Passive sentences

How do you make passive sentences in Dutch? And when do you use WORDEN and when ZIJN? Dutch grammar explanations in both Dutch and English.


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Passive sentences in Dutch

To explain passive sentences in Dutch, we take a look at active sentences first.
  1. Ik bak een appeltaart.
  2. We hebben de fiets gerepareerd.
  3. De mensen zingen kerstliedjes.
Let's ask ourselves the question: who is doing the actual action of the sentence? There is something happening in every sentence. Who does it? Of course! The subject. It's the actor of the sentence and the grammatical subject: 1) Ik 2) We 3) De mensen.
Let's change the sentences a bit:
  1. Er wordt een appeltaart gebakken.
  2. De fiets is gerepareerd.
  3. Er worden kerstliedjes gezongen.
These sentences are passive. The actor of the sentence is left out! The grammatical subject (een appeltaart, de fiets, kerstliedjes) is not the real actor. The subject is undergoing the action caused by a not mentioned actor. We could put the actors behind the sentences if we like:
  1. Er wordt een appeltaart gebakken door mij.
  2. De fiets is gerepareerd door ons.
  3. Er worden kerstliedjes gezongen door de mensen.
"Door" means "by" here. So the apple pie is baked "by me". This still keeps the sentence passive, because the conjugated verb "is", is still connected to the grammatical subject (een appeltaart) which is NOT the actor.
A few things you need to know about passive sentences in Dutch:
  • Passive sentences in Dutch are usually formed with "zijn + past participle" or "worden + past participle". The difference between "zijn" and "worden"? "Zijn" shows a result, "worden" a process.
  • If the grammatical subject is indefinite/unspecific (sentence 1 and 3) or absent, ER appears. Check our section about ER to read more about it.
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