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Long time no writing
A while ago I received a question from one of my blog readers who is confused over a sentence that is common in Swedish textbooks and workbooks. It’s a very interesting question and also a bit hard to answer. I hope you’ll understand my explanation. Here’s the question:
I would like to make a question, I couldn’t find a topic specifically about this in your blog, so my apologies if it has already been asked.
I have a doubt on when I must use the definite article of a noun instead of the definite form. For example, in my Swedish book I often see sentences like: “Välj det ord som passar i meningen”. Why is this construction used instead of “Välj ordet som passar i meningen”? Are there other cases in which this form should be used?
Thank you very much!
Definite form and definite article
First of all, we have to sort out the difference between the definite form and the definite article. The definite form of the noun is in this case “ordet” and the definite article is the ”-et” morpheme. Let’s take look at a few more examples:
“En bil” (a car) is the indefinite form of the noun, and “en” is what we would call the indefinite article (“obestämd artikel” in Swedish).
“Bilen” (the car) is the definite form of the noun, and the morpheme “-en” is what we would call the definite article (“bestämd artikel” in Swedish).
In this case, “ett hus” is the indefinite form of the noun, and “ett” is the indefinite article (“obestämd artikel”).
“Huset” (the house) is the definite form of the noun, and the morpheme “-et” is the definite article (“bestämd artikel”).
Now you might be thinking – so if “det” in “det ord” isn’t the definite article of a noun – what is it then? In the example my blog reader is giving us, “Välj det ord som passar i meningen”, “det” is a so called determinative pronoun (“determinativt pronomen” in Swedish). A determinative pronoun refers forward, which means that we don’t have a lot of information yet and we will now get more information. The new information we usually get in a relative subordinate clause. Compare this to a noun in definite form (bilen, huset etc), which refers backward – we know which house or car we’re talking about, we have information about it.
I know the explanation might be a bit abstract and technical, but hopefully a few examples will help:
Kungafamiljen bor i slottet.
The royal family lives in the palace.
Using “the palace” (slottet) indicates that the listener knows which palace you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there is only one palace.
Kungafamiljen bor i det slott som ligger i Stockholm.
The royal family lives in the palace that is located in Stockholm.
Using the determinative pronoun (det), you are referring forward and explaining to the listener which palace you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som ligger i Stockholm).
Henrik tog inte jobbet.
Henrik didn’t take the job.
Using “the job” (jobbet) indicates that the listener knows which job you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there was only one job.
Henrik tog inte det jobb som han blev erbjuden förra veckan.
Henrik didn’t take the job that he was offered last week.
Using the determinative pronoun (det), you are referring forward and explaining to the listener which job you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som han blev erbjuden förra veckan”).
Lasse tyckte att pizzan var mumsig.
Lasse thought the pizza was yummy. Using “the pizza” (pizzan) indicates that the listener knows which pizza you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there was only one pizza.
Lasse tyckte att den pizza som han bakade igår kväll var mumsig.
Lasse though the pizza that he baked last night was yummy. Using the determinative pronoun (den), you are referring forward, and explaining to the listener which pizza you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som han bakade igår kväll”).
If you have any questions, please post in the comment thread or on my Facebook wall.
Have fun learning Swedish!
On my Facebook page I asked everyone to post questions that they have and here is one of them:
Kan du berätta om skillnaden mellan “flesta” och “mesta” i en post? (In English: “Can you tell me about the difference between “flesta” and “mesta” in a blog post?”)
To solve this problem we need to learn the difference between countable nouns and uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are substances, concepts etc. that we cannot divide into separate elements. We cannot “count” them. For example, we cannot count “milk”. We can count “bottles of milk” or “liters of milk”, but we cannot count “milk” itself. Here are some more uncountable nouns:
In the examples above the nouns are uncountable both in Swedish in English, but sometimes that’s not the case. The word “news” is for example an uncountable noun in English but a countable noun in Swedish:
en nyhet, nyheter (countable noun)
en möbel, möbler (countable noun)
What does this have to do with the difference between “de flesta” and “det mesta”? The answer is that to express “the most” for countable nouns we use:
många – fler – flest – de flesta
(many – more – most – the most)
With a countable noun it could look like this:
många elever – fler elever – flest elever – de flesta eleverna
(many students – more students – most students – most students)
Anna har många elever I sin klass.
(Anna has many students in her class.)
Lisa har fler elever än Anna i sin klass.
(Lisa has more students than Anna.)
Göran har flest elever av alla.
(Göran has the most students.)
De flesta eleverna kommer från Tyskland.
