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In Langenscheidt Collins e-Großwörterbuch Englisch on CD,

Unser Gehöft ist abgebrannt.

is translated as:

Our farm was burned down.

If someone said that to me, I would think arson had been committed. Is this translation correct? I would have thought this should translate as:

our farm burned/burnt down.

Also wouldn’t “unser Gehöft ist abgebrannt worden” mean “our farm was burned/burnt down”?

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    I agree with your translation, I think the dictionary is off here. – Robert Sep 27 '16 at 2:19
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Unser Gehöft ist abgebrannt.

Ist abgebrannt can be understood in two different ways that both give the same meaning:

  • as a stative passive construction

  • as an adjective connected by the copula

The stative passive is used for stating the state something is in now — a state whose creation the subject endured passively at some point in the past. Since the farm very likely didn’t burn itself down, it has endured a past passive action which is implied by the stative passive.

If a combination of adjective and copula is assumed, one can say even less except that the farm is now in a burnt down state.

Neither of these two construction state anything about the cause of the burning; whether it was arson or accident or God’s revenge. And I would actually allow the following two translations, the former of which placing more emphasis on the burning down having happened in the past, the latter of which placing more emphasis on its current state of being burnt down:

Our farm burnt down.

Our farm has burnt down.

To imply arson, as the following English sentence does, one would need to use a dynamic passive.

Our farm was burnt down.

The dynamic passive is the standard English passive form, and in German it is rendered with the modal verb werden. To shift tenses, a corresponding form of werden needs to be retained in the sentence. Thus, the following translations are correct:

  • Our farm is being burnt down. — Unser Gehöft wird abgebrannt. (or: niedergebrannt)

  • Our farm will be burnt down. — Unser Gehöft wird abgebrannt werden. (or: niedergebrannt)

  • Our farm was burnt down. — Unser Gehöft wurde abgerannt. Or: Unser Gehöft ist abgebrannt worden.[1]

  • Our farm had been burnt down. — Unser Gehöft war abgebrannt worden.

[1]: There is no difference in meaning between preterite and perfect forms in German. The further North you go, the more likely you are to encounter preterite, which is also often the preferred form in written German.

You can see that all your assumptions are correct.

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I do agree with your translation. "ist abgebrannt" does not imply any voluntary action taken, it implies an accident.

Edit: Your translation of "ist abgebrannt worden" is also correct. In this case, voluntary action is implied. I almost forgot to mention that.

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    Achtually ist abgebrannt neither implies an accident nor arson. It just states the farm burned down. ist abgebrannt worden would imply arson. – Thorsten Dittmar Sep 27 '16 at 9:16
  • Imho ist abgebrannt implicitly implies that the fire was not caused intentionally, but rather by a natural disaster, an accident or some other unintentional cause. If it was caused by arson you'd have to use ist abgebrannt worden – daZza Sep 28 '16 at 17:49

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