Finnish for busy people

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
  5. The Object in Passive Sentences

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.

The Finnish passive always 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.
Opetuksessa käytetään puhelimia. Phones are used in lessons.
Huomenna juhlitaan rauhan päivää. Tomorrow peace day is celebrated.
Vuokralle tarjotaan yksiö (pic). One-room apartment is offered for rent.

For advanced learners: more about the difference between the passive and intransitivity.

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 Me menemme baariin. Me mennään baariin.
rakastaa Me rakastamme sinua. Me rakastetaan sinua.
kävellä 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.

Suggestion Translation
Mennään teatteriin huomenna! Let’s go to the theater tomorrow!
Käydään kaupassa! Let’s go to (visit) the store!
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.
# Finnish English
1 Junalla matkustetaan paljon. There is a lot of traveling by train.
2 Me matkustetaan paljon junalla. We travel by train a lot.
3 Matkustetaan junalla! Let’s travel by train!
1 Ensi vuonna äänestetään presidenttiä. Next year a president is voted for.
2 Me äänestetään uutta presidenttiä. We vote for a new president.
3 Äänestetään uutta presidenttiä! Let’s vote for a new president!
1 Vedenkeitintä käytetään päivittäin. An electric kettle is used daily.
2 Me käytetään vedenkeitintä. We use an electric kettle.
3 Käytetään vedenkeitintä! Let’s use an electric kettle!

As you can see above, 1 has a location case (“junalla“), expression of time (“ensi vuonna“) and an object (“vedenkeitintä“) at the beginning of the sentence. In contrast, 2 starts with the 1st person plural personal pronoun “me”. In 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, and -iä (simply put: two vowels, except -aa/ää), you use the weak stem and add -taan/-tään to it (according to the vowel harmony rules). The weak stem is found by taking the minä-form of the verb and remove the -n.

Verb Passive Example sentence
sanoa sanotaan Aamulla sanotaan “huomenta”.
nukkua nukutaan Yöllä nukutaan.
kysyä kysytään Kysytään opettajalta.
tanssia tanssitaan Discossa tanssitaan.
lähteä lähdetään Töihin lähdetään ajoissa.

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

Verb Passive Example sentence
ottaa otetaan Otetaan se mukaan!
rakastaa rakastetaan Me rakastetaan toisiamme.
ymmärtää ymmärretään Me ymmärretään kaikki.
maksaa maksetaan Kaupassa maksetaan pankkikortilla.
pitää pidetään Pidetään yhteyttä!

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/-än (vowel harmony) to the end of it. Simple as can be, as long as you remember the basic form of the verb!

Verb Passive Example
saada saadaan Me saadaan lähteä.
voida voidaan Suomessa voidaan opiskella.
ajatella ajatellaan Ajatellaan loogisesti!
päästä päästään Vankilasta päästään usein aikaisemmin.
haluta halutaan Kesällä halutaan enemmän jäätelöä
tarvita tarvitaan Me tarvitaan televisio.
vanheta vanhetaan Koko ajan vanhetaan.

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! In the table below, VT means verbtype.

VT Infinitive Passive
1 nukkua nukutaan
1 leipoa leivotaan
1 ampua ammutaan
3 kunnella kuunnellaan
3 jutella jutellaan
3 ommella ommellaan
4 tavata tavataan
4 pudota pudotaan
6 tarjeta tarjetaan
6 mmetä mmetään

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“.

You can find more information about the negative present passive here.

Verbtype Verb Passive Negative
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

5. The Object in Passive Sentences

In passive sentences, the object will never appear in the genetive case. Affirmative sentences in the passive will have objects in the basic form. In negative sentences there is no difference between regular sentences and passives.

Regular sentence Passive sentence
Minä syön omenan. Syödään omena!
Miehet rakentavat talon. Talo rakennetaan.
Me avaamme ikkunan. Me avataan ikkuna.
Me emme syö omenaa. Me ei syödä omenaa.
He eivät rakenna taloa. Taloa ei rakenneta.

You can read more about the object in general here.


This article deals with the present passive. Finnish also has other passive forms, which are a more advanced topic. You can find an overview of the different passives here.

Patreons that support Uusi kielemme for 10 dollars a month get access to interactive exercises about the present passive! While Patreon is meant for monthly prescriptions, you can also sign up for one month and then cancel. Check out Patreon!

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Inge (admin)

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 🙂

¨Koko ajan vanhetaan.¨ is it not strange or inprecise to formulate this sentence in (present)passive without a subject or an hint about who is getting older?
How do we know that we are talking about humans?

Inge (admin)

We know we’re talking about humans because that meaning is inherently embedded in the passive. There is ALWAYS the thought behind passive sentences that there is a human “subject”. Good question!

kiitos

Shanna

It says that the -ää endings in verb type 1 are manipulated according the first rule, but I’ve found that they act more like the 2nd rule, like -aa endings, for example ymmärrtää becomes ymmärretään in the passive, not ymmärrätään. Thoughts?

Inge (admin)

You’re correct! It’s visible in my examples, but the text explains it wrong. I’ll fix that, thanks 🙂

haparoiden

Can the passive in “let’s” meaning be used in formal situations or we need to change the form?

Inge (admin)

You can use it anywhere as far as I can tell! It’s not considered spoken language.

Ziyuan

I came across a sentence using partitive for the subject: Kaivosta pidetään maailman syvimpänä. Is there a rule for this or did I misunderstand?

Ziyuan
Inge (admin)

Kaivos is actually the object in that sentence! The verb pidetään is in the passive “is considered”, so we can’t have a subject in this sentence which translates as “The well is considered the deepest of the world.” The well isn’t considering anything itself, it’s being considered by some people we’re not mentioning.

Kaivos appears in the partitive case because of the sentence construction “pitää jotain jonakin” aka pitää + partitive + essive.

Ziyuan

Right. And I suppose in the sentence “Vuokralle tarjotaan yksiö” yksiö is in its nominative form because yksiö is not the object of tarjota?

Inge (admin)

Yksiö is the object. In a regular sentence it would be “tarjoan yksiön vuokralle“, but the genetive ending disappears in passive sentences.

Ziyuan

Now it’s clear, thank you!