The Swedish Teacher

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“Som” eller “att”

Hej hej!

It happens quite often, that my students are confused over when to use “som” and when to use “att”. Today I’ll try my best to explain in what situations you should use the two.

“Som” as a relative pronoun

A relative clause is a sub- clause (“bisats” in Swedish) that gives you more information about the noun in the main clause (“huvudsats” in Swedish). Let us take a look at an example:

Jag har en hund. Hunden gillar köttbullar.

(I have a dog. The dog likes meatballs.)

Instead of having two sentences (two main clauses) we can connect them with a relative pronoun and get one main clause and one relative clause (a sub-clause). The sentence will then look like this:

Jag har en hund som gillar köttbullar.

I have a dog who likes meatballs.

Relative clauses in English are mostly introduced  by “who”, “which” or “that”. In Swedish they are in most cases introduced by “som”. This word never changes its form, regardless if the noun in the main clause is en, ett or plural (yay). Here are some more examples of “som”:

Sten har en syster som bor i Malmö.

(Sten has a sister who lives in Malmö.)

Ann leker med dockorna som hon fick i julklapp.

(Anna is playing with the dolls that she got for Christmas.)

Min cykel, som jag fick i julklapp, har 21 växlar.

(My  bike, which I got for Christmas, has 21 speeds.)

If we already have a subject in the sub-clause the word ”som” can be left out. Take a look at these sentences:

Mannen som ni söker är inte här.

(The man (who) you are looking for is not here.)

Mannen  ni söker är inte här.

(The man you are looking for is not here.)

“Som” when comparing

We also use the word “som” when comparing. In such a case “som” means “as”  in English. Here’s one example:

Han är lika lång som jag.

(He is as tall as I am.)

When should we use “att”?

It is not unusual that a word has only one meaning in one language, when you would use two different words in different language. For example we know that when we say “think” in English, we need to choose between three words in Swedish “tycker, tänker and tror”. The same thing can happen to for example conjunctions and prepositions.

In Swedish “att” means:

  1. “to” as in “to run”, “to eat”, “to drink” etc. The function of “att” is in these cases being an infinitive marker. Att springa, att äta, att dricka. We will see att in an sentence like this one:

Pojken tycker om att leka med sin hund.

(The boy likes to play with his dog.)

2. Att as in “that” when “that” is used as a conjunction between a main clause (huvudsats) or sub-clause (bisats). Here’s an example:

Bengt säger att det är varmt ute.

(Bengt is saying that it is warm outside.)

Have fun learning Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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