1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Swedish
  4. >
  5. The purpose of the passive sk…


The purpose of the passive skill

Dear contributors, I’m confused about what is sought after when translating the sentences in this skill.

“There are two kinds of passive in Swedish, the s-passive and the perifrastic passive. Their forms are easy to learn, the problem is to know when to use the passive.”

In the example - to be translated - below the perifrastic passive is used, but the desired answer uses the s-passive form. Was the idea behind constructing this skill that we practice spotting the different types of passive and choose the appropriate one, or should we choose based on something else? Am I missing something? Some more detail on this in the “Tips and notes” section would be nice.

The new church was built last year. YOUR RESPONSE: "Den nya kyrkan blev byggd förra året." CORRECT RESPONSE: "Den nya kyrkan byggdes förra året."

Using s-passive here does sound more natural to me...

Skitbra jobbat med kursen, och tack på förhand!

November 19, 2014



Yes, the purpose of this skill is mainly to teach you the forms. You should also notice from the exercises that you should often translate an English perifrastic passive into s-passive in Swedish, as you did. Since you don't really have a counterpart to our s-passive, we have to translate those ones into English perifrastic constructions too.

Sadly, it is really difficult to give any firm rules about which passive works best when. I hope we'll be able to tell you more about that later on, but generally, what we have here is tendencies in the language rather than rules.

Swedish also very often uses impersonal constructions, possibly even more frequently than English does, and it's sometimes better to choose an impersonal construction rather than a passive one. It takes a lot of practice to learn which construction to use when, but we still wanted to give you a general idea of the passive.


Ok, I've given this some more thought. Also, I forgot to mention earlier that I'm Swedish (mostly), and I'm actually using the course to improve my English and polish my Swedish.

I got the impression that the two tables on the Tips and notes page not only showed two different forms of passive for Swedish, but also the corresponding passive forms in English. Guess I was a bit too tired when reading it… I any case, I don’t think it hurts to be more explicit about there being only one passive form in English.

I now also know after reading some of my grammar books that one language will occasionally use the active form and the other the passive, and vice versa. Also, passive is more common in English. That sure doesn't help either.

About when to choose the s-passive or the perifrastic passive I've found (I've moved a lot from Skåne to Västerbotten) that these tendencies vary depending on region and generation. But am I wrong in claiming that both forms are correct, but that there is usually one better choice depending on context? I’m asking so that I can better help answer questions and report errors.

What a fascinating skill.

Edit: Swedish: A Comprehensive Grammar (pp. 126) By Philip Holmes, Ian Hinchliffe verifies what you said about impersonal constructions being more common in Swedish when using passive form.


Thank you for your feedback. I'm glad somebody takes this seriously. I'll try to improve the text later on, but right now I'm prioritizing fixing sentence errors/adding alternative translations.

Usually both forms are correct, but sometimes there's a difference in meaning. Like the one you wrote on top here, Den nya kyrkan blev byggd förra året. It's a correct Swedish sentence, but it means rather The new church got built last year. It seems the -s form often has a stronger feeling of process to it, and the other one tends to be more about results. It also matters what auxiliary verb you use with them of course.

You're absolutely right that it's not always the same sentences that should be written in passive in the first place. Sometimes a passive sentence will be good in Swedish but not in English, and probably more often, the other way around. The use of the agent also varies a lot. Just because it sounds good to include the agent in an English passive sentence doesn't mean it will sound good in Swedish! And vice versa.

And it's also absolutely true that the usage varies with a lot of factors, including age, region, text type etc. There are of course more of them in written text, and most of all in bureaucratic language.

Given all these factors, mastering the passive isn't really within the scope of A2-B1 as this course is supposed to be. But feel free to suggest alternative translations and ask questions in the sentence forums (just be aware there will be many native speakers answering you, who will say a lot of contradicting things :) )


Thanks. It can't be easy for you guys right now. :)

Very good points. I tried to find more about the subtleties of the passive forms but came up short. My own books touches on what we have said but offers very little guidance, so I was wondering if you or any of the other contributors could suggest a good book on Swedish grammar, preferably written in Swedish?



I'm using Svenska Akademiens grammatik (SAG), the four volume edition, they write about the passive in volume four, p. 359–404. They talk a lot about which verbs tend to be used how, but as I said, it's more tendencies than rules. There's an abridged version of this book called Svenska Akademiens språklära, but I haven't got it myself so I can't tell you how much they say about the passive. In your case, I think you should really have a look at SAG. It's definitely not for beginners, but it's based on actual, modern usage. If you want subtleties, they are definitely there. They've got lots of examples too. This book will tell you the real truth about the passive, not the simplified version.


Thank you so much! Though that is one hefty price tag. :) Good thing we have public libraries.

[deactivated user]

    Allow me to join this 3 years old discussion. My main problem with Passive is when to use var/blev and when to just use passive verb.

    Projektet stoppades.

    In this sentence, when it was time to write it from english to swedish, I wrote Projektet blev/var stoppat. Is there a difference in the meaning between Projektet stoppades and Projektet blev stoppat, or Projektet var stoppat?

    Another example is 'Denna typ av skor bars av bönder.' I wrote this sentence like Denna typ av skor ÄR bars av bönder. Is there some kind of rule when you should use vara and bli and when not to?

    Tack så mycket

    Learn Swedish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.