In this paper we deal with Old English and Old High German copula constructions combining verbs denoting ‘be’ and ‘become’ with past participles, which are traditionally analysed as periphrastic passive constructions. We propose that these constructions cannot be seen as grammaticalised passives but rather as fully compositional structures. We investigate these constructions from an aspectual perspective and argue that the passive is only one of several possible readings for these constructions, though one that follows logically from certain combinations. In particular, we show that the copula verbs act as aspect operators that select different parts of the event structure of the past participle, and that transitivity is the crucial factor that gives rise to passive readings. As a conclusion, we outline a detailed corpus investigation in order to catalogue all possible readings and then ultimately make a contribution to the different developments of the passive in English and German.