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Archive for November, 2010

Sjuhundrasjuttiosju sjömän and other consonant sounds

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Hej alla!

It is about time that we take a look on how to make some of the very Swedish consonant sounds. I know it is not easy, bit it isn’t impossible either.First we are going to learn how sounds are produced, what we do physically to make sounds and after that we will look into some of the sounds that are typical for Swedish - sj, tj and rs. Finally you can read about some geographical differences in pronunciation of these sounds.

How do we produce sound?

Let me start with how we produce sound. When we exhale, air is forced up from our lungs and out through our mouth. On its way out that air can be stopped in different places of our mouth and in different ways. If you lift your tongue and push the air through your nose you get a nasal sound, like [ng] in “pengar” or [nk] in “bank”. If you roll the tip of your tongue you will produce a rolling  [r] like in “ringer”. If you press your lips together and then suddenly let the air out create a [p] like in “pappa”. These sounds are not so complicated to produce and we seldom have to think so much on how to produce them. Some consonant sounds that we can find in Swedish could need a little more attention and practice to get right. I am talking about the sj-sound that we can find in “sjuksköterska”, the tj-sound that we find in “kinesisk” and the rs-sound that can find in “kurs”. All three are pronounced slightly different depending on where you are from so don’t be surprised if someone from Malmö sounds different than someone from Skellefteå.

The sj-sound

The sj-sound is with phonetic terms described as a postalveolar fricative. A fricative means that we force through a narrow channel. In this case the narrow channel is made of our tongue pressing against just between the gum around our molars and the palate. You don’t have to force a lot of air out. In fact, I have noticed that many students overdo the sj-sound and I advice them to exhale just like when they say “h” but make sure that there tongue is touching the molars.

Except for with “sj” this sound can be spelled in many different ways. The most common way is probably “sj” . We find it in words like:









Also the combination “sk” is pronounced this way when it is followed by e,i,y,ä or ö. Here are some examples:





skynda sig




sköta om

(take care of)

Other ways to spell the sj-sound is with “stj” like in “stjärna” (star), with “skj” like in “skjorta” (shirt), with “sch” like in “schack” (chess) amd sometimes even with “ch” like in “chef” (manager) and “charmig” (charming). We also find the sj-sound in the middle of a word spelled with “tio”, “sio” or “ssio” like in “station” (station), “pension” (retirement) and “diskussion” (discussion).

This sound is a “postalveolar frikativa”.

The tj-sound

The tj-sound is for most people easier to pronounce than the sj-sound. It is very similar to the sh-sound in English, but still a little bit different. “Tj” is a hissing our sizzling sound. Anyone who has seen The Dog Whisperer (“Mannen som talar med hundar” in Sweden) knows what a tj-sound should sound like – shhhh!

The phonetic terms for the sizzling sound is alveolar palatal fricative. In English this means that this sound is produced when the middle part of the tongue is slightly touching the palate and the tip of the tongue is pressing a little bit against the teeth ridge.

Just like with the sj-sound there are many ways to spell the tj-sound. First of all with the letter “k” followed by “e,i,y,ä and ö”. Like this:








(know, feel)



The tj-sound is of course also spelled with “tj” as in tjej (girl) and tjock (thick), and also with “kj” as in kjol (skirt).

The rs- sound

If you are from the central or northern parts of Sweden you have a rolling “r”. That rolling r is with phonetic terms called a retroflex consonant, which means that we bend the tip of the tongue back a little bit when we say r. When this rolling r is combined with t,d,n and s the two consonants melt together and we get one assimilated retroflex sound. Take a look at these examples:


(short or card)

The t and the r are assimilated and instead of two separate sounds we get sort of a thick t, a t pronounced with the tip of the tongue bent back instead of just touching the front teeth.



Just like with the rt combination the r and d comes out as one sound, like a thick d with the tip of tongue bent back.



Also with r and n together we get a retroflex sound, a thick n.



The rs-sound and the tj-sound are very similar. The difference between the two is that the rs is a retroflex and therefore a little “thicker” than the tj-sound that is produced with a more flat tip of the tongue.

