Danish Language Blog

Lazy phrases Posted by on Dec 22, 2013 in Grammar

Who needs passive phrases?

Who needs passive phrases?

Kan du tale dansk? (”Can you speak Danish?”) Danish and English are related languages. As your study of Danish progresses, you’ll see that there are a lot of things that you already ”kind of know” when it comes to grammar and vocabulary. Nevertheless, the language does have at least one grammatical feature that does not exist in English: the passive verb form.

Instead of saying Jeg drikker vandet (I’m drinking the water), you could go for Vandet drikkes (the water is being drunk). As you can see, such passive forms are very easy to create – you simply take the -r of the present tense and replace it with an -s:
Vi maler huset (We’re painting the house) > Huset males (The house is being painted)
Postbuddet udbringer pakken personligt (The postman will deliver the parcel in person) > Pakken udbringes personligt (The parcel will be delivered in person).

The ”passive -s” is the ultimate way of obscuring the persons responsible for doing something. You CAN say Huset males af os (The house is being painted by us) – in most occasions, though, the active person is simply not being mentioned.

”Passive -s” constructions are a bit formal and are mostly used in the written language. In the spoken language, there is a more common way of stealing the stage from the ones in charge of the action:
1. Pick your tense-of-choice of the verb at blive (to become).
2. Combine it with the ”have” form (past perfect) of the verb you want to passivize.
Since past perfect of at køre (to drive) is har kørt (have driven), Vi blev kørt hele vejen hjem (af taxamanden) means ”We were driven all the way home (by the taxi driver)” (”We got a lift/ride…”). Sprog bliver lært (languages are [being] learnt). Problemer bliver løst (problems are [being] solved). Got it? 🙂

You don’t really need passive verbs to communicate. Ordinary, active phrases should do the job perfectly fine. Yet as you get acquainted with Danes, you’re bound to notice a few of those -s’s:

Hvornår ses vi igen? (When do we see each other again?)
Vi mødes klokken fire. (We’ll meet [each other] at 4 o’ clock.)

In these cases, the job of the letter is not to passivize anything. Instead, it adds the notion of reciprocity (”each other”) to the verb.

Vi tales ved! (Talk to you later!, literally: We’ll talk with each other!)

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.