The Passive – Present Passive

The present passive – often just called the passive – is used extremely often in spoken language. It is therefore a topic that you should familiarize yourself with fairly early in your studies.

Table of Contents
  1. The Use of the Present Passive
    1. When we don’t say WHO
    2. As the spoken language we-form
    3. With suggestions
    4. How to tell usage 1 to 3 apart
  2. The Formation of the Present Passive
    1. Verbtype 1
    2. Verbtypes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6
  3. Consonant Gradation in the Present Passive
  4. The Negative Present Passive

1. Use of the Present Passive

1.1. When we don’t say who

In most sentences, the passive is used when we don’t say WHO is doing the action. The reason why we’re not mentioning it can be that it’s not important who is doing the thing or we don’t know who is doing it:

For example: ”Tampereelle rakennetaan raitiovaunulinjaa.

  • Translation: ”A tram line is being built in Tampere” or ”They’re building a tram line in Tampere”
  • Interpretation #1: We don’t know who is doing the actual building. We don’t know what company is building it, which workers are actively doing the building.
  • Interpretation #2: We don’t really care who is doing the building. The point of the sentence is the end result that we’re expecting.

Generally, the passive kind of implies it’s a person or group doing the thing. Most of the time it’s used for plural ”subjects” (I use the term subject loosely, because of course there is no subject in a passive sentence).

Finnish English
Suomessa juodaan paljon kahvia. In Finland they drink a lot of coffee.
Puhelimia käytetään yhä enemmän opetuksessa. Phones are being used more and more in lessons.
Huomenna juhlitaan kansainvälistä rauhan päivää. Tomorrow international peace day is celebrated.

1.2. As the spoken language we-form

”Puhekielen me-muoto” is a very popular form in spoken language, up to the point where you are much more likely to hear ”me mennään” over the regular ”me menemme” form. In standard language and especially in official written sources, you will not find this form.

Verb Standard language Spoken language
mennä (to go) Me menemme baariin. Me mennään baariin.
rakastaa (to love) Me rakastamme sinua. Me rakastetaan sinua.
kävellä (to walk) Me kävelemme metsässä. Me kävellään metsässä.

1.3. With suggestions

The third use is often translated to the ”let’s…” form in English. You’re suggesting something that you and whoever you’re talking to can do together. The idea is specifically that you both do it; it’s not an imperative to make the other person do something.

Verb Suggestion Translation
mennä Mennään teatteriin ensi viikolla! Let’s go to the theater next week!
käydä Käydään kaupassa! Let’s go to (visit) the store!
lukea Luetaan tämä kirja ensin! Let’s first read this book!

 

More information

Making the passive suggestion a question

While this form is usually used as an imperative to do something together, you can also make it a question. I’m not changing the English translation at all, as I think it’s just a matter of intonation in English.

 

Verb Suggestion Translation
mennä Mennäänkö teatteriin ensi viikolla? Let’s go to the theater next week?
käydä Käydäänkö kaupassa? Let’s go to (visit) the store?
lukea Luetaanko tämä kirja ensin? Let’s first read this book?

 

1.4. How to tell usage 1 to 3 apart

The three ways of using the passive mentioned above each have a very distinct sentence pattern to them.

  1. The no-subject passive will always have either a place, an object or a time at the beginning of the sentence.
  2. The spoken language passive will always start with ”me”.
  3. The suggestion passive will always have the passive verb at the beginning of the sentence.
1.1 1.2 1.3
Junalla matkustetaan paljon. Me matkustetaan paljon junalla. Matkustetaan junalla!
Ensi vuonna äänestetään uutta presidenttiä. Me äänestetään uutta presidenttiä. Äänestetään uutta presidenttiä!
Vedenkeitintä käytetään päivittäin monissa kodeissa. Me käytetään vedenkeitintä. Käytetään vedenkeitintä!

As you can see above, 1.1 has a location case (”junalla”), expression of time (”ensi vuonna”) and an object (”vedenkeitintä”) at the beginning of the sentence. In contrast, 1.2 starts with the 1st person plural personal pronoun ”me”. In 1.3 the verb is at the beginning of the sentence.


2. The Formation of the Present Passive

The passive has one rule for verbtypes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Verbtype 1 is the odd one out, with two separate rules that differ from the other verbtypes.