Different pronunciation in different parts of Sweden

As in any other language there are differences in pronunciation throughout Sweden. In the southern parts, let’s say from Norrköping and down one uses the sj-sound both in the beginning and in the end of words. So, the “sch” in “dusch (shower) sounds the same as the “sk” in “skära” (cut). In the very southern parts like Skåne you don’t have a rolling “r” which makes the “r” and the “s” in “kurs” pronounced as two separate sounds.

In many northern accents you don’t hear the sj-sound as it is pronounced in the central and southern parts of the country. “sk”, “skj” and “stj” in sked, skjorta, stjärna are pronounced like the “rs” in kurs. You will also here this in Finnish Swedish.

In the central parts of Sweden, like Uppsala and Stockholm, you often use the sj-sound in the beginning of words (sju, skorta) and the rs-sound in the end of words (dusch, garage).

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Den or det?

Monday, November 8th, 2010


Many of you readers have been asking for help with  “den” and  “det”, so my mission for this post is to clarify not only when to use which one but also how they have an effect on definite and indefinite form (bestämd och obestämd form).


First of all “den” is a personal pronoun (personligt pronomen in Swedish) and means “it” when it refers to an en-word. Like this:

Jag ska se en film ikväll. Den heter “Män som hatar kvinnor”. Har du sett den?

(I am going to watch a movie tonight. It is called “Men who hate women”/”The girl with the dragon tatoo”. Have you seen it?)

“Den” also have the function of a freestanding definite article. And what is THAT?? you might be thinking now. Well, as you know in Swedish just like in English, you need to have either a indefinite or definite form of nouns. A indefinite form can look like this:

en hund

(a dog)

ett hus

(a house)

The en/ett in Swedish and a (and sometimes an) in English is  with a grammar term called indefinite article. The definite form of the noun looks like this:


(the dog)


(the house)

You can see here that in Swedish the definite article is an ending attached to the noun, -en or -et. This is the most common way to make definite form, but it also happens that we use a freestanding definite article and it can be den, det or de. Here are some examples:

Jag vill köpa den röda klänningen.

(I want to buy the red dress.)

Vi bor i det röda huset.

(We live in the red house.)

De röda klänningarna var slutsålda.

(The red dresses were sold out.)

Have you noticed something that these three examples have in common? That’s right, all of them have an adjective (röda) before the noun, and that is when we use the freestanding definite article – den, det or de. But wait a second! Isn’t “klänningen”, “huset” and “klänningarna” also definite form?! Yes they are, and this is a very special and maybe irritating feature of Swedish – we sometimes use a so called double definite form (dubbel bestämning). We use both the freestanding definite article (den, det, de) and the regular definite article (-en, -et, -na).

den röda klänningen

det röda huset

de röda klänningarna

This construction is quite special for Swedish, you don’t find it in Danish for example. As if it wasn’t enough with double definite form the den/det/de also controls the form of the following adjective, which basically means that you have to use -a on your adjective after all these three. In other cases you only use -a on the adjective when it is combined with the plural form of the noun. Take a look:

en röd klänning

(a red dress)

ett rött hus

(a red house)

röda klänningar

(red dresses)

Compare this to:

den röda klänningen

det röda huset

de röda klänningarna

A grammarian would say that we also have a definite for of the adjective (röda) here, but it might be easier to just remember to have -a on the adjective after den/det/de. It is all up to you.


“Det” is first of all, just like “den”, a personal pronoun (personligt pronomen) referring to an ett-word. An example:

Jag har köpt ett nytt hus. Det är gult.

(I have bought a new house. It is yellow.)

“Det” can also have the function of a freestanding definite article as we just saw above.

det röda huset

OK, that is not so complicated, but “det” can have several other functions and that is probably what my questioners have noticed.  Just like “det” refers to only one word, the noun with gender “ett”, it can refer to a whole clause or a part of a clause. Take a look at this:

Tågen från Uppsala till Stockholm är ofta försenade. Det upprör många resenärer.

(The trains from Uppsala to Stockholm are often delayed and that upsets many travelers.)

- När har vi rast?  -Det vet jag inte.

(When do we have a break? – I don’t know that.)

– Kan du spela piano?   – Ja, det kan jag.

