I have stumbled upon this sentence:

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wird der Fallschirm abgeworfen und Landetriebwerke zünden.

I am not learning German for that long and so I got a little confused here. The paragraph is talking about something in the future, but I know that when it is clear we are talking about the future, we can use the present tense. So I thought the verb is in the passive voice. But then there is the "zünden", which is infinitive, not Partizip II.

Could someone please explain to me, why is it the way it is? The paragraph is then filled with "werden + Partizip II" (or is it maybe adjective?), so this really threw me off and I cannot stop thinking about it. Here is how the text continues:

In 20 Metern Höhe wird der „Sky Crane“ aktiviert: Der Rover klappt seine sechs Räder aus und wird an Nylonseilen vom schwebenden „Himmelskran“ herabgelassen. (no more infinitive)

The same thing happens in the text one more time:

21:42 Uhr wird sich der Überschall-Fallschirm entfalten und der Hitzeschutzschild abgeworfen. ("wird ... entfalten").

  • 1
    It is not grammatically wrong per se, but I too raised eyebrow when reading it. Would have expected a participle as well.
    – user41853
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 10:47
  • Is this a verbatim transcription of someone telling a story? Add an old man doing hand gestures, explaining what happens - changing from passive to active... this sounds like a story to me.
    – Stian
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 9:17
  • "zünden" is not an infinitive here, it's present tense (third-person plural).
    – xehpuk
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 8:08

4 Answers 4


These are actually two main sentences connected by "und", with different subjects and predicates. A comma before und would probably have clarified it for you. It should be:

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wird der Fallschirm abgeworfen, und Landetriebwerke zünden.

The first sentence:

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wird der Fallschirm abgeworfen.

is just your standard passive voice in present tense. The second part:

Landetriebwerke zünden.

is a very short but full sentence in active voice. The article for "Landetriebwerke" is missing because it's an indefinite plural, i.e. the same sentence in singular would be:

Ein Landetriebwerk zündet.

The following sentences you cite are partly in active, partly in passive voice, and at the end you even have a sentence in future tense. Some silent reuse of words makes these sentences a bit harder to understand. I'm splitting them up into sentences here, one sentence per line:

In 20 Metern Höhe wird der „Sky Crane“ aktiviert. (passive voice)
Der Rover klappt seine sechs Räder aus ... (active voice)
... und [der Rover] wird an Nylonseilen vom schwebenden „Himmelskran“ herabgelassen. (passive voice)
Um 21:42 Uhr wird sich der Überschall-Fallschirm entfalten ... (active voice, future tense)
... und der Hitzeschutzschild [wird] abgeworfen. (passive voice).

Note how the second part of the last sentence reuses the verb "wird". It is originally used for future tense in the first part, and then it is reused as the implied modal verb for passive voice in the second part.

  • 1
    Correct answer, +1 from me, but please add the second question about "wird ... entfalten" and "[wird] ... abgeworfen" as well, as this one is even a little more complicated as the (once ommited) wird stands as passive in the first clause and future identifier in the second one...
    – Tode
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 9:12
  • 1
    @TorstenLink: thank you, I edited.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 9:37
  • 2
    The last is really bad style or even wrong, no? It's especially strange that they would diverge from the present-as-future use of the previous sentences. Why not go for "Um 21:42 Uhr entfaltet sich der Überschall-Fallschirm und der Hitzeschild wird abgeworfen."? Looks to me like the author themself confused wird-for-passive and wird-for-future. Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 7:09
  • hmmm interesting. I didn't know you can reuse "werden" in such a way Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 15:23

While the sentence describes a future event, it is grammatically written in Präsens (present tense). This is called futurisches Präsens, see e. g. grammis. To quote the essence:

[...] verdient besondere Beachtung, denn, anders als die traditionelle Bezeichnung suggeriert, wird im Deutschen meist Präsens und nicht etwa das Futur verwendet, wenn von Zukünftigem die Rede ist.

(Contrary to the traditional name, German mostly uses present tense when describing future events.)

The passive form is built using Partizip II which adds an irritating appearance of past. You may want to read more about Vorgangspassiv.


One potentially helpful strategy for identifying passive constructions does not rely on verb forms. While it is the case the prototypical passive consists of a form of werden combined with a past participle and can therefore be recognised as such just by examining the forms, there are some verbs where the past participle is identical to the infinitive:

  1. werden + infinitive, active:

    Manx wird diese Heldeny schnell wieder vergessen.
    Eine Antennex wird die Signaley empfangen.

  2. werden + past participle, passive:

    Diese Heldeny werden schnell wieder vergessen.
    Die Signaley werden von einer Antennex empfangen.

