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The Swedish Teacher

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Stockholm central? Stockholms södra?

Hej!

Today we have a quite interesting question from Jack:

I’m wondering why when you arrive by train into Stockholm main station the signs read “Stockholm Central”. But when using the South or North stations a mysterious extra ‘-s’ appears “Stockholms Södra / Stockholms Norra”

Actually it’s the “Stockholm Central” without a -s that is more mysterious if you look into grammar rules. You see, in Swedish we use -s for genitive just like you do in English. The only difference is that there is no apostrophe in Swedish. Here’s an example:

Swedish

Saras cykel är röd.

English

Sara’s bike is red.

The funny (and perhaps confusing) part is that in Swedish there’s and old rule that says you shouldn’t use the genitive -s after names of places ending with a vowel. So we have to say:

Uppsala universitet

Umeå universitet

Örebro universitet
but according to the rule we have to say:

Lunds universitet

Göteborgs universitet

Stockholms universitet

According to this rule the train station signs without the -s are more mysterious than the ones with -s  ;-) However, we all know that languages always change and it happens that the genitive -s is dropped also when the place name ends with a consonant. Why? I have no idea to be honest :)

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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12 responses to “Stockholm central? Stockholms södra?”

  1. Jenn says:

    Interesting question!

    I would think the difference is probably due not to any grammatical reason but simply variations in how stations were named.

    In other words, there is a grammar rule that to form the genitiv/possessive in Swedish, you (in most cases) add an -s. However, I don’t think there’s any sort of rule that train stations have to be named using the possessive!

    Just focusing on main train station appellations here (as there are variations – originally I thought that maybe not using the possessive was common to all central stations)… Stockholm’s main station was named “[the] Stockholm Central Station” while in Copenhagen they named it “Copenhagen’s Central Station.”

    Other Germanic language examples that don’t use the possessive in the name:

    Amsterdam Centraal
    Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Central Station)
    Oslo Sentralstasjon

    On the other hand:
    Københavns Hovedbanegård
    Lunds centralstation

    Interestingly enough, these last two are abbreviated: København H and Lund C — without the possessive!

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  2. Wes says:

    When I take the train from Strängnäs to Stockholm Central it passes so fast through the Stockholms Södra station that I never notice “Stockholm” being written differently. I will look next time. Thanks for providing such a great service to us in the USA that don’t get very much “Swedish to practice”.

    Wes

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  3. John R says:

    Excellent post – normally we would talk of prescriptive (What should be done to be grammatically correct) and descriptive (Language as it used) grammar in cases of variance. Here it would be logical to assume three possible scenarios Firstly, that Centralen being the main station is given special status and identified not as a gentive but a place in and of itself: so Trafalgar Square but Nelson’s Column. Secondly, that it was the Swedish style to follow the Germanic rules in 1871 and that is the more “classic” use of naming, and thirdly, the genitive use in Swedish denotes, as in other languages, possession, and here possession is not the aim: we are, as in point one, naming a place not showing possession. The fourth and unfeasible option is that someone got it wrong. I cannot subscribe to that.

    The others are used with ’s to denote they are not Centralen if this argument holds, but could be related to the points of the compass being possessive? Without a full survey of major station across the Nordic region that all I got….

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    • Very interesting comments John! I especially like that you’re pointing out the the difference between prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. I think it’s very important to keep that difference in mind when you learn a language, particularly if you live in the country where the language is spoken.
      I also like the three possible scenarios you’re discussing. I think maybe the third one is what applies to our train stations :)

      I’m curious to know more about the “Germanic rules in 1871″ that you’re mentioning. Where can I read more about that?

      Sara

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  4. Bengt says:

    Hi..

    Must say that it is always interesting to learn more about a language even if your are a native – like me – born and raised in Sweden. :-)

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  5. Random says:

    I was asking my boyfriend this very question just a couple of days ago. He couldn’t give me an answer! Thanks for bringing it up and confirming that it’s a bit of a mystery, even for the experts! Maybe we can ask SJ or Banverket?

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  6. Gary says:

    I would say that it is similar in English. There is a difference, for example, between South Africa and Southern Africa. the “South” in “South Africa” was originally used to describe position but is now part of the name, as in Stockholm Central. Whereas Southern Africa (like Stockholms Södra) is still used to describe position, a part of Africa, (a part of Stockholm).

    Someone from Botswana is very aware of this and it’s quite annoying when other people use the two interchangeably (South Africa and Southern Africa).

    The same would be if you were to say East London, then you would be saying the name of the a place, whereas if your were to say: London East , Eastern London, The Eastern part of London, you would be describing an area within London. You wouldn’t say The Northern Pole, because the name of the place is The North Pole.

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  7. Hermes says:

    Very interesting indeed but, if the old rule says you shouldn’t use the genitive -s after names of places ending with a vowel, how come we say “Saras cykel är röd”?

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  8. Christopher says:

    Related to this, but not the genetive s, is why you insist on calling Stockholm Central a train station. The correct name for such a place, in British English at least, is a railway station.

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