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Deponent verbs (det finns, det känns, jag hoppas)

Some common verbs in Swedish like for example hoppas ('hope') and lyckas ('succeed') are called deponent verbs. But what does that mean?

The short answer:

Deponent verbs are verbs that have the same form as passive verbs (ending with an -s) but are not passive.

The longer answer:

Morphologically, deponent verbs work the same as other verbs, except that they have the ending -s in every form. (Well, and they can't have a passive form).

Deponent verbs can be either transitive (= able to take an object) or intransitive, but most of them are intransitive. Their meaning can be:

  1. The subject of the verb can cause someone else to experience something: Rummet känns kalltThe room feels cold.
    The room causes somebody else to experience the feeling of coldness.
  2. The meaning can be reciprocal: Vi träffasWe meet.
    The subject is several people who interact with each other.
  3. The action of the verb affects the subject of the verb: Jag misslyckadesI failed, Jag trivsI am comfortable.

It can be difficult to distinguish deponent verbs from passive verbs, but with the deponent verbs, there can be no agent who performs the verb action and there isn't an underlying idea that the action of the verb was caused by some external agent.

For instance, in the sentence Rummet känns kallt (’The room feels cold’), it is not the room that experiences the feeling of coldness, but somebody else, either the speaker or generally anybody. It is impossible to say Rummet känns kallt av mig (’The room is felt cold by me’), and the sentence does not convey the idea that the feeling of coldness is brought on by some external agent (like, say, in a passive sentence like Rummet kyldes ned ’The room was cooled’, where you can easily get the idea that someone or some force made the room colder).

The following deponent verbs are taught in this course:

  • andas (’is breathing’)
    Han andas inte! – He is not breathing!
  • finns (’exists’, ’is there’)
    Hästar finns inte – Horses do not exist.
  • hoppas (’hope’)
    Jag hoppas att hon är hemma. – I hope that she is at home.
  • misslyckas (’fail’)
    Projektet misslyckas. – The project fails.
  • lyckas (’succeed’)
    Hon lyckas alltid. – She always succeeds.
  • fattas (’is missing’)
    Något fattas. – Something is missing.
  • trivs (’be comfortable’)
    Han trivs i Stockholm. – He likes it (feels at home, feels comfortable… ) in Stockholm.
  • minns (’remember’)
    Minns du sången? – Do you remember the song?
  • ses ('see' as in ’meet’)
    Vi ses! – See you!
  • träffas (’meet’)
    Vi träffas alltid på samma ställe. – We always meet in the same place.
  • känns (’feels’).
    Allt känns bra. – Everything feels fine.
  • svettas (’sweats’).
    Du svettas. – You're sweating.
December 23, 2014



I created a category on wiktionary some months ago. It should contain all deponent verbs. I did this by searching for all verbs ending with -s and manually adding the correct ones to the category. Let me know if some of them aren't deponent and I'll remove them.



So you created that one! That's great! I've never seen "att töras" before, but the present form "törs" is very common of course.


Haha, I had the same reaction when I found it. I've also heard people use "tordes" though it's very uncommon where I'm from. Ex. "Jag tordes inte göra det"

But using the supine form sounds really strange. Ex. "Jag tror aldrig att jag har torts göra det"


The supine form is pretty common where I'm from (Värmland). I guess 'tordes' and 'har torts' are just the preterite and perfect of 'törs', though I have actually never thought of it that way. I do agree that the infinitive sounds strange; I've never heard anyone say it!


I thought that Hashmush added an alternative infintive, "att tordas", but now I can't find it anymore. That one is more familiar to me.


Seems like both exist, but according to Google "att tordas" does seem to be used more in actual writing. Both sound a bit strange to me, but that's just because I haven't heard either of them being spoken.


Nope, I didn't! I've never heard it.


I have studied some ancient Greek which has three voices for verbs: active, medium and passive. Deponent verbs of Swedish seem to function like the medium voice in Greek. What do you you think?


Yes, people often compare the two. (Not to say they will be identical, but there are big similarities).


Perfect observation. As a native greek who has studied ancient greek i have to say that you are completely correct. They seem to be heavily related in meaning, but i wouldn't go that far saying that they function identically.


BELATED REPLY SINCE I JUST STARTED MY SWEDISH COURSE! Surprisingly for most people who do not know Greek and ( why not ) Ancient Greek , i find it rather easy to learn Swedish because so many words are apparently of Greek origin ( others of Latin) and the Grammar is also quite similar. In English , things are not always absolutely clear . In Greek, everything is exactly at the right place and with the absolute meaning.


So, let me try to get this straight.
Swedish for "He breathes" is deponent. This means it appears passive, but can never be passive. It can be transitive, so "He breathes water" is probably OK, but "The water is breathed" would be the unallowable passive?


Yes. If this were a normal verb, its s-passive would be andas but that's already taken, so that vattnet andas would just mean 'the water is breathing', it can never be passive.


You've made my day.


Is there any german equivalent? I have no idea... In general, if I translate Swedish word by word, it sounds a bit like old fashioned german :) Maybe there was an equivalent...


i read that the -s comes from the old nordish 'sik' - that makes it easier to find some german equivalents (but sadly not to every deponent verb above) :

han hoppas - er erhofft sich

han minns - er erinnert sich

det finns... - es befindet sich

vi ses - wir sehen uns (or more impersonal: man sieht sich )

seems, that swedish used way more reflexive forms in former times (think of the "har på sig") - hope some of the experts here can confirm it?


