I was struck by a sentence in Episode 231 of Slow German:

Jeden Sommer lockten neue Bands zum Festival.

I translate as, "New bands were attracted to the festival every summer." But that is passive and I would have written it in German as,

Jeden Sommer wurde neue Bands vom Festival gelockt.

The literal translation would seem to be, "Every summer attracted new bands to the festival," which does not really make sense. What is going on here?

  • 2
    If you construct the passive, the verb must be in plural because the subject is still Bands (as with lockten): Jeden Sommer wurden (!) neue Bands vom Festival gelockt. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


The correct translation of the original sentence is:

Every summer, new bands attracted [visitors] to the festival.

So it's actually active mode: the bands (subject) attracted others (object), not the other way round.

Unlike to attract, locken can be an intransitive verb, that means it doesn't need to have an object. In English, you need to add an object like visitors or spectators as given above. I'm not sure whether another verb, e.g. to entice, can be used without object, but this is how it works in German:

?Every summer, new bands enticed to the festival.

@RDBury suggested to beckon:

Every summer, new bands beckoned to the festival.

  • 4
    English has a verb "to beckon", which has a similar meaning but is often intransitive, perhaps that would work. I checked en.wiktionary and DWDS for intransitive meanings. Wiktionary lists every meaning as transitive and DWDS rarely labels verbs so you have to glean that from the examples. I think part of the confusion is that Jeden Sommer is an adverb here, but it's position in the sentence marks it, at least to an English speaker, as the subject, and in isolation it could go either way.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 20:30
  • No, the confusion here is that something has to be a subject and there are only 2 possibilities without making the sentence passive. As an active sentence either Jeder Sommer or neue Bands must be the subject, neither of which makes sense if the verb is strictly transitive. So either the verb can be intransitive or the sentence must be passive with an implied subject. I am still not convinced the sentence is correctly written, and the surrounding context in the podcast does not help to resolve that.
    – user44591
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 15:42
  • Correction: the next sentence in the podcast does support the contention that the verb is being used intransitively.
    – user44591
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 15:59
  • 3
    @user44591 Jeden Sommer is accusative and can't be the subject, so you can be sure that neue Bands is quite obviously the only possible subject. As you already wrote, the verb isn't passive, so the sentence must be active (there's no hidden passive). Since there is one subject and one active verb, grammatically it's quite unambiguous. I guess it was unexpected to see locken without object, but that use is not uncommon. As people who had Latin in school will know, it's always better to base the translation on grammatical facts than on one's expectations what a sentence could mean. Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 9:24
  • Very good points, amadeusamadeus. But I would also point out that, while the German sentence is not passive, it is not uncommon that an indicative German sentence is best translated in English as passive, so this situation remains problematic.
    – user44591
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 16:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.