It is my understanding that German has three passive past tenses and (I'm not sure about this) English has only two:

Imperfekt: Der Euro wurde eingeführt.
The Euro was introduced.

Perfekt: Der Euro ist eingeführt worden.
The Euro has been introduced.

Plusquamperfekt: Der Euro war eingeführt worden.

Would this be translated any differently than "The Euro has been introduced"? It seems German has a sense of "recently," "in the past," and "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" whereas English only has recently and in the past. Is this correct?

  • You forgot Präsens: Der Euro ist eingeführt. Präsens can describe things that happened in the past. Im Jahr 2002 führt Deutschland den Euro ein.
    – dusky
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 22:18
  • 2
    Wouldn't Präsens (passive) be: Der Euro wird eingeführt. ?
    – mbmast
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 22:21
  • 7
    Even in English there is the form "The Euro had been introduced" - and please note that the first two forms you mention are not one-to-one equivalent in use between German and English.
    – Gerhard
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 22:22
  • @Gerhard, could you please explain how the first two forms are not one-to-one equivalent in use between German and English?
    – mbmast
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 22:29
  • 4
    English has also three: was introduced, has been introduced, had been introduced. So the number of tenses and the way they are formed are the same. However, in German, tenses are used differently (no matter if active or passive). Also, German has two ways to form the passive voice: Vorgangspassiv (using "haben") and Zustandspassiv (using "sein"). Again, this applies to all tenses.
    – dirkt
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 9:38

1 Answer 1


The standard reading is that German has two passive forms and 3 past tenses. Here they are:

  1. Die Käse wird geschnitten. (focus on process)
  2. Der Käse ist geschnitten. (focus on result)

Ich habe den Käse geschnitten.
Ich schnitt den Käse.
Ich hatte den Käse geschnitten.

If we combine that we get 6 options. Simple math.


Der Käse ist geschnitten worden.
Der Käse wurde gschnitten.
Der Käse war geschnitten worden.


Der Käse ist geschnitten gewesen.
Der Käse war geschnitten.
Der Käse war geschnitten gewesen.

Commonly the 3 options under 1) are commonly considered the options for past in passive and but that's just random.
If one really wants to distinguish between "Zustandspassiv" and "Vorgangspassiv" (and books fancy that approach very much) then all these six forms should be called passive because they directly derive from the present tense versions.

As for English... English has one passive, three past tenses and the option of progressive aspect. Mathematically that should also give 6 versions for a passive in the past. But the strong perfective aspect of the English perfect tense collides with the progressive aspect. You cannot express both at the same time and expect it to make much sense. So in practice we have only 4.

It has been cut.
It was cut.
It had been cut.

Is has been being cut. (rare, if at all)
It was being cut. (common)
It had been being cut. (rare, if at all)

The English six and the German six correspond about as much as I do with the Finanzamt. Next to none.

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