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The Swedish Teacher

If you want the answers, you just have to ask!

Förr, förut, förrän, före and … innan!

Hejsan!

Diana, and she is most likely not alone, is wondering about different words that mean “before”. Here is Diana’s question:

It would be a huge help if you could explain how and when to use the different words that mean before. I never know if it’s förr, or if it’s innan. [...] and I’ve heard a word like förns, or something, …

Well Diana, I can’t blame you for being confused ;-) There are a lot of words in Swedish that sounds “för” something, actually I never thought about it myself before I started teaching Swedish.

förr/förut

“Förr” has different meanings. First of all it simply means “before” as in earlier or previously. Here are a couple of examples of how to use it.

Vi har träffats förr, eller hur?

(We have met before, haven’t we?)

A nice (pick up) line, isn’t it?  :-)

When the teacher explains for example word order the students often say:

Jag har aldrig hört det förr!

(I have never heard that before!)

“Förr” can also, when it means “before” be replaced by “förut” and we get the exact same content of our sentence. Like this:

Vi har träffats förut, eller hur?

and

Jag har aldrig hört det förut!

Now some bad news – “förr” also means “in former times” or in “former years” which is way further back in time than just “before”.

Förr trodde man att jorden var platt.

(People used to think that the earth was flat.)

Det var bättre förr i tiden.

(“Everything was better in earlier times.”)

As if this wasn’t enough “förr” also occure in phrases like the ones below, meaning “sooner”. Take a look at this:

ju förr desto bättre

(the sooner the better)

förr eller senare

(sooner or later)

innan and före

“Innan” means “before”. The problem is that there is also is the word “före” that also means “before”, and I can see how it can be hard to know which one to use. “Innan” is a “subjunction”, which means it is the conjunction between a independent and a dependent clause. Other words from the same category that you probably recognise are “därför att” (beacuse), “eftersom” (since) and “att” (that).

“Före” is simply a preposition and only has a relation to a noun, not a whole clause. “Före” means “before” as a preposition, but is also used meaning “in front of” or “ahead of”. Let’s check out a couple of examples that hopefully illustrates the difference:

Jag äter frukost innan jag åker till jobbet.

(I have breakfast before I go to work.)

Mycket ska man höra innan öronen faller av!

(“You will hear many things before your ears fall off!” = I have never heard anything like it!)

Det var många före mig i kön på posten idag.

(There were a lot of people in front of me at the post office today.)

Anna Andersson står före Bengt Bengtsson på listan.

(Anna Andersson is before Bengt Bengtsson on the list.)

inte förrän/inte förrns

The word “förrän” is never by itself, but has to be combined with “inte” or other negating words like “knappt” (hardly). Together they translate to English “not until” or “before”. The “förrns” that Diana is mentioning in her question is actually just a colloquial or maybe regional version of “förrän”. Actually my mother often uses “förrns” more often than she uses “förrän”. Remember though, that the correct written form is “förrän”. Here is an example with “förrän”:

Du får ingen glass förrän du har ätit upp din broccoli.

(You don’t get any ice cream until you have finished your broccoli.)

Some common sayings also have “inte förrän”. Please help me with the English versions of these :)

Man ska inte sälja skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten.

(“Don’t sell the bear’s coat before the bear is shot.”)

Man ska inte ropa hej förrän man är över bäcken.

(“Don’t shout “hej” before you have jumped over the stream.” “Don’t crow too soon.”)

Keep up the good work speaking Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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12 responses to “Förr, förut, förrän, före and … innan!”

  1. Cecile Pham says:

    Oh my gosh! i have TOTALLY been wondering about this one. Thanks for the post!

    I’m not sure if you’ve answered this before, but when do you used a preposition before your nouns? Specifically en or ett. Because in english you always always use a this, or a that, or at least the before an object if it’s a tangible object. What is the rules for that in Swedish. I noticed it seems to not be used much more frequently than i’m accustomed to.

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  2. there is no such grammatical term as subjunction in english. you mean something else.

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  3. Diana says:

    Nu blir jag glad- tack så mycket. Innan jag kom till Sverige, trodde jag att det skulle bli lätt som helst att lära svenska. Men det är inte alls enkelt, och jag är tacksam, och hoppas att förr eller senare, ska jag prata flyttande.

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  4. Phil says:

    Another informative post. It’s good to see a well thought-out explanation of the different usages. Definitely clears things up.

    Tack så mycket!

    Report abuse »

  5. Peter says:

    Subjunction is the correct term.

    Alternatively one can say subordinating conjunction (underordnande konjunktion eller ‘bisatsord’).

    Thanks for yet another informative post!

    Will there be more examples of particle verbs in the future??

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  6. Chris says:

    Man ska inte sälja skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten.

    “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

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  7. sam says:

    hallo for all sverige i like sweden veerry much
    sam

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  8. TG says:

    Nice post. Using the word “adverb” to describe förr/förut might help clarify things a bit. As for förrän – looks like “before ever/still” to me, which makes sense given the usage. Pointing out these little details might help people remember the meanings. But what do I know… i don’t even speak Swedish.

    Report abuse »

  9. Carlos says:

    Hi,
    With regard to my previous posting about the use of åt meaning to or for, I found some examples but would like a more detail rule as to why it is used in some cases and in others it is not, or the difference when using åt, för or till.
    Thank you in advance,
    Carlos
    He always cooks FOR me.
    Han lagar alltid mat åt mig or Han lagar alltid mat till mig.

    Both sound equal to me. I would rather use the first one, but the second one wouldn’t sound strange.

    I baked a cake FOR you.
    Jag bakade en tårta till dig or Jag bakade en tårta åt dig.

    The same thing as above.

    She cleaned the house FOR me.
    Hon städade huset åt mig.
    Here, both till and för sound wrong.

    She read the story TO me.
    Hon läste historien för mig.

    Sing TO me please.
    Sjung för mig, är du snäll!

    Hold this FOR me while I tie my shoelaces.
    Håll den här åt mig medan jag knyter mina skosnören.

    I bought the tickets FOR you since you didn´t have time.
    Jag köpte biljetterna åt dig eftersom du inte hade tid.
    Till might be used here, but sounds a bit odd to me.

    I have a great movie FOR you if you get bored.
    Jag har en jättebra film åt dig om du blir uttråkad.
    This does sound a bit strange to me, to use ha with a preposition. I could imagine myself saying it in conversation, but I would prefer another clause, as in Jag har en jättebra film som du kan få låna om du blir uttråkad (I have a great movie that you can borrow if you get bored).

    Can you buy some milk FOR me?
    Kan du köpa lite mjölk åt mig?

    There´s some milk FOR your coffee if you want.
    Det finns mjölk till ditt kaffe om du vill ha.

    This is far too strange FOR me.
    Det här är alldeles för konstigt för mig.

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  10. Da, probabil, de aceea este

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  11. Neethu says:

    Hi,

    Could you please explain where to use inför and förbi. I could translate it to ‘before’ in google translate, but not sure how to use it.
    Thanks in advance

    Report abuse »

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