.
The river that flows through Vienna is called the Danube.
Accusative Der Hund, den ich letzte Woche gesehen habe, war Julias.
The dog, that I last week seen have, was Julia's.
The dog that I saw last week was Julia's.
Dative Mein Vater ist der einzige Mensch, dem ich nichts davon erzählt habe.
My father is the only person, to whom I nothing about it told have.
My father is the only person (to) whom I have told nothing about it.

 

When a relative pronoun follows a preposition, the preposition determines the case, while the gender and number are determined by the noun.  The preposition and pronoun always stay together as one unit as well.

Wer war die Frau, mit der ich dich gesehen habe?
Who was the woman, with whom I you seen have?
Who was the woman (whom) I saw you with?


67. Da- and Wo- Compounds

Personal pronouns are used after prepositions when referring to people.  However, when you need to refer to a thing, a compound using da- (or dar- if the preposition begins with a vowel) plus the preposition is used.

auf dem Tisch (on the table) becomes darauf (on it)

in der Tasche (in the pocket) becomes darin (in it)

vor der Schule (in front of the school) becomes davor (in front of it)

hinter den Häusern (behind the houses) becomes dahinter (behind them)

zwischen dem Haus und der Schule (between the house and the school) becomes dazwischen (between them)

Da(r) Compounds
daraus out of it/them dagegen against it/them darüber over it/them
damit with it/them darin in it/them darunter underneath it/them
davon from it/them daran in it/them daneben next to it/them
dazu to it/them darauf on top of it/them dazwischen between it/them
dadurch through it/them dahinter behind it/them dabei on me/you
dafür for it/them davor in front of it/them darum that's why

 

Dahin is commonly used with verbs of motion to show location, regardless of the preposition used. The English translation is usually there. Dahin can be shortened to hin in everyday speech, and sometimes da is placed at the beginning of the sentence and hin is placed at the end.

Ich muß heute zur Bank. I have to go to the bank.
Ich muß auch dahin. I have to go there too.

Dabei and darum are idioms.  Hast du Geld dabei?  Do you have any money on you?  Darum hast du kein Glück.  That's why you have no luck.

Not all prepositions + pronouns can be replaced by the da(r) compounds.  Ohne, ausser, and seit can never form a da(r) compound, and here are others that cannot:

ohnedies without it stattdessen instead
bis dahin until then trotzdem nevertheless
ausserdem besides währenddessen in the meanwhile
seit dem since deswegen for that reason


There are also corresponding questions word that use wo(r)- as the prefix.  Wo(r) can be substituted in all of the above da(r) compounds.  When asking about people, use a preposition and wen/wem, and use a preposition and the corresponding personal pronoun to answer. 

Worüber sprechen Sie? Ich spreche darüber.
What are you talking about? I'm talking about it.
Woran denkst du? Ich denke daran.
What are you thinking about? I'm thinking about it.
Mit wem gehst du ins Theater? Mit ihr!
Who are you going to the Theater with? With her!

 

Wo- compounds can also be used as shortcuts for the relative pronouns because you do not need to the know the gender or case to form the relative pronoun.  This shortcut can only be used with things and not people.

Die Uhr, mit der er reist, hat viel gekostet. = Die Uhr, womit er reist, hat viel gekostet.
The watch, with which he travels, cost a lot.

Die Stadt, in der wir wohnen, hat ein großes Konzerthaus. = Die Stadt, worin wir wohnen, hat ein großes Konzerthaus.
The city, in which we live, has a large concert hall.


68. Animals

animal das Tier (e) bull der Stier (e)
bear der Bär (en) wolf der Wolf (ö, e)
squirrel das Eichhörnchen (-) worm der Wurm (ü, er)
fox der Fuchs (ü, e) bird der Vogel (ö)
hare die Hase (n) rooster der Hahn (ä, e)
dog der Hund (e) hen die Henne (n)
calf das Kalb (ä, er) eagle der Adler (-)
rabbit das Kaninchen (-) chick das Küken (-)
cat die Katze (n) ant die Ameise (n)
kitten das Kätzchen (-) bee die Biene (n)
cow die Kuh (ü, e) fly die Fliege (n)
lion der Löwe (n) grasshopper die Heuschrecke (n)
mouse die Maus (ä, e) moth die Motte(n)
horse das Pferd (e) mosquito die Mücke (n)
rat die Ratte (n) butterfly der Schmetterling (e)
turtle die Schildkröte (n) spider die Spinne (n)
snake die Schlange (n) chicken das Huhn


69. Likes and Dislikes

 

Use the words gern, nicht gern, lieber, and am liebsten after a verb to express preferences.

