• Estonian grammar
  • 1 Estonian sentence structure [0/2]
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  • 3 Estonian pronouns [0/3]
  • 4 Estonian cases [0/11]
  • 5 Estonian verbs [0/8]
  • 6 Estonian adjectives [0/1]
  • 7 Estonian prepositions and postpositions [0/1]
  • 8 Estonian adverbs [0/1]
  • Passive and impersonal voice in Estonian

    In most languages, there are usually two voices: active and passive. However, in Estonian the voices are called personal and impersonal voice. 

    What makes impersonal voice different from passive is that the main purpose is to make the subject impersonal (instead of emphasizing the object).


    Present tense of the impersonal voice

    The present impersonal verb form is one of the four basic forms of an Estonian verb, which means that it can't be constructed from any other stems but has to be memorized.

    It uses the suffixes -akse, -dakse, -takse.

    • Enne sööki pestakse käsi. --- Before eating hands are washed.
    • Maal tuntakse üksteist. --- In the countryside people know each other.
    • Sõnaraamatutes selgitatakse sõnade tähendusi. --- The meaning of the words is explained in the dictionaries.


    Negative form

    The negative present impersonal is made with the negation word ei + present passive without the -kse ending.

    English Affirmative English Negative
    one speaks räägitakse one does not speak ei räägita
    it is allowed lubatakse it is not allowed ei lubata
    it is said öeldakse it is not said ei öelda


    Past tense of the impersonal voice

    The simple past is formed by replacing the ending of the -tud/-dud participle with -ti/-di.

    English -tud/-dud Participle Past Passive
    speak räägitud räägiti
    sing lauldud lauldi
    sell müüdud müüdi


    Negative form

    The negative of the simple past consists of the negation word ei + -tud/-dud participle.

    English Negative Past Passive
    one did not read ei loetud
    one did not wait ei oodatud
    one did not beg ei palutud


    • Peol tantsiti hilisõhtuni. --- People danced until late in the evening at the party.
    • Meid ei oodatud pulma. --- We were not expected at the wedding.
    • Vanasti sõideti hobustega. --- In olden days people rode horses.


    Compound forms

    The past perfect and the pluperfect are formed with the auxiliary verb on/oli (the 3rd person singular of olema 'to be') + -tud/-dud participle.

    The negative form is constructed with ei ole/ei olnud + -tud/-dud participle.

      Affirmative   Negative  
      English Estonian English Estonian
    Past Perfect one has begged on palutud one has not begged ei ole palutud
      one has laughed on naerdud one has not laughed ei ole naerdud
    Pluperfect one had begged oli palutud one had not begged ei olnud palutud
      one had laughed oli naerdud one had not laughed ei olnud naerdud


    Passive voice in Estonian

    In addition to the impersonal, the passive voice also exists in Estonian. While the impersonal sentences express the action with leaving the subject in the background, the passive is used to rather express the state that the object has reached as a result of the action. It can also be used as adjective that describes what has happened to a noun.

    The passive form is always the -tud/-dud principle of the verb.

    Comparsion passive voice and impersonal voice

    In the following table you can see the comparison of impersonal and passive sentences in Estonian:

      Impersonal   Passive  
      English Estonian English Estonian
    Present One is closing the doors Uksed suletakse The doors are closed Uksed on suletud
    Past Simple One closed the doors Uksed suleti The doors were closed Uksed olid suletud
    Past Perfect One has closed the doors Uksed on suletud The doors have been closed Uksed on olnud suletud
    Pluperfect One had closed the doors Uksed olid suletud The doors had been closed Uksed olid olnud suletud