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:
- The subject of the verb can cause someone else to experience something: Rummet känns kallt – The room feels cold.
The room causes somebody else to experience the feeling of coldness.
- The meaning can be reciprocal: Vi träffas – We meet.
The subject is several people who interact with each other.
- The action of the verb affects the subject of the verb: Jag misslyckades – I failed, Jag trivs ≈ I 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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'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)
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'.
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."