In English we say "I was born in X year", I am trying to figure out what is the best translation into German for this. Many site on the internet say that the correct translation is:

Ich bin im Jahr 1990 geboren

The above is in the present perfect.. but my question is, how does the following translation in past perfect compare to the above:

Ich war im 1990 geboren

No one of the answer here mention this. Could someone confirm if the above is correct, if not, what is wrong with it?


1 Answer 1


This is a misunderstanding.

Ich bin geboren.

is not Perfekt Aktiv (perfect tense, active voice), but Präsens Passiv (present tense, passive voice). The Präsens is used talking about past events, but that is a use case for Präsens in German.

In German, this is the idiomatic way to express this.

Ich war geboren.

is not idiomatic, and German differs from English here.

German has two different passive constructions: the passive voice with sein, called Zustandspassiv ("passive voice of the state") and Vorgangspassiv, the passive with werden ("passive voice of the process"). Zustandspassiv is mostly used to focus on the result of a process, while Vorgangspassiv shifts the focus on the process itself.

geboren is the participle of the verb gebären, "to give birth". You can see that it is used in passive voice here, because gebären in active voice is using the auxiliary haben. So the active perfect tense counterpart of the sentence would be

Ich habe geboren.

and it would mean "I have given birth".

The passive construction in German means as much as "I was given birth to", but that is not proper English of course.

I think the English I was born is also a passive construction, but I am not so sure about this.

The correct past tense of the passive voice would be

Ich wurde geboren.

In my feeling, this constructoin is idiomatic in German if you are talking about other persons, especially about historical persons.

  • O_o this is my first time ever hearing such a tense even existed. Ok, so suppose the naming is fixed, how would the two sentence I said compare then?
    – Babu
    Apr 6, 2022 at 21:58
  • I quickly went and search this vide on the praesens passiv. The person in the video mentions only constructions of praesens passiv with werden, so, could you explain how you figured out that sentence is passive even when there is no werden
    – Babu
    Apr 6, 2022 at 22:01
  • So how many type of passive is there actually O_O?
    – Babu
    Apr 6, 2022 at 22:04
  • 1
    @Buraian idiomatic is the way native / competent speakers talk "naturally". Some constructions are possible from a grammar point of view (i.e. competent speakers would understand them, because they follow the regular grammar rules, including semantics) but not common. They are unidiomatic. The line between unidiomatic and grammatically wrong is notoriously blurry. I prefer to use idiomatic/unidiomatic, because I consider it a more descriptive term than right/wrong which is heavily prescriptive.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Apr 6, 2022 at 22:15
  • 1
    Yes. You would be understood. But nobody speaks like this.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Apr 6, 2022 at 22:17

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