(Most of the students come from Germany.)
With uncountable nouns we can use a little and much:
In Swedish it would be:
mycket – mer – mest – det mesta
(a lot/much – more – most – the most)
Here are a few examples with “mycket”, “mer”, “mest” and “det mesta”:
Anna dricker mycket kaffe.
(Anna drinks a lot of coffee.)
Lisa dricker mer kaffe än Anna.
(Lisa drinks more coffee than Anna.)
Göran dricker mest kaffe.
(Göran drinks the most coffe.)
Det mesta kaffet som Göran dricker kommer från Colombia.
(Most of the coffee that Göran drinks comes from Colombia.)
Thank you for reading and have fun learning Swedish!
Do you ever get confused about the word ”om”? You’re not alone I often get questions about this little word with several different functions and meanings. As we soon will see, “om” can be used as a conjunction, a preposition or a particle in a particle verb (“partikelverb” in Swedish).
“Om” as a subjunction
Let us begin with when “om” is a subjunction, i.e. the linking word between a main clause (“huvudsats” in Swedish) and subordinate clause (“bisats” in Swedish). Our first example is a conditional clause:
Vi ska åka till stranden om det är fint väder.
(We will go to the beach, if the weather is good.)
It is also possible to place the subordinate clause first:
Om det är fint väder ska vi åka till stranden.
(If the weather is good, we will go to the beach.)
In more informal Swedish it is also common to replace ”om” with ”ifall”, which literally means ”in case”. Here’s an example with “ifall”:
Du måste ringa ifall du inte kan komma till jobbet.
(You have to call if/in case you can’t come to work.)
Another situation when we use “om” is in indirect questions. Also in this case “om” is a subjunction and can be translated to English “if”. Here’s a couple of examples:
Göran undrar om du vill komma till Göteborg nästa vecka.
(Göran is wondering if you want to come to Göteborg next week.)
Läkaren frågade Lena om hon hade slutat röka.
(The doctor asked Lena if she had quit smoking.)
”Om” as a preposition
As I mentioned earlier, “om” sometimes functions as a preposition. As you will see “om” is used in several situations, for example when we are going to do something r how often we do something:
Jag ska åka till Västerås om två veckor.
(I’m going to Västerås in two weeks.)
Anna röker ett paket cgaretter om dagen.
(Anna smokes a pack of cigarettes a day.)
Hans åker hem till Tyskland två gånger om året.
(Hans go home to Germany twice a year.)
It’s important to remember that we only use “om” in “om dagen” and “om året”. For other time phrases for frequency we use “i”, for example “i veckan”, “i månaden” and “i minuten”.
Another use for “om” is to express something like “around”. Here are a few examples:
Nils glömde vantarna hemma och nu fryser han om händerna.
(Nils left his mittens at home and now his hands are cold.) Literally “fryser om händerna” means “he is cold around the hands”. This way of using “om” is especially common when talking about parts of the body. More examples:
Fryser du inte om fötterna i de där skorna?
Tvätta dig om händerna innan du lagar mat!
Polisen tog ett hårt grepp om hans arm.
Anna blev alldeles röd om kinderna.
Sometimes the use of “om” is more similar to how “about” is used in English. Take a look at this example:
Affären ligger om hörnet.
(The store/shop is around the corner.)
There are cases when the preposition”om” in Swedish corresponds to English “of”:
Den röda bilen är parkerad till höger om den gröna.
(The red car is parked to the right of the green one.)
Stina sköter om/tar hand om sin gamla mamma.
(Stina is taking/takes care of her old mother.)
Finally, we will take a look at some examples when “om” means “about”:
Vad handlar filmen om?
(What is the movie about?)
Vad rör det sig om?
(What is that about?)
Vad pratar ni om?
(What are you talking about?)
Bengt drömmer om att flytta till Italien.
(Bengt is dreaming/dreams about moving to Italy.)
Stefan bryr sig alltid om andra.
(Stefan always care about others.)
Vad bråkar ni om?
(What are you fighhting about?)
Vad tycker du om det?
(What do you think about that?)
”Om” in particle verbs
Sometimes ”om” looks like a preposition but actually is a particle in a particle verb (partikelverb). My first two examples illustrate when the particle “om” means “again”:
Boken var jättebra. Jag vill läsa om den.
(The book was very good. I want to read it again.)
Det gick inte så bra på provet. Jag ska göra om det i november.
(I didn’t do very well on the test. I will do it again in November.)
As a particle “om” can also mean “by” as in “pass by”. Take a a look at these examples:
Han körde om den stora lastbilen.