That is fascinating. Actually, there are dialects of German, where we have a generalized "sich" for reflexive nouns, quite similar to the Slavic languages. For example in parts of Franconia (northern Bavaria, but a completely different dialect than Bavarian), people will no say "wir sehen uns" (We'll see/meet each other again), but "wir sehen sich", which is strikingly similar to "vi ses"; cf. https://epub.uni-regensburg.de/12801/


"Svettas" in included in the course too, I think.


You're right, I'll add it to the list. (I suspect there may be some more, I just don't know which ones).


This is one of those instances where having studied Latin previously can be useful, as that language contains many deponent verbs! (So many in fact that my textbook chose to introduce deponent forms before even mentioning the passive). So at least the concept will be familiar to Latin students.


Ita verum dicis - multa sunt verba deponentia in lingua latina! Regardless of acquiring quite a notorious reputation in my Latin class at first, deponent verbs are now starting to come in handy so...I guess they have redeemed themselves:)


My Latin is disused by many decades, and I had hopes of brushing it up using DuoLingo. There seems to be serious administrative resistance to a Latin course, at least the last time I checked. Have you heard anything?


Tack så mycket! A tiny correction: the verb ses should read see, not meet.


I thought that would be confusing because this isn't the main sense of see, but I changed it to 'see' as in 'meet' now, which will hopefully be clearer. Thank you!


Thank you Arnauti!


You mentioned that in deponent verbs, there can be no subject performing the verb action. But isn't the subject performing the verb action in examples like "She always succeeds" or "You're sweating" or "He is breathing"?


I said there can be no agent who performs the verb action. I.e. you cannot say hon lyckas av mig 'she succeeds by me', han svettas av dig 'he sweats by you' etc. The agent is the one who performs an action in a passive sentence, like huset byggdes av mig 'the house was built by me'. The fact that it's impossible to have an agent here is a key difference between deponent verbs and passive verbs.

The subject is the subject of the action, but the relationship between subject and action is a little more indirect than for 'normal' verbs, it's more like the subject is affected by the action, it's something that happens to them rather than something they do actively. Grammatically it's still the subject but semantically the subject has less control in hon lyckas 'she succeeds' than in e.g. hon sjunger 'she sings'.


Thank you! That really clears things up.


You’re fabulous at explaining!


Which ones are transitive and which ones aren’t?


Are you sure about känns and träffas being deponent?

You can say "Jag känner mig hänging." ("I feel lethargic") and "Jag träffar dig på torget om en timme." (I will meet you at the square in an hour.)

"Vi träffar nya människor dagligen" / "We meet new people daily"

To some extent I would say the same about minnas however, that is in old parlance. (Jag minner mig att det brukade finnas en dörr här. / I recall that it used to be a door here.)


Everything I say above is based on SAG, Svenska akademiens grammatik, 2nd volume, pages 554–557. About träffas, they say: In many cases, the deponent verb has a form without s by its side, and is semantically related to it in different ways.
Their example:
Vi träffades i Berlin. Compare: Jag träffade henne i Berlin.


I am a bit new to deponent verbs, so I have created some example sentences below. Can you please have a look at them and tell me if my understanding of the concept is correct?

Vi träffas av blixten. ("träffas" is passive of "träffa")
Vi träffas klockan sju. ("träffas" is a deponent verb)

Kyrkan känns igen på långt håll. ("känns" is passive of "känna")
Det känns bra att det äntligen är julafton ("känns" is a deponent verb)


I think you're totally right.


I'm still trying to fully grasp these.

  • Maneten bränns, rör den inte. - (bränns is a deponent verb)
  • Maneten bränns. Stäng av spisen. - (bränns is passive)

  • Svatrskägg räds ingen. (räds is a deponent verb)

  • Svartskägg fruktas över det sju haven..(fruktas is passive)

  • Det vattnas i munnen. (vattnas is a deponent verb)

  • Blommorna vattnas. (vattnas is passive)


It looks fine to me! But do you normally fry jellyfish :)? And then eat it???


Isn't that considered the ultimate proof that someone is from Stockholm? That they think maneter e såna som man eter? :P


I don't eat jellyfish. But there are recipes on the Internet. ;) I mainly wanted to use both brännnas in very similar sentences to illustrate the difference.


Tack ni; Detta är kul läsning. :)

Thanks you guys, this is fun reading!


I've eaten jellyfish. But that was in Hong Kong :)


Very useful!

These are really tricky for a new beginner - they certainly become second nature after a while, and you get a feel for what sounds right!


This is seriously brilliant, I was struggling with some translating and wondering how “Jag minns. Det kändes som att äntligen komma hem.” was displaying passive verbs and then I found this, THANK YOU.


Very helpful; thanks for this explanation. I wasn't even fully aware deponent verbs were their own category, though it makes sense!

On a more general level, it seems as though Norwegian (and Danish?) don't use deponent verbs as much as Swedish, rather preferring the active forms. This is an unscientific conclusions, just based off of asking a few Swedes and Norwegians about these verbs.

In any case, I'm just wondering if anyone has any insight as to how did deponent verbs come about in Swedish? Why are they (maybe) less common in Norwegian/Danish? And is there any common thread that ties the verbs that are deponent together (i.e. why is it only those verbs above that are deponent)?


From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deponent_verb#Swedish: "Swedish has a few passive-voice deponents, although its closely related neighbour languages Danish and Norwegian mostly use active corresponding forms. Indeed, Norwegian shows the opposite trend: like in English, active verbs are sometimes used with a passive or middle sense, such as in "boka solgte 1000 eksemplarer" ("the book sold 1000 copies"). -s is the normal passive ending in the Scandinavian languages."


"Andas" seems to be an oddball here...it's very active in meaning, and there is most definitely an agent that performs the verb.


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