I came across the adjective / past participle "zugewandert", which means "immigrant", like in:

zugewanderte Minderheiten: immigrant minorities

As far as I know, we use the past participle when one is receiving the action, whereas we use the present participle (in this case "zuwandernd") when one is performing the action....

But then I found out that "zuwandernd" means "immigrating", as in:

In der Folgezeit wurden die Einwohner vertrieben und durch zuwandernde Polen ersetzt.

Does this mean that, with some verbs, we can use both the present and past participle to express that one is performing the action?

3 Answers 3


The present participle in German denominates current activity, similar to English. That is, a person that is zuwandernd is currently in the process of immigrating. They might currently be in their home country packing their stuff to prepare for emigration, on their way to the airport, somewhere en route or already nearly there. Once they have arrived, they are no longer in the process of immigrating (Zuwandernde), but still immigrants (Zugewanderte) - note the nominalisation of the two participles, even in English.

The past participle In German is used to build the perfect, which is in turn used to denote finished actions - they are no longer en route, but instead have arrived. Obviously, an immigration country doesn't care for people halfway there - They only need to be handled once they have arrived, thus we use the past participle zugewandert (like in English).

Your second example:

In der Folgezeit wurden die Einwohner vertrieben und durch zuwandernde Polen ersetzt.

shows another aspect of the present participle: concurrent activity: Using the present participle makes it clear that expelling the inhabitants and immigration of Poles happened at the same time. The past participle would denote that the Poles where already there before the expulsion happened.


The first one is Partizip II (aka Partizip Perfekt) and another one is Partizip I (aka Partizip Präsens). It is more the question about the difference between two forms.

Generally it is a long discussion (wiki). The direction of the action (passive, active) is not the only difference. Partizip II is used if the action is finished, while Partizip I is used if the action is performing or was performing.

gebackenes Brot - baked bread
backende Frau - a woman who is baking

Back to you question. Indeed, in case of "zuwandern" there is only the second difference remaned. Both groups of people - "zugewanderte Menschen" and "zuwandernde Menschen" - did or do it actively. But the first group is already there and the second one is on the way.

I am not a linguist, but I would suggest, that all the Partizip II forms built from non-transitive verbs remain it's active meaning. They simply cannot be passive.

UPDATE: Here is a very long wiki article about this special case:


One more interesting case is "kündigen". It has two possible objects - Akkusativ and Dativ. The correct usage would be:

Der Vermieter kündigt dem Mieter den Vertrag. (The landlord terminates the contract for the tenant)

The terminated contract is "gekündigter Vertrag" (passive). The terminated person is "gekündigter Mieter". In case of "gekündigter Mieter" both situations are grammatically possible. The tenant is not an Akkusativ object and the passive voice is not automatically applied. The tenant could quit by himself, or being quit by landlord. To make it clear (and short) the grammatically wrong construction mentioned by @RHa in the first comment is often used in the spoken language:

Ich wurde gekündigt. / Er hat mich gekündigt. (Grammatically correct would be "Der Vertrag wurde mir gekündigt").

This variant is even mentioned by Duden:

(österreichisch, sonst umgangssprachlich) er ist [fristlos] gekündigt

  • 2
    The fact that the Partizip II can have active or passive meaning, dependent on the verb, is sometimes used for a humorous effect, e.g. "Er ist gegangen worden" - a grammatically invalid sentence which expresses that someone quit his job involuntarily, so effectively he was fired.
    – RHa
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 10:17
  • @Hubert Schölnast: you might want to change "backed bread" (unterstütztes Brot) change to "baked bread" (gebackenes Brot) and the mentioned woman accordingly: "to back"="unterstützen" (im Sinne von "hinter einer Sache stehen"), "to bake"="backen"
    – bakunin
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 6:36
  • @bakunin: Why did you target this comment to me? Neither did I write this answer nor did I edit it. My name is mentioned nowhere on this page except in your comment. Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 8:50
  • @Hubert Schölnast: Sorry! That was an error on my part. I was confused.
    – bakunin
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 12:20

To @tofro i would like to add that the Partizip Präsens in German is used quite similarly as the present progressive form in English. A possible translation for your second example would be:

Subsequently the inhabitants were ousted and replaced by immigrating poles.

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