v39: flyttas

Here’s a test for you. Is each of the s-forms in the examples and photos below, passive or deponent?

1. Cyklar flyttas
2. Se och synas
3. …Firefox startas



1. Cyklar flyttas = Bicycles are being moved. Passive. You might think it is a deponent, and translate as Bicycles are moving, but flyttar means move as in move location. Inanimate objects don’t move of their own accord, they get moved. People, however, can both move and be moved:

Vi flyttas = We are being moved
Vi flyttar = We are moving


2. Se och synas = See and appear. Deponent. Optician. Just remember the list of deponent verbs.

3. …Firefox startas = …Firefox is started. Passive. This is a bit trickier, because …Firefox starts is an equally good translation. However, it seems that in Swedish, computer programs (for example) don’t start, they get started.

Enough of s-forms (for now). I hope they’re starting to make a little more sense to you!

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 10:05  Comments (3)  
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v38: minnas

Wikipedia says that a deponent verb is active in meaning, but passive in form. The University of Surrey describes deponency more generally as a mismatch between morphology and morphosyntax. That is, a mismatch between form and function. There is a fairly accessible paper by Matthew Baerman which goes into more details.

The active/passive verb contrast is the archetypal example of deponency thanks to Latin, but it is alive and well in, of all languages, modern Swedish. And perhaps even more interestingly, not in Danish and Norwegian. Let me show you what I mean:

Jag minns att jag gjorde det.
I remember that I did it.

In the above sentence, minns is clearly functioning as an active verb (subject = agent), but is an s-form; the normal active form would be minnar, which doesn’t exist. Note, however, that minnas (the s-form infinitive) covers only part of the meaning of English remember: to remember something in the past, or to reminisce. To remember a specific thing in the present, use komma ihåg or glömma inte (don’t forget).

Deponent verbs take a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, the list of deponent verbs is quite short, but unfortunately, some of them are rather common, so you’re just going to have to do some learning. Here’s a partial list:

andas = to breathe
hoppas = to hope
kräkas = to vomit
låtsas = to pretend
minnas = to remember
synas = to appear
trivas = to like it
trängas = to crowd

It’s hard to generalise about the deponent verbs, these examples give an idea of the diversity of ways in which they are used:

Minnas can behave just like a normal active verb:

Jag minns min gamla cykel.
I remember my old bicycle.

Hoppas and låtsas are modal equivalents (followed by the bare infinitive, remember?):

Pilot låtsas svimma
Pilot pretends to faint

Trängas has an active pair, tränga:

Vi fick trängas i bussen.
We were crowded together in the bus.
Försökte tränga bil av vägen
Attempted to push car off the road

Got all that? Well, then, next post we’d better have a little test…

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 11:33  Leave a Comment  
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v37: kyssas

Following on from the previous post, what do you think of the following:

Ida met Lars.

It’s clear that Ida is the subject and Lars the object, but what about the semantic roles? If Ida and Lars are meeting each other, it’s difficult to assign agent and patient roles to one or the other:

Ida and Lars met (each other).

Verbs such as this are reciprocal verbs, and it’s simple enough (because of what we know about grammatical voice) to see the connection with passives. And in fact, Swedish does use the s-form of the verb for reciprocal constructions:

Ida and Lars meet every Monday.
Ida och Lars träffas varje måndag.

But compare this very similar expression, which uses the plain form of the verb:

Ida and Lars meet each other every Monday.
Ida och Lars träffar varandra varje måndag.

Reciprocal verbs include träffas (meet), enas (agree), kramas (hug), höras (be in touch), kyssas (kiss), brottas (wrestle), and slåss (fight). A particularly common expression involves ses:

Vi ses (senare / på måndag)!
See you (later / on Monday)!

There are s-forms for the infinitive, present, past, and supine. In most but not all cases they are formed by adding -s to the corresponding plain form of the verb. For example, here is the conjugation paradigm for kyssa/kyssas, a type IIb verb:

plain s-form
infinitive kyssa kyssas
present kysser kysses
past kysste kysstes
supine kysst kyssts

I hope you’re getting to understand (and maybe even like) s-forms, because there’s more to come. Vi ses!

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 16:36  Leave a Comment  
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v36: slopas

Grammar is the set of rules that govern the structure of sentences, whereas semantics refers to the meaning of the sentence. In grammatical terms, verbs have subjects and objects, whereas in semantic terms, verbs have agents and patients (and more). The relationship between the grammar and the semantics of verbs is called voice. With me so far? Here are some examples:

1. I am opening the door.
2. Ida is opening the door.
3. Ida is opening the doors.

4. The door is opened by me.
5. The door is opened by Ida.
6. The doors are opened by Ida.

In 1., I is the subject, door is the object. In 2. and 3., Ida is the subject, door/doors is the object. You can see this because English has (limited) subject-verb agreement, so am/is changes when the subject changes, but not when the object changes. By similar reasoning, one can see that in 4., 5. and 6., door/doors is the subject and me/Ida is the object. But all these sentences describe the same action: a person opens a door. Semantically, the person is the agent of the verb, and the door is the patient. In 1., 2. and 3., agent = subject, so the verb is in the active voice, while in 4., 5. and 6., patient = subject, so the verb is in the passive voice.

As demonstrated above, English has a periphrastic passive, that is, the passive is formed by the use of additional words. This gives you a clue that something different is going on. Compare different ways of expressing the past in English:

7. Ida opened the door.
8. Ida did open the door.

7. is a grammatical past tense, whereas 8. is a periphrastic past.

As with English, Swedish also has a periphrastic passive:

Dörren blir öppnad (av Ida).
The door was opened (by Ida).

But the commonest way of forming the passive in Swedish is by using the s-form of the verb:

Dörren öppnas.
The door is opened.

Dörren öppnades.
The door was opened.

I find the s-form confusing because it looks just like an English 3rd person singular present tense (as if I am expecting to see an English word in the middle of a Swedish sentence; then again I find the Swedish present tense confusing because it reminds me of a French infinitive). So in the following example, from a letter I received from Transportstyrelsen, I initially thought the kontrollmärke (car registration sticker is a close as I can get) was doing something, whereas it is in fact the semantic patient:

Kontrollmärke slopas
Registration sticker is abolished

You’ll note I’ve called it the s-form rather than the passive form. That’s because the s-form of the verb has a whole lot of other interesting uses, more about which in the very near future.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 12:26  Comments (1)  
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