Ich spiele gern Fussball. I like to play soccer.
Ich spiele lieber Hockey I prefer to play hockey.
Ich spiele am liebsten Tennis. I like to play tennis most of all.
Ich spiele nicht gern Basketball. I don't like to play Basketball.

 

Or just use haben with any of the four phrases for general likes/dislikes.

Ich habe Fussball gern. I like soccer.
Ich habe Julia am liebsten. I like Julia most of all.
Ich habe das Restaurant nicht gern. I don't like the restaurant.

 

Gefallen is another verb used for expressing likes.  It literally means to please.  To use it correctly, you must switch the object in English with the subject in German.  Das Zimmer is the object in English, but it becomes the subject in German.  And the object in German (mir) would become the subject in English (I).  It is always in the dative case in German.

German sentence Literally Translated
Das Zimmer gefällt mir. The room pleases me. I like the room.

 

You could always just use the verb mögen to express likes and dislikes, but another common way of saying that you like (doing) something is macht spaß.

Was macht dir spaß? What do you like (to do)?
Fußball macht mir spaß. I like soccer.


70. Past Perfect Tense

The Past Perfect Tense or Pluperfect corresponds to the English had + past participle and refers to something that had already happened when something else happened. It consists of the imperfect of haben or sein and a past participle and is comparable to the present perfect tense.

Present perfect:  Ich habe in Wiesbaden gewohnt.  I (have) lived in Wiesbaden.
Past perfect:  Ich hatte in Wiesbaden gewohnt.  I had lived in Wiesbaden.

Present perfect:  Was ist passiert?  What (has) happened?
Past perfect:  Was war passiert?  What had happened?


71. Als, wenn and wann

All three words correspond to when and act as subordinating conjunctions (therefore, the conjugated verb goes to the end of the sentence.)  Als is used in past time contexts for a single event, wenn is used to mean whenever or if, as well as in future time, and wann is an adverb of time or a question word and can be used in declarative sentences.

Als ich ihn fand... When I found him.. (followed by simple past tense)
Wenn er kommt... Whenever he comes...
If he comes...
When he comes... (followed by future tense)
Ich weiß nicht, wann er kommt. I don't know when (or at what time) he's coming.


72. Review of Word Order

1. In most sentences, the order is subject - verb - time - manner - place. 

Ich gehe morgen mit dem Bus in die Schule.  I'm going to school tomorrow by bus.

2. Sometimes another element begins a sentence instead of a subject.  Then the verb is still in the second position, but the subject follows it.

Morgen gehe ich mit dem Bus in die Schule.  Tomorrow I'm going to school by bus.

3. In sentences with more than one verb or with past participles, the conjugated verb remains in the normal position and the infinitive or past participle goes to the end of the sentence.

Ich will nach Hause gehen.  I want to go home.
Ich habe dir geglaubt.  I believed you.

4. When asking questions, you can usually just invert the subject and verb.

Kann ich jetzt gehen?  Can I go now?

5. In sentences with dependent clauses (phrases that have a subject and verb but cannot stand alone as sentences), the verb in the dependent clause is last.  Dependent clauses are introduced with a comma and certain conjunctions, such as als-when, bevor-before, bis-until, damit-so that, dass-that, wenn-if/when, ob-whether, obwohl-although, nachdem-after, da-since, während-while, weil-because, and wie-how.  However, these conjunctions use normal word order:  und-and, oder-or, aber-but, denn-for/because.

Ich bleibe im Bett, wenn ich krank bin.  I stay in bed when I am sick.

6.  If there is a separable prefix verb in a dependent clause, the prefix remains attached to the verb, and the entire verb goes to the end of the sentence, whereas normally the prefix would go to the end.

Er ist immer müde, wenn er früh aufsteht.  He is always tired when he gets up early.

7.  When there are two verbs in a dependent clause (such as a modal and an infinitive), the modal goes last, following the infinitive.

Er ist müde, wenn er früh aufstehen muss.  He is tired when he must get up early.

8.  And when a dependent clause begins a sentence, it acts as an element, therefore the subject and verb in the following clause are inverted.

Wenn ich krank bin, bleibe ich im Bett.  When I am sick, I stay in bed.

9. If you have both direct and indirect pronouns in your sentence, remember that if the direct object is a noun it is placed after the indirect object.  If the direct object is a pronoun, it goes before the indirect object.  So basically the only time the accusative is placed before the dative is when the accusative is a pronoun.

Ich schenke meinem Bruder eine Krawatte.  I give my brother a tie.
Ich schenke sie meinem Bruder.  I give it to my brother.


