This might be a duplicate question (Is "heißen" passive or active in this usage?), but I am still unclear on the answer. After hosting a German exchange student for 10 months, I decided to learn German and embrace my heritage. As I told him,

Ich spreche Deutsch wie ein Kind, aber ich lerne.

That can translate as either

I speak German like a child, but I am learning.


I am speaking German like a child, but I am learning.

I understand why the "aber ich lerne" has a passive voice. I want the emphasis on my action. Since both clauses in the sentence are of the formula A is B, I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around which voice, in English, to use. Is this only something I can determine from context, or are there some sort of rule?


As an English speaker, I was taught that using terms like "I am learning" was a passive voice sentence in English while "I learn" is an active voice. The distinction is the emphasis. in "I am learning" the actor (I in this case) is passive and the emphasis is on the action while in "I learn" the actor is active and the emphasis is on the actor.

  • 5
    I am not sure I understand correctly: in what way has "aber ich lerne" a passive voice? Could you please explain this in a little more detail?
    – Arsak
    Jun 19, 2019 at 13:32
  • 3
    I don't get the question, for there is no passive construction (werden + Partizip II) in any of your example sentences. The construction Ich spreche Deutsch is active. A related passive construction would be Deutsch wird gesprochen. Similar the active construction Ich lerne. In passive it would become Es wird gelernt. Jun 19, 2019 at 13:40
  • There is also Zustandpassiv, "Das Haus ist aufgebaut" oder so. I try to not say some very false thing, so better if I stop now :-)
    – peterh
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:53
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    Is there perhaps a basic misunderstanding about what passive or passive voice actually means? Jun 19, 2019 at 14:57
  • @ChristianGeiselmann, that is quite possible. I may be mis-using the term "voice" here. See my clarification.
    – Madere
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


(It seems you confuse passive with present continuous here.)

The difference of English I do something vs. I am doing something is not that clearly (i.e. morphologically) expressed in German. Both translate, usually, to

Ich tue etwas.

There are other means to emphasize that an action is currently being done, for example by adding certain words:

Ich tue gerade etwas.

Ich tue im Moment etwas.

Ich denke derzeit nach.

Ich esse gerade (grade, grad) Spaghetti.

Or you could use this somewhat peculiar form:

Ich bin (gerade) am was Tun.

Ich bin am Aufräumen.

Ich bin (grad) am Eis Essen.

Ich bin am Nachdenken.

This can be good (idiomatic) German in informal oral communication. You would however usually not use it in written communication, especially not in formal contexts.

Note: active vs. passive would be:

Active: Ich jage - I am hunting / I hunt (says the hunter)

Passive: Ich werde gejagt - I am being hunted / I am hunted (says the deer)

  • Thanks for helping this newbie out.
    – Madere
    Jun 19, 2019 at 15:05
  • The (very) formal way to express the progressive would be: Ich bin im Begriff, aufzuräumen.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jun 19, 2019 at 15:11
  • Also, I think this Ich bin gerade am is rooted in the dialect of the Ruhrgebiet. But I am not sure about that.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jun 19, 2019 at 15:11
  • @jonathan.scholbach a) Ruhrgebiet: This is a claim often heard, but I have grown up south of the Danube (i.e. far away from Rhein and Ruhr), and it is well in use there, too. b) Im Begriff zu would rather be equivalent to I am going to.... Jun 19, 2019 at 15:14
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Ah, interesting didn't know that it is common elsewhere too. Good to know. Concerning: "Im Begriff" - I think you are right, somewhat. Ich bin im Begriff loszugehen would be more clear. In other cases, I think it could mean both I am going to do and I am doing.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jun 19, 2019 at 15:22

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