(He drove by/passed the large truck.)
Usain är jättesnabb. Han springer om alla andra löpare.
(Usain is really fast. He passes all other runners.)
Last but not least ”om” is part of the particle verb ”tycker om” as in “gillar” or in English, “like”.
Jag tycker om dig.
(I like you.)
Have fun learning Swedish!
“Det” is a personal pronoun that can be used in many ways, and it might me confusing if you always translate “det” to English “it”. In this article i will do my best to guide you to how to use “det”.
Det replacing a word, a phrase or a clause
Let us begin with the less confusing use of “det”, that is when “det” refers to something that is known, something that we already have information about. As we will see in the examples blow, “det” might replace not only a neuter noun (ett-ord), but also a verb phrase or a whole clause (“sats” in Swedish). Take a look at these examples:
- När kommer tåget?
-Det kommer klockan sju.
(When is the train coming? It arrives at seven o’clock.)
“Det” is replacing “tåget”, which is an ett-word.
- Kan du spela gitarr?
- Ja, det kan jag.
(Do you know how to play the guitar? Yes, I do.)
In this case, “det” is replacing the verb phrase “spela gitarr”. I guess in English one would rather use “that” instead of “it”. Next example:
- När börjar mötet?
(When does the meeting begin?)
- Det vet jag inte.
(I don’t know.)
In this case “det” is replacing the whole clause and what we’re saying is basically
- När börjar mötet?
- Det (=när mötet börjar) vet jag inte.
“Det” linking forward
Another function of “det” is that it links forward to something that is unknown. In such a case we can call “det” “formellt subjekt” (formal subject). When we use “det” as a formal subject we also have an “actual subject” (“egentligt subjekt” in Swedish). In such a case “det” is placed first in the clause and the actual subject, is placed in the subject’s position, after the first verb. Here are a few examples of “det”as a formal subject:
- Vem är det?
(Who is that?)
- Det är Agneta.
(It is Agneta.)
- Vilka är det?
(Who are they?)
- Det är Agneta och Björn.
(It’s Agneta and Björn.)
- Vad är det?
(What is that?)
- Det är en kanelbulle.
(It’s a cinnamon roll.)
- Vad är det?
(What is that?)
- Det är jordgubbar.
As you can see, in these cases we use “det” no matter what gender or number the noun (the actual subject) is.
“Det” might also refer forward to a verb phrase, like this:
Det är roligt att dansa. = Att dansa är roligt.
(It is fun to dance. = To dance/dancing is fun.)
“Det” is the formal subject, but the verb phrase “att dansa” is the actual subject.
“Det” when introducing something new
In Swedish a special construction is used when you want to introduce new persons or things into the conversation. This construction is called the existential sentence (“presenteringskonstruktion” in Swedish). Instead of beginning the sentence with the real subject, you begin with with a formal subject, “det”. In this case, “det” corresponds to English “there”. Here are some examples of existential sentences constructed with different verbs:
Det är någon i trädgården.
(There is someone in the garden.)
Det kommer en bil på vägen.
(There is a car coming on the road.)
Det finns älg i Sverige.
(There is moose in Sweden.)
Det finns öl i kylskåpet.
(There is beer in the fridge.)
Det saknas en person.
(There is one person missing.)
Det sitter en fågel i trädet.
(There is a bird sitting in the tree.)
Det ligger en tidning på parkbänken.
(There is a newspaper on the bench.)
Det går ett tåg i timmen till Stockholm.
(There is a train to Stockholm every hour.)
Det står en lampa i fönstret.
(There is a lamp in the window.)
“Det” when talking about the weather
When talking about the weather we also use phrases with “det” as the subject, since there is no natural subject. This phenomenon in Swedish (and in English) is called “subjektstvång” or “platshållartvång”which means that we are forced to have a subject (and a verb in present or simple past tense) to create a complete clause. Therefore, if we don’t have a natural subject we are forced to use “det” instead. Take a look at the following examples:
(It is raining.)
(It is snowing.)
Det är kallt.
(It is cold.)
Det är varmt.
(It is warm.)
“Det” doesn’t really mean anything in the weather phrases above, but in Swedish (and in English) we have to have a subject to get the word order right. If we don’t have “det” we cannot make the difference between
Det snöar. (a statement)
Snöar det? (a question)
Ja, det var det (that was it) Have fun learning Swedish!
Far, får får får?
I often get the question about how to use the verb ”får”, it seems like it can be used in a thousand different ways, some students say. Well, it may not be a thousand ways to use “får”, but there are quite a few meanings of the word and today I will do my best to try to explain them. Before we begin I want to remind you that I am not trying to translate from Swedish to English here, I‘m only using English to explain the how Swedish is used.
