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Passive Voice – part 1 Posted by on Jun 12, 2009 in Grammar

Since we’ve been talking about past participles a lot lately (fortunately, we are done with them now, because I was getting bored. And if I’m getting bored, you must be fast asleep at the computer by now), getting started on the passive voice might be a good idea as well.

But first things first. What is the passive (passiv) form? And how does it differ from the regular active (aktiv) stuff? At it’s most basic, you can explain it like that:

  • I am doing something – that’s active, because I am actually sitting and doing it. I am writing this blog post right now.
  • Something is done by me – that’s passive, because all I’m telling you is that this blog post is being written by me right now.

In Swedish it works more or less like that too, except that turning an active sentence into a passive one is much easier than in English. What? You don’t believe me? Take a look:

  • Per körde bilen. – Per drove the car.
  • Bilen kördes av Per. – The car was driven by Per.

See, it wasn’t that hard. I told you!

In the first active voice sentence “bilen” is the object. This object becomes the subject of the passive voice sentence.

In the first sentence “Per” is the subject. This subject becomes something called the “agent” in the passive voice sentence.

And what happened to the verb? A single “s” grew at the end of it. And voila, now you know how to turn active sentences into passive ones in Swedish.

But you know what? Many Swedish passive voice sentences have no agent whatsoever. And I dare say that those “agentless” sentences are the most common ones. Why is that? Because the agent is not really all that important. We are more interested in WHAT is being done, not in who does it.

Here are some examples:

  • Frukost serveras kl. 9 – Breakfast is served at 9AM.
    I couldn’t care less who serves this breakfast, I only want to know what time
  • Öppnas här. – To be opened here (or “Open here” as we would say in English)
    You see this one on packages a lot, telling you how to open them.
  • Bör förbrukas senast (and date here) – Should be used by (and date here)
    You see this one on almost all food and medicine packages, right?

This is probably the most common way in which Swedish passive voice is normally used: to give instructions, to post notices, or to tell you not to do something, like:

  • Får ej vidröras. – Not to be touched (or “Do not touch” as we would say in English).

I’m sure you’ve seen countless examples of this type of passive voice in official correspondence, for example. Letters from Migrationsverket are full of it. So are notices from just about any other governmental agency. They love this type of passive, impersonal voice, especially when telling you what to do.

This is just one way in which the passive form is used in Swedish. We will discuss the rest, along with how to form “s” forms of verbs after midsommar. I think we all deserve a little break from all this recent grammar overload, right?

And yes, it’s MIDSOMMAR next week!!!

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