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The Swedish Teacher

Sara Hörberg began teaching Swedish as a foreign/second language in 2001. Ask Sara her anything about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.

Det

Hej!

“Det” is a personal pronoun that can be used in many ways, and it might me confusing if you always translate “det” to English “it”. In this article I will do my best to guide you to how to use “det”.

Det replacing a word, a phrase or a clause

Let us begin with the less confusing use of “det”, that is when “det” refers to something that is known, something that we already have information about. As we will see in the examples below, “det” might replace not only a neuter noun (ett-ord), but also a verb phrase or a whole clause (“sats” in Swedish). Take a look at these examples:

- När kommer tåget?

-Det kommer klockan sju.

(When is the train coming? It arrives at seven o’clock.)

“Det” is replacing “tåget”, which is an ett-word.

- Kan du spela gitarr?

- Ja, det kan jag.

(Do you know how to play the guitar? Yes, I do.)

In this case, “det” is replacing the verb phrase “spela gitarr”. I guess in English one would rather use “that” instead of “it”. Next example:

- När börjar mötet?

(When does the meeting begin?)

- Det vet jag inte.

(I don’t know.)

In this case “det” is replacing the whole clause and what we’re saying is basically:

- När börjar mötet?

- Det (=när mötet börjar) vet jag inte.

“Det” linking forward

Another function of “det” is that it links forward to something that is unknown. In such a case we can call “det”  “formellt subjekt” (formal subject). When we use “det” as a formal subject we also have an “actual subject” (“egentligt subjekt” in Swedish). In such a case “det” is placed first in the clause and the actual subject, is placed in the subject’s position, after the first verb. Here are a few examples of “det”as a formal subject:

- Vem är det?

(Who is that?)

- Det är Agneta.

(It is Agneta.)

- Vilka är det?

(Who are they?)

- Det är Agneta och Björn.

(It’s Agneta and Björn.)

- Vad är det?

(What is that?)

- Det är en kanelbulle.

(It’s a cinnamon roll.)

- Vad är det?

(What is that?)

- Det är jordgubbar.

(It’s strawberries.)

As you can see, in these cases we use “det” no matter what gender or number the noun (the actual subject) is.

“Det” might also refer forward to a verb phrase, like this:

Det är roligt att dansa. = Att dansa är roligt.

(It is fun to dance.  = To dance/dancing is fun.)

“Det” is the formal subject, but the verb phrase “att dansa” is the actual subject.

“Det” when introducing something new

In Swedish a special construction is used when you want to introduce new persons or things into the conversation. This construction is called the existential sentence (“presenteringskonstruktion” in Swedish). Instead of beginning the sentence with the real subject, you begin with with a formal subject, “det”. In this case, “det” corresponds to English “there”. Here are some examples of existential sentences constructed with different verbs:

Det är någon i trädgården.

(There is someone in the garden.)

Det kommer en bil på vägen.

(There is a car coming on the road.)

Det finns älg i Sverige.

(There is moose in Sweden.)

Det finns öl i kylskåpet.

(There is beer in the fridge.)

Det saknas en person.

(There is one person missing.)

Det sitter en fågel i trädet.

(There is a bird sitting in the tree.)

Det ligger en tidning på parkbänken.

(There is a newspaper on the bench.)

Det går ett tåg i timmen till Stockholm.

(There is a train to Stockholm every hour.)

Det står en lampa i fönstret.

(There is a lamp in the window.)

“Det” when talking about the weather

When talking about the weather we also use phrases with “det” as the subject, since there is no natural subject.  This phenomenon in Swedish (and in English) is called “subjektstvång” or “platshållartvång”,which means that we are forced to have a subject (and a verb in present or simple past tense) to create a complete clause. Therefore, if we don’t have a natural subject we are forced to use “det” instead. Take a look at the following examples:

Det regnar.

(It is raining.)

Det snöar.

(It is snowing.)

Det är kallt.

(It is cold.)

Det är varmt.

(It is warm.)

“Det” doesn’t really mean anything in the weather phrases above, but in Swedish (and in English) we have to have a subject to get the word order right. If we don’t have “det” we cannot make the difference between

Det snöar. (a statement)

Snöar det? (a question)

Ja, det var det (that was it) ;-) Have fun learning Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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