2.1. Verbtype 1 Passive: weak stem + -taan/-tään

Let’s first look at the most simple rule. For verbtype 1 verbs that end in -oa, -öä, -ua, -yä, -ea, -eä, -ia, -iä and -ää (simply put: two vowels, except -aa), you use the weak stem and add -taan/-tään to it. The weak stem is found by taking the minä-form of the verb and remove the -n.

Verb Minä-form Weak stem Passive Example sentence
sanoa minä sanon sano- sanotaan Aamulla sanotaan ”huomenta”.
nukkua minä nukun nuku- nukutaan Yöllä nukutaan.
lähteä minä lähden lähde- lähdetään Töihin lähdetään ajoissa.

The second rule for verbtype one only applies to verbs whose infinitive ends in -aa. For these verbs you first find the weak stem by removing the -n from the 1st person singular. After that, you change the -a- at the end of the stem and replace with with an -e-.

Verb Minä-form Weak stem Passive Example sentence
ottaa minä otan ota- otetaan Otetaan se mukaan!
rakastaa minä rakastan rakasta- rakastetaan Me rakastetaan toisiamme.
maksaa minä maksan maksa- maksetaan Kaupassa maksetaan pankkikortilla.

2.2. Verbtypes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: infinitive + -an/-än

For every verbtype other than 1, you will take the infinitive of the verb as it is and add -an or -än to the end of it. Simple as can be!

Verb Passive Example Translation
saada saadaan Me saadaan lähteä. We’re allowed to leave.
voida voidaan Suomessa voidaan opiskella. One can study in Finland.
ajatella ajatellaan Ajatellaan loogisesti! Let’s think logically!
päästä päästään Vankilasta päästään usein aikaisemmin. People often get out of jail sooner.
haluta halutaan Kesällä halutaan enemmän jäätelöä People want more ice cream in summer.
tarvita tarvitaan Me tarvitaan televisio. We need a television.
vanheta vanhetaan Koko ajan vanhetaan. People get older all the time.

 


3. Consonant Gradation in the Present Passive

The passive present for all verbtypes is weak! That’s due to the fact that verbtype 1 is taken from the first person singular (the minä-form) and the other verbtypes from the basic form. Finally something is easy!

Verb Passive Verb Passive Verb Passive
nukkua nukutaan leipoa leivotaan ampua ammutaan
kunnella kuunnellaan jutella jutellaan ommella ommellaan
pelätä pelätään tavata tavataan pudota pudotaan
tarjeta tarjetaan lämmetä mmetään paeta paetaan

4. The Negative Present Passive

To say something isn’t being done, you should take the positive passive and remove the -an/än from the end. For most verbtypes, this actually means that you will return to the basic form of the verb. However, for verbtype 1, that isn’t the case.

In front of this word construction you of course have to add ”ei”.

Verbtype Verb Passive Negative Passive Imperfect
Verbtype 1 nukkua nukutaan ei nukuta
Verbtype 1 leipoa leivotaan ei leivota
Verbtype 2 juoda juodaan ei juoda
Verbtype 2 tehdä tehdään ei teh
Verbtype 3 olla ollaan ei olla
Verbtype 3 ommella ommellaan ei ommella
Verbtype 4 tavata tavataan ei tavata
Verbtype 4 haluta halutaan ei haluta
Verbtype 5 tarvita tarvitaan ei tarvita
Verbtype 6 rohjeta rohjetaan ei rohjeta

That concludes the article on the present passive!

4 Comments

  • Hey, i love your course and have a suggestion for a better user experience.

    At the end of the lesson, you end with, ”That concludes the article on the present passive!”. I think it would be beneficial to suggest the next topic of study for the student by linking it after that message.

    • Hey Noel! Thank you for your comment! I was kind of hoping the ”related posts” pictures below each article would do that job. Do you think those don’t do their job?

      • Yeah, they do in that they are related, but there are currently 9 options to pick from. I was thinking more like having ”This is the topic you are advised to read next”. If order is not so important, then the related content is fine.

        • The order is not important. This isn’t a ”lesson plan”, more of a reference page for when you’re trying to learn a certain topic.

          Even WITHIN a page, there is often more information than you should take in one your first visit there. I’m trying to be complete and include as much information as I can, but that doesn’t mean a beginner would be ready to understand, process and actively use all of it.

          Then again, it’s the learner who decides how they want to approach these pages 🙂

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