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Like many native English speakers, I have a problem deciding when to use the Vorgangspassive in German. For instance I tend to use sentences like

Das Haus war im Jahr 1960 gebaut.

When what I mean to say is

Das Haus wurde im Jahr 1960 gebaut.

I know that the difference is that the house was already built in 1960 in the first example but actually built in (during) 1960 in the second. But I still make the mistake often when not concentrating.

I have suddenly hit on the idea of translating wird/wurde to gets/got in my mind. So

Das Haus wurde im Jahr 1960 gebaut.

Becomes

The house got built in the year 1960.

And the difference becomes very clear to me.

I have never seen this method or translation before and so I thought I would ask if it is valid, or if it could lead to comprehension problems for me as my German improves, before I start to use it.

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  • Thanks, I've edited the title to reflect your correction.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 13:31
  • I cannot make grammatical sense of the title.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 21:17
  • @CarstenS: I fixed the title.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 22:30

3 Answers 3

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I like your translation, "The house got built in 1960," because it is a "point in time" construction, which uses the Vorgangspasiv. That is, the house "was built" during 1960 (and not before).

"Das Haus war im Jahr 1960 gebaut" is a "condition" passive, known in German as a Zustandpasiv. It is a "conditional" statement that means "the house "was" built (that is, standing) in 1960" (and, by implication, in 1959 and even earlier).

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I assume, that the best English counter-part to Vorgangspassiv is a continuous form, since it describes the current process (Vorgang):

Das Haus wird gebaut. (The house is being built)

Similar:

Die Radarkontrolle wird durchgeführt. (The speed control is being performed).

Opposed to this Das Haus wurde 1960 gebaut. describes the past, no process is taking place, you simply state the result (Zustand).

In both cases the house takes/took no active part.

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    I'm sorry but this answer is simply wrong! "Das Haus wurde 1960 gebaut" is most definitely Vorgangspassiv.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 14:45
  • No, he's right. There aren't any continous forms in German, but Vorgangspassiv fills that gap for some often-used cases. For native speakers of English, with its structured tenses, this may be hard to understand but in German, tense, aspect and mood are intermingled heavily.
    – Janka
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 18:15
  • Das Haus wurde 1960 gebaut. is Vorgangspassiv indeed, because it uses werden. No further indicator required.
    – Janka
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 18:19
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Das Haus war im Jahr 1960 gebaut.

This means: The house was a built house (it was not a grow house nor did it fall from the sky or materialize from thin air) in the year 1960. Maybe it was another kind of house (a grown house or a fallen house) in other years. - This meaning makes no sense.


Das Haus wurde im Jahr 1960 gebaut.

This means: The act of building this house (turning it from the state of not being built into the state of being a built house) happened in the year 1960. Maybe other acts (planning, settlement, demolition) happened in other years. - This is what you want to say.

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