Actively passive (Or: B2 Dutch course #19)

Last night’s grammatical topic was the passive form of sentences. These are sentences where the thing or person doing the action is not stated or is stated indirectly by using a preposition (by, through) so that the subject’s responsibility for the action is minimized. Here are some examples in Dutch. The tenses are present, simple past, present perfect and past perfect, in that order.

Active, het/een (or the/a) does not matter as much.

Hij bouwt het huis. He builds the house.
Hij bouwde het huis. He built the house.
Hij heeft het huis gebouwd. He has built the house.
Hij had het huis gebouwd. He had built the house.

Passive, where the object is known – i.e. het/the instead of een/a.

Het huis wordt gebouwd. The house is built.
Het huis werd gebouwd. The house was built.
Het huis is gebouwd. The house has been built.
Het huis was gebouwd. The house had been built.

(Anything else noticing the ‘fun’ problem where English using is/was for present and simple past, but Dutch uses that convention for present and past perfect? Yeah, it’s fun. Try not to think about it and you’ll actually have less issues!)

Passive, where the object is not known – i.e. een/a.

Things change a bit when you have an object which is not known, like “a house” versus “the house”. In that case it is much more common to use Er when using the passive form. 

Er wordt een huis gebouwd. There is a house built. (English=clunky)
Er werd een huis gebouwd. There was a house built.
Er is een huis gebouwd. There has been a house built.
Er was een huis gebouwd. There had been a house built.

You can hint at who did the action as well. In Dutch this is usually done by the preposition door. It is still passive because the emphasis on who or what did the action is downplayed (great for politicians!).

Het huis was gebouwd door Habitat for Humanity. The house had been built by Habitat for Humanity.

Er wordt een huis gebouwd door Habitat for Humanity. A house had been built by Habitat for Humanity.

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