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The Swedish Teacher

If you want the answers, you just have to ask!

“Örngott”, “luttanpluttan” and “chokladglass”


How is your Swedish coming along? I have received many questions on the Facebook page and in my email lately and it seems like a good idea to post the answers here. Enjoy!

Question 1 – “får inte” or “måste inte”

Could you please clarify for me which is the most commonly used phrase in Swedish for “you must not…”. I have seen “du får inte” used in one book but have also tried “du måste inte” in google translate with the same resulting translation.  Can they both be used or is one style preferred in Sweden?

My understanding of the English “you must not” is “you are absolutely not allowed to” and if you want to express that in Swedish you should say “du får inte”. “Du måste inte” rather means “du behöver inte”/”du slipper” which is like “you don’t have to” or “you don’t need to” in English. Here are a couple examples to illustrate the difference:

Du måste inte äta upp spenaten.

(You don’t have to finish your spinach.)

Du får inte cykla på motorvägen.

(You must not/are not allowed to ride a bike on the freeway/motorway.)

Question 2“lite” and “liten”

What is the difference between “lite” and “liten”?

“Lite” means “a little” and “liten” means “small”. It might also help think of “lite” as the opposite of “mycket” (a lot) and “liten” as the opposite of “stor” (large, big). Hopefully these examples will help clarify the difference:

Jag talar lite tyska.

(I speak a little German.)

Jag dricker mycket kaffe.

(I drink a lot of coffee.)

Min mamma har en liten hund.

(My mother has a small dog.)

Min syster har en stor katt.

(My sister has a big cat.)

Question 3 – “varann” or “varandra”

What is the difference between “varann” and “varandra”.

It is common to sat “varann” when speaking but one should always use “varandra” when writing.

Question 4 – “luttanpluttan”

What does the word “luttanpluttan” mean?

Hmm, I have never heard the exact word “luttanpluttan” before. Only “pluttan” is used more often and it’s smililar to the endearment phrase “lilla gumman”. You can call a little girl “pluttan” and a little boy “plutten”. Svenska Akademiens Ordbok (SAOB) doesn’t suggest any etymological origin of the word “plutt” or “plutta” but explains that it means a little boy or girl who is helpless and pitiful.

Quesion 5 – “i”, “på” and “om”
What are the differences between “i en timme”, “på en timme” and “om en timme”.
“I en timme” tells us for how long you have been doing something.  “På en timme” tells us how long it takes to do something.”Om en timme” is like English “in an hour” as in “an hour from now”. Here are some examples:
- Hur länge har du väntat?- I en timme.
(-How long have you been waiting for? -For an hour.)
Jag kan köra till Stockholm på en timme.
(It takes me an hour to drive to Stockholm. I can drive to Sthlm in one hour.)
Jag läste boken på en timme.
(I read the book in one hour. It took me one hour to read the book.)
- När börjar filmen? -Om en timme.
(-When does the film/movie begin? – In an hour.)

Question 6 – “chokladglass” or “choklad glass”

How does one know when a word is a compound word, for example “chokladglass”? (The original question written in Swedish was “Hur vet man när man ska skriva ihop ord, t ex “chokladglass?”)

This is a hard question to answer but the guideline to follow is that one should more or less always write these type of words as compound words (written as one word, not two), especially if the word if you are dealing with two nouns. If you write “choklad glass” (chocolate ice cream) it will mean “chocolate and ice cream”, not “ice cream with chocolate flavor”. It might also help to think of that if you in other languages would use the genitive case (possessive case), like “children’s book”, or a preposition phrase (a book for children), it is most likely the case that you would use a compound word in Swedish (barnbok). More difficult cases are words that consists of a noun and an adjective. It is for example correct to say both “en svensk lärare” and “en svensklärare”. “En svensk lärare” is a teacher from Sweden teaching any subject. “En svensklärare”, on the other hand, is a person teaching Swedish.  Jag kan alltså vara en svensk lärare i franska.

Question 7 – “örngott”

Why does “örngott” (pillowcase) sound like “örn” (eagle)?

I know, it is quite funny that  “pillowcase” sounds like “eagle snacks”. I did some research and it turns out that “örn” in this case is related to “öron” (ears) and  “gott” most likely a form of an old verg “gita” that means “få” (get) or “uppfånga” (catch). The conclusion is that “örngott” roughly means “something that cathches your ears” or “something you put rest your ears on”. :)

Have fun learning Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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