The Swedish Teacher

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“Ska” or “kommer att” for future tense?

Hej igen,

Today we will take a closer look on different ways of constructing/expressing future tense. Karen had the following question on that matter:

“I have a basic question:
Explain when you use “komma att ” and “ska”. I’m running along forever here using “ska” and realize suddenly everyone uses “komma att” this and that all the time( flew right over MY head!) There seem to be a million idiomatic phrases for “komma att”- help!”

In Swedish there is no specific ending that you ad to the verb to create future tense the same way as you ad for example -ade to create past tense. Although there are three different ways to express future tense and they are not always interchangable so we will take a closer look at the differences.

present tense + time adverbial

The most simple way to express future tense in Swedish is by using present tense and a time adverbial (time expression). Here is an example:

Katarina flyttar till London nästa vecka.

(Katarina is moving to London next week.)

ska + infinitive form of the verb

This is also common way to express future tense. “ska” translates to English “will” and should be followed by another verb, this one in infinitive form. So, no “åker” with “-er” after “ska”.

Vad ska du göra på lördag? Jag ska åka till Stockholm på lördag.

(What are you up to on Saturday? I will go to Stockholm on Saturday.)

Fredrik ska söka jobb på ABB.

(Fredrik will apply for a job at ABB.)

Hon ska sluta röka.

(She will quit smoking.)

So what is up with this “ska”? It is quite common for Swedish language learners to use “ska” a bit too much, just like the questioner recently realized she has been. Well, using “ska” not only means that something will happen in the future but also that this particular action is decided to happen. In other words someone has decided, promised, instructed or maybe even ordered what will happen. There is some sort of thinking and decisionmaking behind the future action.  We can look at the examples again:

Vad ska du göra på lördag? Jag ska åka till Stockholm på lördag.

Constructing the question and answer with “ska” gives us the undertone of that the person makes his/her own decision about the Saturday activities. To compare we can also put the question this way:

Vad gör du på lördag? Jag åker till Stockholm på lördag.

Here the subject of the sentence has slightly less power over the situation. It might be the case that someone else made the weekend plans this time. We can see this difference more clearly with the example about smoking:

Jag slutar röka nästa år.

Jag ska sluta röka nästa år.

There is nothing grammatically or vocabularily (?) wrong putting it like I do in the first sentence, but I would be a lot more convinced that the smoker actually will quit if he/she used the second sentence. The “ska” implies that the person really has made up his/her mind to quit smoking.

kommer att + infinitive form of the verb

Alright, what about “kommer att” then? As you might have figured out by now, “kommer att” does not imply that their is a mind, a decisionmaker behind the future action. No, “kommer att” expresses a prognosis or prediction, any development that we can’t have control with our minds like the weather or body functions. Hmm, I think we need some examples to make this clearer:

Det kommer att regna hela nästa vecka.

(It’s going to rain next week.)

It will rain wether we like or not, and the weatherman has no power over the forecast 😉

Du kommer att bli frisk om du tar antibiotika.

(You will get well if you take antibiotics.)

The doctor has no power over your body, he/she can only predict. The same thing goes for your parents:

Du kommer att vara jättetrött imorgon om du inte går och lägger dig nu!

(You will be very tired tomorrow if you don’t go to bed now!)

I hope this cleared things up! Why not test yourself with my quiz:

Lycka till!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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