Swedish Language Blog

The Laid-Back Swedish Sentence – S-Passive! Posted by on Jan 30, 2014 in Grammar, Swedish Language

We’ve written a bit about passive verbs here in the past (Where does the -s-passive come from?, Making active verbs passive in Swedish, Passive in Swedish), but it’s been a while, so I thought I would revisit the subject by focusing exclusively on the s-passive.

First, the passive gets used quite a bit in newspaper headlines. From SVD.se on January 30th we have the following:
Zabel tvingas lämna Djurgården
Hela byar i Nigeria töms på kvinnor
Lexbase kastas ut helt

While you might not end up using it all that much in your everyday speech as you first learn Swedish, it is super helpful to understand.

Second, a quick example:
Marcus körde bilen. Marcus drove the car. (Active)
Bilen kördes av Marcus. The car was driven by Marcus. (Passive)

There are a couple of things going on here. First, it’s important to note that in both sentences, the general meaning is the same. There is a car. Marcus is the driver. But the passive form changes the focus of the sentence and suddenly, the subject from that active sentence, Marcus, is no longer the subject in the passive sentence.

So let’s look at how we actually make the change from an active sentence to a passive sentence. We’ll stick with that super simple sentence from above:
Marcus körde bilen.

In this sentence, Marcus is the subject, körde is the verb in the past tense, and bilen is the object.

If we are going to change this sentence from active to passive, we need to rearrange the subject and object a bit. In fact, the object, in this case bilen, becomes our subject. So let’s put it first:
Bilen + Marcus körde.

Next, we need to actually change the verb from active to passive. We do this by adding an –s. So körde becomes kördes. Let’s add that to our burgeoning passive sentence:
Bilen kördes + Marcus.

We’re getting close. Now we need to do something with Marcus. Remember, Marcus was the subject in that original sentence, but in a passive sentence, Marcus becomes what is known as an agent. To do that, we need to add the preposition av in front of Marcus. So now we have av Marcus. Add that to the sentence and we get:
Bilen kördes av Marcus.

Ta da, a passive sentence! Of course, there are always some sentences that are a little trickier, but the basic rules apply.

A couple of things to note, if you’re working with an active sentence that uses man as in Man äter godis på lördag, you can handle that man a couple of different ways as you change the sentence to a passive one. One, just get rid of it. Godis äts på lördag. The other alternative is to use det. Det äts godis på lördag. Admittedly, kind of a clunky sentence in Swedish, but you get the idea.

And finally, not every passive sentence will have an agent (in our case, av Marcus). Sometimes this is because it isn’t important or even known. For example:
Frukost serveras kl. 7. (By whom? Maybe that’s not important.)
Mannen sköts ihjäl. (By whom? While it is important, it might not be known.)

Now you should be ready to go. Good luck!

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. yacine:


    • Marcus Cederström:

      @yacine You’re welcome!