These Swedish verbs look passive but aren’t

Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

A peculiar thing in the Swedish language is how there is a group of verbs, that don’t look like any other common verbs. This because they end on an -s making them look like a regular verb in the passive voice. Now when learning Swedish this will definitely cause a bunch of mixups. These verbs are in fact regular verbs in the active voice. These could either have a completely active function (e.g. svettas, to sweat, andas, to breathe, luras, to fool), a reciprocal function, which means that they work as a verb between two parties (e.g. slåss, to fight, kyssas, to kiss, skiljas, to part or to get divorced) or they can be verbs describing a certain state (e.g. brännas, to burn, kännas, to feel, dagas, to dawn). Some of these verbs have a non-deponent sibling, which makes these verbs look even more like the passive voice and are more prone to getting mixed up. However, these verbs tend to have a completely different meaning, which makes it important not to mix them up.

Deponent verbs without a sibling

Andas (to breathe)

Jag andas in luft.
I’m breathing in air.

Patienten andas och andningen är stabil.
The patient is breathing and the breathing is stable.

Det är svårt att andas ibland.
It’s hard to breathe sometimes.

Lyckas* (to succeed/to manage)

Jag lyckades med uppgiften.
I managed to finish the assignment.

Han lyckades att bryta sig in.
He managed to break in.

Efter 4 år lyckades han vissla.
After 4 years he managed to whistle.

Åldras (to age)

Det kändes som han åldrats 10 år över helgen.
It felt like he had aged 10 years over the weekend.

Man åldras långsammare i rymden.
One age slower in space.

Gud, vad du har åldrats!
God, you have aged!

Actually there is a dated but unrelated verb which means to close. You will only ever come across it in the set phrase bak­om lyckta dörrar, behind closed doors. Compare Danish lukke.

Deponent verbs with a sibling

There are a bunch of verbs with an “active looking” sibling. Some have the same meaning, where the deponent verb has a somewhat “autonomous” meaning (e.g. brännas, to burn, kännas, to feel) and the active looking verb has a more active feeling to it (e.g. bränna, to burn something, känna, to feel something). The following verbs are examples of pairs that have totally different meanings and which are more important to not mix up.

Finnas (to exist) – Finna (to find)

Det finns mat på bordet.
There is food on the table.

Jag tänker, alltså finns jag.
I think, therefore I am.

Det finns en restaurang runt hörnet.
There is a restaurant around the corner.

Man finner alltid en väg.
One always finds a way.

Rymmas (to fit, to contain) – Rymma (to flee, to run away)

Kläderna ryms inte i väskan.
The clothes don’t fit into the bag.

Det ryms fyra älgar i affären.
Four elks fit into the store.

I skjulet på bakgården ryms Håkans kontor.
In the shack in the backyard contains Håkan’s office.

Elin och Markus rymmer hemifrån.
Elin and Markus are running away from home.

Hoppas (to hope) – Hoppa (to jump)

Jag hoppas att vi har mat hemma.
I hope that we have food at home.

Demonstranterna hoppas att de tas på allvar.
The protestors are hoping that they’re taken seriously.

Barnet hoppas att tomten kommer till staden.
The child hopes that Santa Claus is coming to town.

Jonas hoppar i sängen.
Jonas is jumping on the bed.