If I want to say in German,

This is a question that will be asked often

I think the correct German translation will be:

Das ist eine Frage, die oft gestellt werden wird.

But if I want to say:

This is a question that will have been asked

do I translate it like this:

Das ist eine Frage, die gestellt worden sein wird?


3 Answers 3


It depends a little, on how exactly you interpret the "will have" in the English sentence. In numerous languages, future tense is often used to express modality/possibility. Here is an example in English and German:

  • "Wo ist meine Brille?"
  • "Die wird auf dem Schreibtisch sein."

  • Where are my glasses?

  • They will (probably) be on the desk.

Since there is absolutely no indication neither for time or mode, either reading is possible (at least to me). Technically your translation is fine and can work as a translation for either version. However, it is rather long and complex so people would avoid it if possible. If future perfect is the time you need then there is no way around what you've suggested. But if the modal reading is the one you need then I think this is preferable:

Diese Frage ist wahrscheinlich schon oft gestellt worden.

  • In Die wird auf dem Schreibtisch sein, the die at the beginning of the sentence actually means "these" and is, I think, a demonstrative pronoun. Am I right?
    – indoxica
    Commented Jul 21, 2013 at 14:02
  • 1
    @indoxica: In principle, yes. In colloquial speech, the demonstrative nature has bleakened, and die is here used instead of sie (personal pronoun). Note that Brille, unlike glasses in English, is not a plurale tantum; accordingly, die and sie are singular here.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jul 21, 2013 at 20:29
  • @chirlu So I am right both in principle and also when it comes to literary German. I presume written German still uses the demonstrative pronoun, doesn't it? Of course, I had no idea how things are in colloquial speech, so thanks for the info.
    – indoxica
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 8:09
  • @indoxica: The example is colloquial speech.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 8:17

When translating from English to German, it is important not only to keep the meaning expressed in English, but also to make small adjustments to the German language community. Using a reverse example, it would be quite impolite for a waiter in the US to ask a client "does it taste good?" (schmeckt es?), expect an answer "yes" (ja), and then say "good" (gut) two minutes after the dinner is served. A question such as "is everything fine?" would be less marked. It is not the case that it is wrong to ask "does it taste good?", it just sounds terribly odd.

This being said about translations in general, there are three points to your question: primary tense, secondary tense, and voice, and I shall tackle each one at a time.

If we take the primary tense to be the time of an event in relation to "now", one can say that German has two top primary tenses, past primary tense as in "die Frage ist oft gestellt worden" and "die Frage wurde oft gestellt" (this question was often made) and non-past primary tense as in "die Frage wird oft gestellt" (the question is/will be often made). The future primary tense as in "die Frage wird oft gestellt werden" (the question will be often made) is a refinement of the non-past primary tense and is marked, that is, people will notice that you are emphasizing that this will happen often in the future as opposed to happening often in both the present and the future.

Following this, if we take the secondary tense to be the time of an event in relation to a primary tense, one can say that German has a past secondary tense that combines with the primary past tense as in "die Frage war gestellt worden" (this question had already been made), with the non-past primary tense as in "die Frage ist gestellt worden" (this question has/will have already been made), and with the future primary tense as in "die Frage wird gestellt worden sein". Notice that secondary tense is already a marked structure in German. A combination of it with a future primary tense is yet more marked. Also notice that "die Frage ist gestellt worden" can both be past or in a time before a non-past. With these notions, I interpret clauses such as "wenn er rein kommt, ist die Frage schon gestellt worden" (when he comes in, the question will have already been made) as an instance of a past secondary tense and a non-past primary tense.

Finally, we come to voice. Passive voice is a marked structure. The combination of it with a very marked complex tense makes it even more marked. The embedding of such a structure in a relative clause such as "die gestellt worden sein wird" makes it immensely more marked. In addition, because most people do not expect such an exceptionally marked structure to happen, when you will have said such an utterance, people may be about to start asking themselves whether you will have meant the last "wird" really as a marked future primary tense or as something else such as the uncertainty auxiliary "wird", which is more common. This is reflected in the comment of @Emanuel, who actually took it for granted that everyone will read it not as a future primary tense as you intended but as an uncertainty, and in the comment of @mvw, who proposed simpler forms, none of which corresponds to what you wanted to translate.

My tip: keep the target text simple and adequate to the German language community. It is not so common to use past secondary tense and yet less common to use future primary tense in German. So I would advise you to be less precise, but clearer so that the message can get across with ease.


Das ist eine Frage, die oft gestellt wird.

Das ist eine Frage, die gestellt (werden) wird.


Das ist eine Frage, die kommen wird.

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