What allows these sentences to be interpreted unambiguously is knowledge about what complements a verb takes and what semantic roles x, y, … these complements fill. For instance, vergessen and empfangen are transitive verbs: They take a subject and an accusative object, with the object expressing what is being forgotten or received (the role indicated by y) and the subject expressing who is doing the forgetting or receiving (the role indicated by x).

The sentences under 1. are congruent with these expectations. However, those under 2. show a divergence: There is no object, and the subject expresses what is being forgotten or received (the role indicated by y, expressed by an object in the sentences under 1.). The role x is unspecified in one case and specified by an adverbial governed by von in the other.

It is therefore possible to identify a passive without looking at verb forms at all, just going by what complements there are and semantic role they are linked with. This strategy comes in handy for interpreting the many constructions that behave similarly to a passive:

  • Ein solches Unglücky lässt sich nicht leicht vergessen.

  • Die Signaley waren kaum zu empfangen.

  • Die Signaley waren kaum empfangbar.

  • die von der Antennex empfangenen Signaley

  • Wir haben das Gebäudey von Expertenx vermessen lassen.

In all these constructions, the subject fills the same semantic role y as the object of a corresponding active clause. (The last example is slightly more difficult, as the subject of vermessen is realised as the accusative object of lassen.)

This strategy can be applied to your examples. For instance:

(1) 21:42 Uhr wird sichy der Überschall-Fallschirmx entfalten und (2) der Hitzeschutzschildy [wird] abgeworfen.

The first sentence must be active since the subject is doing the unfurling and the object is being unfurled (even if subject and object, the verb being used reflexively, in this instance denote the same thing; if this problematic, think die Sonde wird den Schirm entfalten instead). The second sentence must be passive since there is no object and Hitzeschutzschild has the role y, i.e. is what is being discarded, not x, i.e. what is doing the discarding.

  • vergessen is an unfortunate example for a defective verb. The first phrase could once have read passive, too: Man wird dieser Helden schnell wieder vergessen.
    – vectory
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 16:11
  • 1
    @vectory 1) Vergessen is not defective, nor did I claim that it was. It does not lack a participle, the participle is merely homonymous with the infinitive. Otherwise das habe ich vergessen would be ungrammatical, as the participle is required in this context. 2) The example you give is active for the same reason my example is active: The subject denotes who is doing the forgetting, and the object denotes who is being forgotten.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 16:27
  • Weren't you just a second ago advocating for semantic roles? Nobody is actively not doing something, like not remembering. Our grammar simply doesn't describe these cases adequately. It doesn't need to, because it is usually sufficient to subscribe to responsibility and subjective inactivity, but it is impossible to decide based on grammar if this is active: "der Fallschirm wird abgeworfen". This is occasionally lamp-shaded with the irregular construction gegangen werden (to be let go). I am all of a sudden sure whether gessen ever wws a proper infinitive, but it certainly isn't now.
    – vectory
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 16:44
  • @vectory You claim: Our grammar simply doesn't describe these cases adequately. But it does describe them quite easily: Man vergisst die Helden and die Helden werden vergessen have different subjects, with the object of the first sentence appearing as the subject of the second, while the interpretation of die Helden remains constant, denoting that which is being forgotten.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 17:17
  • * Die Helden wurden von man vergessen? It is not that easy.
    – vectory
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 17:22

Good explanations already for the grammatical structure, but no explanations for why the writer might have chosen this combination.

I'd remark that the example can actually be translated quite directly to English:

About two kilometres above ground, the parachute is jettisoned and landing engines ignite.

Like in the German version, you have “the parachute is jettisoned” in passive voice, and then “the landing engines ignite” in active voice.

It could be changed to have both in active form:

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wirft der Lander den Fallschirm ab und Landetriebwerke zünden.

About two kilometres above ground, the lander jettisons its parachute and landing engines ignite.

...which is a bit more awkward, because you need an extra subject.

It could also be changed with both passive

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wird der Fallschirm abgeworfen und Landetriebwerke werden gezündet.

About two kilometres above ground, the parachute is jettisoned and landing engines are ignited.

The problem here is that the parachute is singular but the engines plural. That's why two different forms of “werden” are needed.

If both were singular or both plural, you could group them together:

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden wird der Fallschirm abgeworfen und das Landetriebwerk gezündet.

Etwa zwei Kilometer überm Boden werden die Fallschirme abgeworfen und die Landetriebwerke gezündet.

Only, in this case it's actually just one parachute but multiple engines. That is probably the reason why the ignition-part is phrased in active voice, to avoid the second “werden” this way.

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