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Lazy phrases Posted by on Dec 22, 2013 in Grammar

Kan du snakke norsk? (”Can you speak Norwegian?”) Norwegian and English are related languages. As your study of Norwegian 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 vannet (I’m drinking the water), you could go for Vannet 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).
Postbudet leverer pakken på døren (The postman will deliver the parcel at your doorstep) > Pakken leveres på døren (The parcel will be delivered at your doorstep).

The ”passive -s” is the ultimate way of obscuring the persons responsible for doing something. You CAN say Huset males av oss (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 å bli (to become).
2. Combine it with the ”have” form (past perfect) of the verb you want to passivize.
Since past perfect of å kjøre (to drive) is har kjørt (have driven), Vi ble kjørt hjem (av sjåføren) means ”We were driven home (by the driver)”. Språk blir lært (languages are [being] learnt). Problemer blir 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 Norwegians, you’re bound to notice a few of those -s’s:

Når sees vi igjen? (When do we see each other again?)
Vi møtes klokka 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 snakkes! (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.


Comments:

  1. Maggie:

    Thanks so much for your blog. I’m learning Norwegian and it’s been really helpful for colloquial phrases and such, which are hard to learn from courses.

    This post was very enlightening, since I’d been taught “Vi sees senere” for “See you later” – and now I understand why!

    Tusen takk!

  2. @Acalashaka:

    Thanks a lot for these tips, this makes Norwegian even easier to grasp. What I find interesting is that in Polish (my native tongue) one uses also a verb similar in meaning to “bli” plus past participle to express passive. Curious that in English it is not so, though “Problems become solved” or “We became driven home” make some “passive-voice” sense.

    Mange takk!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @@Acalashaka Hello Acalashaka,
      happy to hear that my blog post has been useful to you! And I’m intrigued that Polish uses a similar structure.
      Why is English so different??

  3. Natalia:

    Very useful post! Great job in explaining the subject in such a simple way!