Differentiating -S Verbs: Deponents, Reciprocal, Passive

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Hej to all my fellow Duolinguists!

tl;dr: some really common verbs including findes, føgles, ses and synes are not actually passive, and your confusion is justified. But fear not, here's a big long explanation which I gathered with the help of some really neat resources!

In response to numerous (see bottom) questions regarding -s forms which do not present passive translations, and a general lack of clear information on the -s verbs I have decided to put together a bit of a run down of their various uses. Many of these verbs behave a little differently to their closest English equivalents and in fact from each other. There are three groups of -s verbs: deponents, reciprocal and passives (which, by the way, are not always used in their -s form). In my opinion, the Danish course could profit from explaining this distinction, thus aiding learners to avoid confusing these different types of verbs.

For most of these verbs:

• There are no imperative or composite tense forms (i.e. only one past form).

• Unless otherwise noted, the past can be formed by attaching -de directly before -s.


dages – dawn ; fattes – lack ; findes (fandtes) – be, exist ; færdes – move, travel ; grønnes – become green ; kendes (kendtes) ved – acknowledge ; lykkes – succeed (in sth.) ; længes (længtes) – long (for) ; mindes – remember ; mislykkes – fail ; omgås (omgikkes, omgåedes) – handle, mix with rygtes – be rumoured ; synes (syntes) – to seem, think ; trives – thrive ; væmmes – feel disgusted ; ældes – age, become older .

• Corresponding verb forms without -s, if they exist, often do not correspond in meaning and are best regarded as separate verbs. Compare: finde to find / findes to exist minde to remind / mindes to remember


Based on the forums, this type seems to give people the most trouble.

• Action is usually carried out on a mutual basis, meaning both subjects can be seen to act on each other or together for some common aim.

brydes (brødes) – clash, wrestle ; enes – agree, get on ; forliges (forliktes) – become reconciled ; følges (fulgtes) [ad] – accompany (each other) ; hjælpes (hjalp) [ad] – help (each other) ; kappes – compete ; kives – bicker ; mødes (mødtes) – meet ; samles – gather ; ses (sås) – meet ; skiftes– take turns ; skilles (skiltes) – part ; skændes (skændtes) – quarrel ; slås (sloges) – fight ; tales (taltes) [also: snakkes] ved – talk (usually used at the end of a conversation similarly to vi ses) ; træffes – meet ; trættes – quarrel .

• Some can even be used with a singular subject, although of course other participants will often be implied. Other participants may be expressed by the preposition med with. e.g. Den dreng slås altid. That boy is always fighting. ; Jeg skal mødes med min ven. I'm going to meet (with) my friend.

• Reciprocity can also be expressed by a transitive verb + the reciprocal pronoun hinanden each other. Sometimes the same verb can appear in both constructions: Vi hjælper hinanden. / Vi hjælpes ad. We help each other De mødte hinanden. / De mødtes. They met (each other)


• These were the best explained group in the course, so I'll just keep this based on things I found interesting as an English speaker.

• Passive with -s is more widely used in written than in the spoken language. Apart from a few set phrases, you'll often be better off using blive + past participle when speaking.

• Some forms may be confusing to English speakers because many English active verbs can be used in another voice with no obvious change in form. See here, here and here for further details. Let's look at the following two verbs, 'to close' and 'to sell':

I am closing the shop (active meaning & form) vs. the shop is closing (passive meaning, active form; analysed here as middle voice). (C.f. the shop is being closed with passive meaning & form);

The publisher sold a million copies of the book (active meaning & form) vs. the book sold a million copies (passive meaning, active form, listed here as mediopassive). (C.f. a million copies of the book were sold with passive meaning & form).

There are of course some differences between Danish and English passive formations as well:

• Optional use of der/her as the subject of a passive sentence. e.g. "Der tales for meget her." There's too much talking here. ; "Der tales engelsk i hele Europa." English is spoken in all of Europe.

Some words which translate awkwardly into English or could be otherwise confusing:

arbejdes – work is happening (lit. 'to be worked') ; bedes – to be requested ; bedrages – to be deceived ; betrædes – to be walked on (c.f. English 'betread') ; ejes – to be owned ; forventes – to be expected ; lukkes – to close, be closed (the process, not to be confused with at være lukket to be closed [the state of being closed]) ; kræves – to be required ; savnes – to be missed or. to be missing ; ses – to be seen, to meet ; ventes – to be expected .

See also the following discussions, which touch on some of the above: "Manden of kvinden fulgtes ad ned til havet", "Har vi mødtes før?", "Vi mødes med dem i morgen.", "Den danske regerning mødtes tirsdag aften...", "Han fulgtes med en gammel dansk konge.", "Pigen fulgtes med drengen til festen.".

Corrections and feedback are of course welcome. Happy learning!

Sources: Danish: A comprehensive grammar, Den Danske Ordbog, and of course many, many years chipping away at Duolingo Danish – Tak for kursen!

6 months ago


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