A SlowGerman.com episode contains the following:

Und die berühmte Toblerone-Schokolade wird nur in Bern hergestellt und von dort aus in 120 Länder verkauft. Denk daran, wenn Du sie das nächste Mal am Flughafen siehst. Bezahlt wird übrigens mit Schweizer Franken.

In the last sentence where is the subject? Is this correct German with no subject?

Bezahlt wird übrigens mit Schweizer Franken.

I realize that German permits the subject to be implied, so that it might be taken to be es or man in this case, but it still should point clearly to an actor, shouldn't it? The passage says that the chocolate is sold in 120 countries and paid for in Swiss Francs. But I know I do not pay for it in Swiss Francs when I buy it in my country. So who are we talking about here? Although the grammar may permit the particular construction it seems like the language should expect clarity anyway.

The sentence is talking about payment but leaves the subject indefinite. Does this mean that all payments are in Swiss Francs? Is it saying that whenever you buy it at the airport it must be paid for in Swiss Francs? Are all countries paying for it in Swiss Francs? The German language ability to leave out the subject appears to have enticed the author, in this case, to be lazy and the result is confusing.

  • Same topic: german.stackexchange.com/questions/34304/…
    – RHa
    Oct 18, 2020 at 12:55
  • The "missing" subject is unrelated to the problem of who is paying in Swiss francs, as the subject would say what is being paid for and not who is doing the paying.
    – David Vogt
    Oct 18, 2020 at 17:02
  • Somebody has to be doing the paying, however they pay and whatever way they are paying. It seems to me that had an explicit, definite subject been present in this sentence it would have had to at least imply who was doing the paying in some sense, otherwise I do not know what this passage is actually telling me.
    – user44591
    Oct 18, 2020 at 18:19
  • Thanks for the link. It was to an interesting discussion of the grammar. But in this case the grammar is less an issue than the meaning.
    – user44591
    Oct 19, 2020 at 11:15
  • I don't understand the meaning in the given context either. My understanding would be that this sentence has nothing to do with Toblerone any more, but is the continuation of a more general text about Switzerland.
    – HalvarF
    Oct 19, 2020 at 14:36

1 Answer 1


Martin Durrell explains the subjectless werden-passive in "Hammer's German Grammar and Usage".

The werden-passive can be used without a subject to denote an activity in general. The construction is widely used in spoken and written German. The agent is unspecified, so that there is no indication of who is performing the action. The verb has 3rd-person singular endings. No comparable construction exists in English. Examples:

Sie hörten, wie im Nebenzimmer geredet wurde. / They heard someone talking in the next room

Hier darf nicht geraucht werden. / Smoking is not allowed here.

Vor Hunden wird gewarnt. / Beware of dogs.

Heute ist mit den Bauarbeiten begonnen worden. / They started building today.

In "German in Review: Lehrbuch der deutschen Grammatik", Sparks and Van Horn Vail add an additional useful piece of information about the subjectless werden-passive as follows.

When no agent is expressed in a passive sentence, its active counterpart is often formed by using ... man as its subject:

Passive: Auf internationalen Flügen wird nicht mehr geraucht.

Active: Auf internationalen Flügen raucht man nicht mehr.

  • The Vorfeld slot can also be occupied by es: Es wird vor Hunden gewarnt, es darf hier nicht geraucht werden. Then you have a "pseudo-subject". Oct 18, 2020 at 14:19
  • @phipsgabler Objection. The es is not a pseudo-subject, it is a syntactic expletive which is only there to fill a void in the sentence. That’s why it can disappear upon reordering.
    – Jan
    Oct 19, 2020 at 8:23
  • That's why I called it pseudo. It may seem to behave like a proper subject on first sight, but fails to do so after some more thinking. Oct 19, 2020 at 8:32

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