I'm having trouble understanding why the verb "wird" is used in this sentence and not "ist"

EX: (Wie wird "eu" in Feuer ausgesprochen?). As I understand it, it translates as follows: How is "eu" in fire pronounced? And if this is the case, then why can't "ist" be used since "wird" means becoming?

  • It seems to me that German cannot use "sein" the way English uses "be" to form the passive voice because German uses "sein" for so many verbs to form the present-perfect and past-perfect tenses, as in "Er ist gegangen." Sep 21, 2020 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


The sentence is in passive voice. In English, passive voice is constructed with “to be” and a past participle, in German it is constructed with “werden” and a past participle.


The difference between "sein" to be vs. "werden" to become is the ongoing action. The driving of a pronunciation is the ongoing act, not the finished product. So "wie wird X ausgesprochen" not "wie ist X ausgesprochen".

The key is also in the -ge- in aus-ge-sprochen, as it signifies semantically a continuation. "Ich habe ge-kauft" or "es wird heute viel ge-kauft". But "das Produkt ist schon ver-kauft". It's like the difference between present continuous (wird) vs. perfect (ist).

Can we find another case which is almost like this but where "ist" would be more appropriate? "As Haus ist gebaut". See, that's a perfect form. It's done. But "das Haus wird gebaut" -- it's being built. "Wie wird ein Haus gebaut" -- see, it's the progressive act of building again because the object of the question "wie" (how) is asking for the action, not the finished product.

EDIT: From the comments and the other answers, I seem to have omitted the simple possible explanation that it's just a passive, and we use the progressive form of sein to form the passive. Also, while my characterization about the prefix "ge-" is right (it's an interesting subject to figure out the semantic function of the "ge-" "be-" and "ver-" prefixes to verb stems), in the end I was remiss not to identify the part of speech of the word "ausgesprochen" as simply a perfect participle. -- And the notion of "perfect" in perfect participle actually contradicts my sense of "ge" as connoting progression. Something to think about. [I'm here because I love thinking about language syntax and semantics, and as a native German speaker I have the benefit of feeling rich connotations.]

So, we can say it's just a passive and you always construct the passive with the perfect participle and "werden".

Another comment was made that one can indeed say "Wie ist das Haus gebaut?" You would say that if you're asking for what principal structure is used (wood frame, concrete, or steel beams?) or what main method (custom built vs. catalogue "Fertighaus"). But "Wie ist das Haus gebaut?" seems to be an exception, and it sounds defective ""Wie ist das Haus gebaut worden?" resolves the "ist" to now simply become an auxiliary in the passive past perfect construction. The reason it might work without "worden", is that it uses the adjective character of the participle "gebaut" to form a subject - adjective predication statement where "ist" is just the copula.

  • 1
    I think this answer is way too complicated. It's just a simple passive
    – NXP5Z
    Sep 20, 2020 at 9:51
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    Note that “wie ist das Haus gebaut” is also a valid expression, but with a different meaning: “how has the house been built”, i.e. referring to an already finished building. “Wie wird das Haus gebaut” refers to an unfinished building (or one for which construction has not even started).
    – user149408
    Sep 20, 2020 at 13:39
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    @NXP5Z if you think it's just a simple passive, then explain how that squares with "wie wird ein Haus gebaut" vs. "wie ist das Haus gebaut" and the sheer impossibility of "wie ist ein Haus gebaut" to feel right at all. All are passives. Sep 20, 2020 at 15:12
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    You're right, I overlooked the nuances.
    – NXP5Z
    Sep 20, 2020 at 15:17
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    @user149408, one could argue that the "ist" version is always defective without "worden" at the end. "Wie ist das Haus gebaut worden?" or without it it makes use of the adjective character of the perfect participle where "ist" becomes merely the copula of the <subject> ist <adjective> predication statement. Sep 20, 2020 at 15:20

There are two kinds of passive voices in German, one uses a form of "sein" as an auxiliary verb, and the other one uses "werden".

As a rule of thumb, the form with "sein" has a perfect aspect to it, whereas the form with "werden" does not. I think a comparison with English gives you a good idea:

[EN - active voice] I am reading the book/I read the book.

[EN - passive voice] The book is being read/The book is read.

[DE - active voice] Ich lese das Buch.

[DE - passive voice] Das Buch wird gelesen.

Unlike English, there is not distinction between ongoing and habitual actions in German grammar. You need to use auxiliary verbs (or dialect forms).

A bit curiously, there is a passive voice with perfect aspect. You don't really have that with active voices in German, so this is a bit odd. Nevertheless, it is commonly used and understood.

[EN - passive voice] The book has been read.

[DE - passive voice] Das Buch ist gelesen.

My gut feeling is that the German passive voice is used when you talk about results that have already been achieved and which are still in the making, so German has perfect/impefect aspect here.

In your example, the English translation is as follows:

Wie wird "eu" in Feuer ausgesprochen? - How is "eu" in Feuer pronounced?

*Wie ist "eu" in Feuer ausgesprochen? - How has "eu" in Feuer been pronounced?

In fact, the last sentence sounds borderline ungrammatical to me.

  • isn't it a hypothetical? Which can be very similarly presented passively/retorically with a futurum in english. "How would the eu in fire be pronounced?" just as in for example: "Excuse me, can you tell me how one would reach King's Cross from here?"
    – Stian
    Sep 21, 2020 at 7:54
  • I disagree on "Das Buch ist gelesen" being passive voice. The passive perfect tense is "Das Buch ist gelesen worden", passive being indicated by the auxilliary verb "werden", as usual. I read "Das Buch ist gelesen" as a simple statement that the book has a property, expressed by a participle in this case. Semantically, "Das Buch ist gelesen" puts the emphasis on the state of the book, while "Das Buch ist gelesen worden" puts the emphasis that the reading process happened. Both variants imply that the process of reading has already been completed. Sep 21, 2020 at 22:35

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