(- Do you know how to play the piano?   – Yes, I do.) or literally  (-Do you know how to play  the piano?   -Yes, that I know.)

Another function of “det” is the so called formal subject (in Swedish “formellt subjekt”). In such a case there is a formal subject (det) and the actual subject which can be a noun or a verb phrase. Here are some examples:

Vem är det? Det är Anders.

(Who is that? /Who is this? That is Anders./It is Anders. )

“Anders” is the so called actual subject of the sentence and “det” is the formal subject.

Vad är det? Det är en iPhone.

(What is that? That is an iPhone/It is an iPhone.)

“en iPhone” is the so called actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

Det är roligt att spela fotboll.

(It’s fun to play football.)

“Att spela fotboll” is the actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

Det var bra att du kom.

(In English: It’s good that you came.)

“Att du kom ” is the actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

In Swedish, just like in English, there is a linguistic phenomenon called “subjektstvång”. I am not sure of the English term for this but it means “need of subject”. Basically, in Swedish as well as in English we must always have a subject to construct a complete sentence. This type of subject is sometimes called “platshållarsubjekt” meaning” in-place-keeper-subject”. You see the word order is so important in Swedish so we always need a subject to figure out where to place the other parts of the sentence. Let me show you with an example:


(rains/is raining).

You can probably see that this isn’t a complete sentence.We don’t know if you mean:

Det regnar.

(It is raining/It rains.)

or if you are trying to say:

Regnar det?

(Is it raining?/Does it rain?)

So you can see that little “det” plays a very important part.

Finally it is also common to use “det” as a subject when you don’t know who is doing something. Note that it is also all right to use another subject like “någon” (someone) or “något” (something) in these cases but “det” is more common. Examples:

Det ringer på dörren.

(There is someone at the door.)

Det luktar illa i kylskåpet.

(Something in the fridge smells bad.)

All right, let’s hope that I was able to clarify when to use “den” and “det”. Why don’t you take the quiz and let me find out:


Lycka till!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Win a Swedish language lesson!

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Hej alla bloggläsare!

(Hi all blog readers!)

I am really happy to have so many followers here on The Local. It is so much fun to be able to help you learning more Swedish. It is also very useful for me as a teacher to “get inside the heads” of the students.

I want to reward you for your contributions to this blog (all your interesting questions) and encourage you to interact even more. So I have decided to announce a competition. 10 of you will win a Swedish online lesson of your choice (conversation, grammar, pronunciation etc ). To win I want you to tell me about about a funny mistake you have made when speaking Swedish. For example I once had a student that told me that he had mixed up the words “förstår” (understand) and “förstör” (destroy), so he sat in meetings at work nodding and saying “Jag förstör” (I destroy). Write your story (about 200-500 words) and send it to my email learn@swedishclasses.com. You can write in Swedish or English. The last day to send in your story is on Monday December 7 2010.

Good luck!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Samma, lika eller annorlunda?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010


When learning a foreign language you often struggle with the words and expressions that seem to mean almost the same. When you speak you get it almost right, but not quite. Speaking Swedish it might be tough to master the expressions for “the same”, “different”, “a difference” etc. It is not always easy to get “samma”, “annorlunda” and “skillnad” and therefore we will take a closer look at these expressions today.

We will start with some expressions tu use when expressing that someone is like someone or looks like someone.

är lik, likt, lika

lik/likt/lika is a type of  adjective  and can either mean that you look like someone or that you act like someone. A couple of examples:

Anna är lik sin mamma. Hon har ljust hår och blå ögon precis som sin mamma.

(Anna looks like her mother. She has blond hair and blue eyes just like her mother.)

Anna är lik sin mamma. Hon är glad för det mesta precis som sin mamma.

(Anna is just like her mother. She is happy most of the time just like her mother.)

ABBA-Benny och ABBA-Björn är lika. Båda har brunt hår och skägg.

(ABBA-Benny and ABBA-Björn look the same/are alike. They both have brown hair and a beard.)


“Liknar” is a verb and it also means “looks like” or in Swedish “ser ut som”. You can use “liknar” instead of “är lik” and get more or less the same meaning. Like this:

Anna liknar sin mamma både till utseendet och sättet.