“Få” as a auxiliary verb
All right, the first case of “få” that I want to shine some light on is when “få” has the function of an auxiliary verb (“hjälpverb” in Swedish). As a hjälpverb one can use “få” (or “fick”, which is past tense) when expressing that someone has a permission, someone is allowed to do something. Here’s an example:
Du får röka här.
(You may smoke here.)
Here’s another one:
Får jag ta en kanelbulle till?
(May I have another cinnamon roll?)
It’s also common to hear “få” in the sense “may” when someone wants to be polite. It could sound something like this:
Får jag bjuda på en kopp kaffe?
(May I buy you a cup of coffee?)
Please note that since “få” is a hjälpverb, the next verb should be in infinitive form (ta, röka, bjuda).
As a hjälpverb “får” can also be used in the sense of “have to” (“är tvungen att” in Swedish). This makes me think of childhood and how “får” carried totally different messages in sentences like:
Nu får du sluta med det där.
(You must stop that right now.)
Nu får ni gå och lägga er.
(You have to go to bed now.)
In cases like the ones above, it was clearly (understood from the tone of the adult) not a question about being allowed to stop or to go to bed In other cases “få” had the sense of “may”:
Du får stanna uppe och se klart filmen.
(You may stay up and finish the movie.)
Du får ta en kanelbulle till.
(You may have another cinnamon roll.)
Here’s another example of how you can use”få” to express “have to”:
Jag fick sitta och vänta på flygplatsen i flera timmar.
(I had to sit at and wait at the airport for several hours.)
“Få” in the sense of “receive” or “get”
This use of “få” seems very similar to English “get”. It’s especially common when talking about money and payments, but also other things. Here are a few examples of how to use “få” in the sense of “get”:
Jag fick löneförhöjning.
(I got a raise.)
Jag fick en cykel i julklapp.
(I got a bicycle for Christmas.)
Jag fick ett myggbett på armen när jag sov över i mammas stuga.
(I got a mosquito bite on my arm when I spent the night at my mother’s cabin.) True story!
“Få” in the sense of “be subject to”:
Patienten fick behandling för sin öroninflammation.
(The patient received treatment for his otitis.)
“Få” in the sense of “begin to feel” or “come to have”:
Hoppas ni får roligt på semestern!
(I hope you will have fun on your vacation.)
Lasse fick lust att gå på bio och se den nya James Bond-filmen.
(Lasse got the urge to go to the cinema and watch the new James Bond movie.)
“Få” as in get notified:
Lasse fick veta att han har öroninflammation.
(Lasse got to know/found out that he has an ear infection.)
Prinsen sökte om bygglov för att bygga en bastu men fick avslag.
(The prince applied for a building permit to build a sauna but he got rejected.) Also a true story
Vi fick en massa grammatikövningar i läxa. De var jättesvåra.
(We got a lot of grammar exercises for homework. They were really difficult.)
We have come to an end here with “få” but we before we finish I want to mention to you that “får” also means “sheep”. Singular form is “ett får” and plural form is “får” (Maybe you remember from my post about plural forms that ett-words ending with a consonant stays the same in plural) so now I hope you can understand this classic play on words:
- Far, får får får?
- Nej, får får lamm.
Until next time!
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.
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!
i en timme
When you use “i” in a time phrase you will express for how long you have been doing something, for example:
-Hur länge har du väntat?
(How long have you been waiting for?)
-I en timme.
(For an hour.)
Here is another example with “i”:
-Hur länge har du bott i Sverige?
(How long have you been living in Sweden?)
-I ett år.
(For a year.)
På en timme
With “på” (yes we use “på” a lot in Swedish) you will express how long time it will take you to do something, for example:
-Jag kan köra till Stockholm på en timme.
(It takes me one hour to drive to Stockholm.)
Here is another example with “på”:
-Jag läste ut “Män som hatar kvinnor” på tre dagar.
(It took me three days to finish “Män som hatar kvinnor”.)
Om en timme
Finally, the phrase “om en timme” means that something will happen one hour from now. Here is one example:
-När börjar filmen?
(When does the movie begin?)
-Om en timme.
(In an hour.)
Here’s another example with “om”:
- När ska du åka på semester?
(When will you go on vacation/holiday?)
- Om fyra veckor.
(In four weeks.)
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions about grammar or vocabulary, please post them in the comments or send them to email@example.com. Have fun learning Swedish!
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