“Denna” or “den här”?
Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially seems to cause confusion is “denna” and how it is different from “den här”. Here is a question from one of my blog readers:
I have a question. When do we use denna/detta/dessa? I see that it is used like this/these in English. It is followed by a noun in the indefinite form. What’s the difference between it and den/det/de här? Also, sometimes denne is used instead of denna, for example “den 5 dennes”, which is supposed to mean “the 5th of this month”. Why is that?
When I started to work on an answer to this question I realized that there isn’t really a right and wrong way to use “denna” and “den här”. As a matter of fact even native Swedish speakers have different opinions about which one to use depending on which dialect they speak.
Let us first straighten out what the pronouns mean.
denna /den här, detta/det här, dessa/de här = this/these
We use “denna” or “den här” when the pronoun refers to a noun with en-gender (utrum). Here’s one example:
Denna bil (en bil) är min.
Den här bilen är min.
(This car is mine.)
We use “detta” or “det här” when the pronoun refers to a noun with ett-gender (neutrum). Here’s one example of that:
Detta hus (ett hus) är mitt.
Det här huset är mitt.
(This house is mine.)
We use “dessa” or “de här” when the pronoun refers to a noun in plural form:
Dessa bilar är mina.
De här bilarna är mina.
(These cars are mine.)
Which one do I use?
As you can see we use the noun (bil) in indefinte form after denna/detta/dessa and in definite form (bilen) after den här/det här/de här. This is the most common way in spoken Swedish in the eastern, central and northern parts. It is also the norm in written standard Swedish according to Svenska språknämnden. In many western and southern dialects, on the other hand, it is quite common to use denna/detta/dessa also in spoken Swedish, and it’s also common to use the following noun in definite form. In Värmland, Skåne and other western and southwestern parts of Sweden our previous examples could look like this:
Denna bilen är min.
Detta huset är mitt.
Dessa bilarna är mina.
In these dialects it is common to say “Denna bilen” instead of “denna bil” which is the norm in written language and standard Swedish.
What about “denne”?
In written Swedish “denna” can also be used independently (without a noun) instead of a personal pronoun. The purpose of doing that is to clarify who you are referring to in a sentence. Take a look at this example:
Tor ringer ofta till sin son, men denne har sällan tid att tala med sin far.
If we use ”han” in this case it isn’t all clear if we are referring to ”Tor” or to ”sin son”. If we instead use “denne” it’s more obvious that we’re referring to “sin son”. This is especially common in formal texts like legal documents. But why are we using “denne” with an “e” instead of “denna”? “Denne” is an old masculine form that we still can run into every now and then. Other examples of masculine form are “bäste” (bästa) and “store” (stor).