The passive

1. Use

1.1. When it's not important WHO is doing the action or we don't KNOW who is doing it
Example:
Junassa luetaan usein kirjoja.
= Books are (being) read on the train.
Who exactly is doing the reading is not important.
Example:
Suomessa juodaan paljon kahvia.
Literally: In Finland a lot of coffee is drunk.
Who exactly is drinking the coffee is not important.

1.2. As a spoken language form for the 1st person plural (me)
Example:
Me mennään baariin.
= Me menemme baariin.
= We go to the bar.

Instead of the normal -mme ending for verbs in the 1st plural form, Finns often use the passive in spoken language. This does not mean that they don't know who is doing the action! The difference between 1.1. and 1.2. is just one word: "me". In a passive sentence, you will never use "me" in front of the verb, when talking spoken language you should always add it.


1.3. For suggestions
Example:
Mennään baariin!
= Let's go to the bar!

Passive suggestions in Finnish are most often translated to the "let's..." form in English. The difference between 1.1. and 1.3. is very small again: a true passive sentence (like in 1.1.) will nearly never start with the passive verb itself. There will always be something in front of it. Therefore, when a sentence starts with a passive form, you can assume that it's a suggestion. The exclamation point can guide you in the right direction as well, but it is not really necessary.


2. Formation

2.1. Verb type 1: weak stem + -taan/-tään

The weak stem is found by taking the minä form of the verb and remove the -n

Verb Minä form Weak stem Passive
sanoa minä sanon sano- sanotaan
nukkua minä nukun nuku- nukutaan
lähteä minä lähden lähde- lähdetään
maksaa minä maksan maksa- maksetaan*
ottaa minä otan ota- otetaan*

* When the infinitive of a verb ends in -aa, -a- changes to -e- when making the verb passive.


2.2. Verb types 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6: infinitive + -an/-än
Verb Passive Example Translation
voida voidaan Suomessa voidaan opiskella. In Finland, one can study.
saada saadaan Me saadaan lähteä. We're allowed to leave.
ajatella ajatellaan Ajatellaan loogisesti! Let's think logically!
päästä päästään Vankilasta päästään usein aikaisemmin kuin luullaan. People often get out of jail sooner than they think.
mennä mennään Mennään ravintolaan! Let's go to the restaurant!
haluta halutaan Kesällä halutaan enemmän jäätelöä. One wants more ice cream in summer.
tarvita tarvitaan Me tarvitaan televisio. We need a television.