73. Flavoring Particles

German has many words that cannot be translated literally into English.  These words are mostly for emphasis.

doch yes, of course counteracts negative statement, used for persuasion, or implies something is obvious
ja really emphasis
aber is it ever emphasis
denn well then indicates impatience, or adds emphasis to question
gerade right now immediacy
nur, bloß only, just
mal sometime, someday used in suggestions, or softens commands

74. Colloquial Expressions and Idioms

In informal speech and writing, es is commonly contracted with the preceding word by 's.  Geht es = geht's

Es is also used as an impersonal pronoun (es regnet, it's raining), but it can also be used as an introductory word for emphasis or stylistic reasons.  Es begins the sentence, and the true subject follows the verb.

Es ist niemand zu Hause.  No one is at home.
Es kommen heute drei Kinder.  Three children are coming today.

Es can also be used to anticipate a dependent clause or infinitive phrase.  This is almost like in English when we say I hate it when that happens instead of I hate when that happens.  "It" has no real meaning in the first sentence, but it is not incorrect to say it.

Ich kann es nicht glauben, daß er sich vor nichts fürchtet. I can't believe that he's not afraid of anything.
Er haßt es, nichts davon zu wissen.  He hates not knowing anything about it.

Other idioms:

Sie ist mit ihrem Urteil immer sehr schnell bei der Hand.  She makes her judgments rather quickly. (Literally: She is quick at hand with her judgments.)

Alles ist in Butter.  Everything is fine.  (Literally:  Everything is in butter.)

Er geht mit dem Kopf durch die Wand.  He does as he pleases.  (Literally:  He goes with his head through the wall.)


75. Word Formation

Noun compounds
German uses compounds more often than English and they are formed by simply putting the two words together (sometimes adding an -n or -s in between), and using the gender of the last word.  Die Woche (week) + der Tag (day)  =  der Wochentag (Days of the week)

The prefix un-
As in English, the prefix un- gives a word a negative or opposite meaning.  klar (clear) - unklar (unclear)

The suffix -los
This suffix is often the equivalent of the English suffix -less, and is used to form adjectives and adverbs from nouns.  das Ende (the end) - endlos (endless)

The suffix -haft
The suffix -haft is used to form adjectives from nouns so as to designate related qualities.  das Kind (the child) - kindhaft (childlike)

The suffix -ung
This suffix may be added to the stem of a verb to form a noun.  All nouns ending in -ung are feminine.  wandern (to hike) - die Wanderung (the hike)

The suffix -er
This suffix designates a person is from a certain place.  Frankfurt (a city) - Frankfurter (a person from Frankfurt)

The suffix -in
This suffix designates a female person and is added to the male counterpart.  Architekt (male architect) - Architektin (female architect)


76. Adjectival Nouns

When referring to people, adjectives can sometimes be used as nouns.  The definite article precedes the adjective, which is now capitalized because it is functioning as a noun.  The adjectival nouns take the regular adjective endings for adjectives preceded by a der word as well.

 

der Alte - the old man
die Alte - the old woman
das Alte - everything that is old
die Alten - the old people


77. Ordinal Numbers

To form the ordinal numbers, just add -te to the cardinal numbers for 1-19, and -ste for 20 and up.  The exceptions are erste, dritte, siebte, and achte.

first erste eleventh elfte
second zweite twelfth zwölfte
third dritte thirteenth dreizehnte
fourth vierte fourteenth vierzehnte
fifth fünfte fifteenth fünfzehnte
sixth sechste sixteenth sechzehnte
seventh siebte seventeenth siebzehnte
eighth achte eighteenth achtzehnte
ninth neunte nineteenth neunzehnte
tenth zehnte twentieth zwanzigste

 

In writing dates, German uses the number followed by a period.  On February 2nd would be am 2. Februar.  However, when saying this out loud, you would say am zweiten Februar.  You must use the construction am + -en to answer a question beginning with Wann?  But you use the construction der + -e to answer the question Welches Datum?

Wann sind Sie geboren?  When were you born?
Am achzehnten Mai.  On May 18th.

Welches Datum is heute?  What is today's date?
Heute ist der neunte Oktober.  Today is October ninth.


78. Passive Voice

To change a sentence from the active to the passive, change three things:

1. accusative object of active sentence to nominative subject of passive sentence
2. active verb to a tense of werden (same tense!) plus the past participle of verb in active sentence
3. subject to von + dative object in the passive sentence, if agent is mentioned

Present Tense
Viele Studenten lesen diesen Roman. = Dieser Roman wird von vielen Studenten gelesen.
Many students read this novel. = This novel is read by many students.

Imperfect Tense
Viele Studenten lasen diesen Roman. = Dieser Roman wurde von vielen Studenten gelesen.
Many students read this novel. = This novel was read by many students.