(Anna both looks like and acts like her mother.)

It is not only for people we use “liknar” but also for things, like cars for example:

Det där liknar din bil. Du har väl en röd Volvo?

(That looks like your car. You have a red Volvo, don’t you?)

The same content can be expressed with “ser ut som”:

Det där ser ut som din bil. Du har väl en röd Volvo?

(That looks like your car. You have a red Volvo, don’t you?)

likadan, likadant, likadana

Another way to say “similar” or “identical” is to use likadan/likadant/likadana. As you can see this is an adjective and you need to think of en/ett/plural of the noun. A few examples:

Lisa har en likadan tröja som Annika. Båda två har köpt sina tröjor på H&M.

(Lisa has exactly the same sweater as Annika; they’ve both bought them at H&M.)

Jag bor i ett likadant hus som min granne. Båda husen är byggda på 70-talet.

(My house looks exactly like my neighbor’s. Both houses were built in the seventies.)

Det är vanligt att tvillingar har likadana kläder.

(It is common for twins to wear identical clothes.)


When something (or someone) is not just identical but actually the exact same object or person, we should use the word “samma” (the same one) instead of “likadan”. Because it’s common also for native speakers to say “samma” when they actually mean “likadan” there is no reason to be embarrassed if you make the same mistake. Here are a couple of examples when you should use “samma”:

Jonas och Rikard är födda på samma dag.

(Jonas and Rikard were born the same day.)

Jag hade samma historielärare som min syster.

(I had the same history teacher as my sister did.)

In the examples above no native speaker would make the mistake and use “likadan” instead of  “samma” but let us take a look a couple of sentences when one easily could. We can put it this way:

Lena och Katrin hade samma klänning på sig på festen igår kväll.

(Lena and Katrin wore  the same dress at the party last night. )

or we can put it this way:

Lena och Katrin hade likadana klänningar på festen igår kväll.

(Lena and Katrin wore  identical dresses at the party last night.)

Well both scenarios are possible I guess. In the first sentence Lena and Katrin actually only have one dress to share so either they take turns wearing it or it is a very large dress ;-) In the second example Lena and Katrin have one dress each but identical copies. Maybe they  both did some last minute shopping  ;-) You can therefore see that there is no big harm done if you mix up “samma” and “likadan” only it can be a little bit funny.

All right but what about when things are different? Yes, there are a few different words for that too. We have “annorlunda”, “annan”, “olik” and “skillnad” to deal with here.

skillnad (en)

First of all there is the noun “skillnad” which means “a difference”.  One example of how to use “skillnad”:

Det är skillnad på/mellan svenska och norska.

(There is a difference between Swedish and Norwegian.)


olik/olikt/olika are adjectives and mean “different” in English. Just like in many other words “o-” is a prefix that means “inte” which makes “olik” being the opposite of “lik” – “unlike” or “different”. Just like we can use “lik”/”likt”/”lika” to describe looks and character we can use “olika”. Like this:

ABBA-Agneta och ABBA-Frida är olika. Agneta är blond och Frida är brunhårig.

(ABBA-Agneta and ABBA-Frida look different/have different looks. Agneta is blond and Frida has brown hair.)

Norska och svenska är två olika språk.

(Norwegian and Swedish are two different languages.)


When using “olika” you do not put any value in the word. It is only a statement about a difference but you do not say anything about the difference being good or bad or that one is the norm and the other one is the deviation from the norm. (Thank you Phil for your suggestion of how to use ‘deviation’.) When you want to express that someone or something is not only different but actually abnormal or exceptional in some way you should use “annorlunda” instead of olik/olikt/olika. Like this:

När jag flyttade till USA var det mycket som kändes annorlunda.

(When I moved to the US a lot of things felt different to me.)

I prefer to use “annorlunda” in this case since Sweden is my reference point as it’s what is normal to me. It also happens that Swedish speakers use “annorlunda” as a polite way to express “konstigt” (odd, weird)  ;-) My dear mother for example, often uses “annorlunda” as a judgement of food that is exotic to her :-) She would in such a case say:

Hmm, det här var ju … annorlunda.

(Hmm, this was … different.)

Thank you for reading!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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