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The Swedish Teacher: When to use the mysterious 's'

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The Swedish Teacher: When to use the mysterious 's'
It's found in some of Sweden's most common phrases, but why and when? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
13:40 CET+01:00
Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg explains when to use -s at the end of a verb in Swedish.


Many people learning Swedish are confused about when to use an -s on verbs in Swedish. Most verbs end with an -r in present tense and -de in simple past as you probably know already, but sometimes there is a "mysterious s".

There are three different occasions when there is an -s. First of all, we use -s to express the passive voice of the verb. Secondly,  -s can substitute the word "varandra" (each other). Thirdly, there is a small group of verbs that always have an -s and for no particular reason.

In this blog post, I will take a closer look at all three types of using the -s.

1. -s expressing passive voice (passiv form)

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.

(Arsonist chased in Eslöv.)

In the examples above we don't know or perhaps don't find it interesting who injured the 17 people, who found the explosives in the shoe or who is chasing the fire-raiser in Eslöv.

The passive voice is also used in instructions, recipes for example, and in formal language. You will find passive forms on a carton of milk or a bill:

Öppnas här!

(To be opened here.)

Betalas senast 170831.

(To be paid at the latest by August 31st, 2017).

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 add an -s to the regular form except for the present tense where you need to remove the -r.

READ ALSO: All The Local's articles about the 'Swedish language

Vi ses! Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

2. -s expressing "each other" (reciprocal verbs)

You have most likely used this form of the verbs since you started speaking Swedish and we can find it in some of our most common phrases.

Vi hörs!

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.

Vi ses!

Is often translated as, "I'll see you" but means, "we'll see each other."

Vi kan träffas klockan tre.

Means "we can meet each other at three o'clock."

Through the years I have heard many Swedish learners saying things like "jag träffades mina kompisar" which isn't correct. It is a good rule of thumb that you can't use "träffas" when the subject of the sentence is a single person such as jag, du, han or hon.

Here are a few more examples when it is common to use -s for "each other":

De kramas.

(They are hugging each other.)

De pussas.

(They are kissing each other.)

De slåss.

(They are fighting with each other. /They are hitting each other.)

De retas.

(They are teasing each other.)

3. -s for no particular reason

There are some verbs in Swedish that end with an -s in all tenses for no particular reason: that 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.  Here are a few examples:

att hoppas – hoppas – hoppades – har hoppats

(to hope for)

att andas – andas – andades – har andats

(to breathe)

att lyckas – lyckas – lyckades – har lyckats

(to succeed)

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

(to pretend)

I hope I have been able to clear up the mysterious -s!

Sara Hörberg began teaching Swedish as a foreign/second language in 2001. Ask her anything about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Read more here: Sara the Swedish Teacher.

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