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Could there be a chance to confuse werden for being used for building the werden-passive when in fact used as a Vollverb with a past participle, especially when/if i may not understand the text/context? say for example this sentence

Gestern wurde bekannt, dass Frau XY Herrn ABC geheiratet hat.

If somehow i didn't understand the words (now this is a simple example) and i may look just at the verb forms i could think it is a passive sentence, but it isnt. Is this something that could just happen reading and the only way I could tell what's going on is if i understood the sentence/translated?

This example was given to me by a native so I can better explain what i'm talking about but it may not be the best example (maybe it is) for my question and i am not good enough to come with one on my own. so please rather try to give me a general answer on this matter, not per this specific example.

I've seen there are a group of verbs/uses that you cannot build the passive with; would it be enough knowing these to always be able to tell if im looking at a passive sentence or active sentence with werden + past participle, or it is not necessarily so?

3 Answers 3

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The difference?

The first thing I thought reading the question was: Is there really a difference? Well, translating to English shows this:

Er wurde erregt: He became aroused / He was being aroused.

And both are possible interpretations. One is a change of state, one is a state. But for most verbs, there is no difference at all: In

Er wurde gesehen.

there is not really a semantic difference between "He was seen" and "He became seen". If it becomes "gesehen" then it obviously has been "gesehen" and vice versa.

How to tell the difference?

Basically, everything that could be passive is usually passive. So

Das Haus wurde beobachtet.

is usually talking about a state (the house is being monitored) instead of a change (the house became monitored). But there are some cases where it can't be passive, and that is if it's an adjective, not a participle. This is case for "bekannt", "bewusst", "beliebt", which might look like participles, but in fact have no verb (at least not with the same meaning).

Es wurde bekannt, dass...; Ihm wurde bewusst, dass...; Er wurde beliebt.

all describe changes of state. While I would interpret

Er wurde begeistert.

as passive because the verb "begeistern" exists.

It boils down to aspect

But whether it is a "state" or a "change" is essentially a question of aspect, and aspect in German is something that you can't see from the verb alone. You will need context, the objects and the adverbs to definitely say whether it is "state" or "change". Compare

Er wurde von Martin für das Projekt begeistert.
Er wurde auf einmal sehr begeistert vom Projekt.

Note: Non-passive verbs

Verbs that allow no passive are verbs where Germans can't make a sense out of the participle. That means constructions with "werden" as Vollverb make no sense either.

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  • But i wouldn't be able to tell if a past participle is used as a past participle or an adjective together with werden (thus forming either the Vorgangspassiv or a werden+adjectiv combination) unless i understood the context? i imagine not only adjectives which look like past participles of verbs that have a different meaning from them can be used as adjectives together with werden that one could confuse for a real past participle but also actual past participles used as adjectives (with the same meaning as the verb).
    – Srmuiel
    Sep 21, 2023 at 13:18
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The phrase "Es wurde bekannt, dass..." is indeed ambiguous. I can mean "It became known that..." (werden as full verb) or "Someone confessed that..." (passive with werden as auxiliary verb, bekannt is the Partizip II of bekennen).

But as it appears in the question, from the context it is quite clear that the first meaning is the correct one.

The sentence becomes unambiguous when Präteritum changes to Perfekt. Then the first meaning becomes:

Es ist bekannt geworden, dass ...

But the second meaning becomes:

Es ist bekannt worden, dass ...

The reason is that the Partizip II of werden is worden if it is an auxiliary verb, but geworden if it is a main verb.

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But your example is a passive voice clause.

Gestern bekannte man, dass Frau XY Herrn ABC geheiratet hat.

Gestern wurde bekannt, dass Frau XY Herrn ABC geheiratet hat.

  • etwas bekennen — to admit something

The active voice sentence is just unusual, and the passive voice wurde bekannt is used as a fixed phrase. But yeah, if you don't know the fixed phrase you are probably lost.


Those examples from LEO are somewhat okay. Somewhat. I don't dispute kosten, freuen or wundern for example, but I do dispute umfassen, schütteln, können. For example.

So this is really about semantics. Does the Vorgangspassiv make sense in that particular expression?

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  • Oh, i didn't know that, to me at least it didn't seem and thought was a fitting example for my question. i needed a sentence with a combination of werden+a past participle in a simple tense that would look undistinguishable from a werden passiv to illustrate the point im trying to make with my question. Now whether i have the wrong example 🤷‍♂️ it is what it is, im not good enough to come up with one myself, but the question of whether a learner could confuse werden as a Vollverb + a past participle and Vorgangspassiv is still what is of interest to me at the end of the day.
    – Srmuiel
    Sep 20, 2023 at 22:59

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