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I often see in "formal" settings statements like:

Die Karten werden gedruckt.

However, I rarely see such use of werden plus a past participle in emails and other correspondence—even in more "formalized" letters from colleagues. (I think the only exception is in "legalese" German.)

Under what circumstances is it correct to use this? It would seem that it corresponds to the English "X is/are being Y." Are there other cases when it's appropriate?

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The main reason why you rarely find this form is that it is generally considered good style to avoid it. Of course "legalese" is not exactly known for good style. – celtschk Oct 9 '12 at 9:36
up vote 3 down vote accepted

That is the simple passive voice, it has nothing to do with past tense. And you can find that very often, is it totally common if the passive is appropriate.

Die Karten werden gedruckt.

just means

The cards are being printed.

It is true that German doesn't have a tempus for processes that are taking place right now, so we often use the word "gerade". So, you could also say

Die Karten werden gerade gedruckt.

if you want to emphasize that the printing is being done at the moment of writing. I can't think of cases where it is not appropriate.

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Well... here are my thoughts. I assume that you are aware of how passive is formed in German and that there are 2 forms of passive, of which werden + past participle is one.. called "Vorgangspassiv".

The reason why something like your example is rare in written convo might very well be the fact that the author does not know when exactly it will be read... so writing "is being Xed" or "wird geXt" respectively is dangerous because it might not be true anymore. As for spoken German it can be found there, too... maybe with an indication of time added.

Bei mir wird gerade/seit 3 Wochen/ ab morgen gebaut.

Die Post wird gerade abgeholt.

So I would say the use is not much different to English. If something "is being done" then it "wird gemacht" in German.

Side note:

As Germans are pretty lazy with their future tense as long as time info is given "wird gemacht" can also be a future tense... so that would be "will be being made".

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Isn't that rather "will be made"? – k.stm Oct 9 '12 at 7:19
Oh my bet... it is in fact "will be being made" :) – Emanuel Oct 9 '12 at 17:00
Literal translation is "will be made", but the meaning is "will be being made" ;) – Sentry Oct 10 '12 at 9:15

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