Future Tense
Viele Studenten werden diesen Roman lesen. = Dieser Roman wird von vielen Studenten gelesen werden.
Many students will read this novel. = This novel will be read by many students.

Present Perfect Tense
Viele Studenten haben diesen Roman gelesen. = Dieser Roman ist von vielen Studenten gelesen worden.
Many students have read this novel. = This novel has been read by many students.

Past Perfect Tense
Viele Studenten hatten diesen Roman gelesen. = Dieser Roman war von vielen Studenten gelesen worden.
Many students had read this novel. = This novel had been read by many students.

*Notice that in the passive voice, the past participle of werden is worden and not geworden.

Durch can replace von when the agent is an impersonal force (fire, wind, etc.); but it cannot be used if preceded by a limiting word (such as an article or adjective.)

Passive with modals
Shifts in tense will only affect the modal part of the sentence.  The infinitive forms of the past participles are used with modals in the passive voice as well.  And where you might expect something like Das Haus hat werden müssen verkauft, the actual construction is Das Haus hat verkauft werden müssen because of the double infinitive construction.  Double infinitives always go to the end of the sentence, but you only need to worry about these in the present perfect and past perfect tenses.

Passive Infinitives
To be + past participle in English is translated as the past participle + werden in German. With a passive infinitive, usually only the present or simple past of modals is used.

Die Tiere konnten gerettet werden. The animals were able to be saved.


79. Problems with the Passive

False Passive
Grammatically, the false passive is the same as sein + an adjective.  This construction describes a condition rather than an action.  Das Haus ist verkauft is the false passive, while das Haus wird verkauft is the true passive.  The false passive sentence indicates that the house is already sold (condition), while the true passive indicates the house is in the process of being sold (action).

Passive with Absentee Subjects
Passive forms may have a definite or indefinite subject, or no apparent subject at all.  The accusative object of an active sentence becomes the nominative subject of the passive sentence.  But sometimes there is no accusative object.  Since a verb cannot be in the first position of sentence without turning the sentence into a question, es is used as the subject.  

Man antwortet ihnen nicht is an active sentence, but if it were turned into the passive, there would be no accusative object.  The passive would have to be es wird ihnen nicht geantwortet.  (Here werden agrees with the apparent subject, es.)

But if another element, such as a dative object or time expression, can be put in the first position, then es is omitted.  Ihnen wird nicht geantwortet can also be used as the passive.  There is no apparent subject, only an implied es, so the form of werden remains wird to agree with es.


80. Avoiding the Passive

1.  The construction man + an active verb can be used instead of the passive voice.  Man translates to one, you, we, they, people and constitutes the subject.

Diese Bluse wird gereinigt.  This blouse is being dry-cleaned
Man reinigt diese Bluse. They are dry-cleaning this blouse.

Der Dieb wurde gefunden. The thief was caught
Man fand den Dieb. They caught the thief.

2.  Man + modal + an infinitive is frequently used with müssen or können.

Der Flecken kann nicht entfernt werden.  The stain cannot be removed.
Den Flecken kann man nicht entfernen.  We can't remove the stain.

3.  Sein + zu + an infinitive can be used with können or müssen to express the possibility or necessity of an action.

Das kann schnell gemacht werden.  That can be done quickly.
Das ist schnell zu machen.  That is quickly done.

4.  Sich lassen + an infinitive can replace können and a passive infinitive.

Das kann gemacht werden.  That can be done.
Das läßt sich machen.  That can be done.


Die Lorelei
by Heinrich Heine

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten  I know not, what it is portending
Daß ich so traurig bin;  that I am so depressed;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten  a legend from olden days past
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.  will not leave my mind alone.
Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,  The breeze is cool and it darkens,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;  and peaceful flows the Rhine;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt  the peak of the mountain sparkles
Im Abendsonnenschein.  with evening's setting sun.
Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet  The fairest maiden sits perched
Dort oben wunderbar,  right up there wondrously,
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet  her golden jewelry flashes
Sie kämmt ihr gold'nes Haar.  she combs her golden hair.
Sie kämmt es mit gold'nem Kamme  She combs with a comb all golden
Und singt ein Lied dabei;  and thus she sings a song;
Das hat eine wundersame  that has a mysteriously
Gewaltige Melodei.  tyrannical melody.
Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe  The sailor in tiny vessel
ergreift es mit wildem Weh,  is seized with a savage woe,
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,  he sees not the rocky reef edge,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.  he looks only up toward the height.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen  I think that the waves have devoured
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;  at last the sailor and boat;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen  and that's the deed, by her singing
Die Lorelei getan.  the Lorelei has done.


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