I happened to read on a forum here on The Local that someone was confused about when to use an -s on verbs in Swedish.
Most verbs end with a -r in present tense (“presens”) and -de in past (“preteritum”), but sometimes there is a “mysterious s”. There are three different occasions when there is an -s. First of all there we will use -s to express the passive voice of the verb. Secondly, -s can substitute the word “varandra” (each other). Thirdly, there are a small group of verbs that always have a -s and there is no special reason for that, they just happen to end with a -s in all tenses.
Passive voice -s expressing passive voice
Passive voice is used when we don’t know who is taking action or when it isn’t interesting who is doing it. In grammar terms we can express it as that we don’t have an agent in the sentence.
Passive voice is often used in newspaper articles and also news on TV and radio. Here are a few examples from Dagens Nyheter:
17 skadades efter busskrock utanför Piteå.
(17 were injured after a bus crash outside Piteå.)
Sprängämnesstoff hittades i flickans sko.
(Explosive materials were found in the girl’s shoe.)
Mordbrännare jagas i Eslöv.
(Fire-raiser is being chased in Eslöv.)
In the examples above we don’t know, or perhaps don’t find it interesting to know who injured the 17 people, who found the explosives in the shoe or who is chasing the pyromaniac in Eslöv.
The passive voice is also used in instructions, recipes for example, and in formal language. It might look like this:
(To be opened here.)
Betalas senast 100831
(To be paid at the latest by Aug. 31, 2010).
As you have seen, the passive voice can be used for different tenses (actually all tenses) and it’s not complicated to construct the passive version of the verb. You more or less just ad a -s to the regular form, except for the present tense where you need to remove the -r. It looks like this:
skadar (regular) skadas (passive)
köper (regular) köps/köpes (passive)
syr (regular) sys (passive)
skriver (regular) skrives/skrivs (passive)
skadade (regular) skadades (passive)
köpte (regular) köptes (passive)
sydde (regular) syddes (passive)
skrev (regular) skrevs (passive)
We can also create the passive voice with something called “the perfect participle” which is more common in spoken Swedish and less formal Swedish. I will discuss this in a different post but I can show you what our s-passives would look like constructed with a participle:
skadades – blev skadad
hittades – blev hittad
Reciprocal verbs - s expressing “each other”
You have most likely used this form of the verbs since you started speaking Swedish, and we can find the form in some of our most common phrases:
These two words mean something like “We’ll hear from each other”. It’s not stated who’s going to contact who. You can compare it to “Jag ringer dig” (I’ll call you.) where it’s known from the outset who will call who.
Is often translated as “I’ll see you”, but literally means “we’ll see each other.”
Vi kan träffas klockan tre.
This means “we can meet each other at three o’clock”.
Here are a few more examples when it is common to use -s for “each other”:
(They are hugging each other.)
(They are kissing each other.)
(They are fighting with each other. /They are hitting each other.)
(They are teasing each other.)
To use -s in the meaning “each other” you add the -s to the regular form. For present tense you also have to remove the -r:
pussar – pussas
pussade – pussades
har pussat – har pussats
Deponens - -s for no special reason
There are a number of verbs in Swedish that end with an -s for no special reason. It is simply just what the words look like. In Swedish grammar books they are called “deponens”. These words are quite common and we use them all the time in. Here are a few examples:
att hoppas – hoppas – hoppades – har hoppats
(to hope for)
att andas – andas – andades – har andats
att lyckas – lyckas – lyckades – har lyckats
att minnas – minns – mindes – har mints
(to remember, to recall)
att finnas – finns – fanns – har funnits
(to be, to exist)
att låtsas – låtsas – låtsades – har låtsats
Have fun learning Swedish!