I have been silent for a while. That is because I have been thinking of how to attack the questions about word order that have been coming in Four different readers have put detailed questions about word order. Shortly, what these and other Swedish language learners mostly struggle with when it comes to word order are the following questions :
1. Where do I place the sentence adverbial(for example “inte”)?
2. When do I use inverted word order?
3. What on earth do I do with the “particle” in the “particle verbs?
The sentence adverbial is, as you maybe know already, small words with great impact on the whole sentence. I am sure that you recognize “inte” (not), “kanske” (maybe), “bara” (only) and “tyvärr” (unfortunately). Why not take a look at a simple sentence and how the sentence adverbial changes the meaning of it:
Jag ska arbeta imorgon.
(I will work tomorrow.)
Jag ska inte arbeta imorgon.
Jag ska bara arbeta imorgon.
Jag ska tyvärr arbeta imorgon.
Alright, now we know what a sentence adverbial is. Next step is to be sure of where to place it, which is different for the huvudsats (the independent clause) and the bisats (the subordinated clause that needs to be together with a huvudsats to make sense). We will look at the huvudsats first.
Jag har inte gjort läxan.
(I have not done my homework.)
In this simple statement the construction is exactly the same in Swedish and English. The sentence adverbial is placed after the verb, before the object. If we construct a question with a question word it will look like this:
Varför har du inte gjort läxan?
(Why have you not done your homework?)
In a question with a question word, and in other constructions when anything else than the subject is in the first position, the sentence adverbial is placed after the subject (in this case “du”). If we ask a yes/no-question we get the following word order:
Har du inte gjort läxan?
(Have you not done your homework?)
As you can see, the sentence adverbial is put after the subject also in this case. Here we have to verbs and the sentence adverbial is placed between the two.
Another example when we need to place the particle kind of in betweeen words is when we are dealing with a particle verb. Two common particle verbs are “tycker om” (like) and “kommer ihåg” (remember).
Jag tycker om kaffe.
(I like coffee.)
Jag tycker inte om läxor.
(I do not like homework.)
Jag kom inte ihåg att vi hade läxa.
So you can see that we need both “tycker” and “om” to express English “like”, but when we ad a sentence adverbial, the sentence adverbial always separates the main word and the particle (which means it is incorrect to say “jag kommer ihåg inte”). That is why it sometimes is hard to know that you are dealing with a particle verb, it is not always completely obvious that the particle belongs to the verb.
So, it is incorrect to say “jag kommer ihåg inte”, but we are allowed to say:
Jag känner henne inte.
(I don’t know her.)
Why?! This is about what information in the sentence is more important or more interesting. Generally you don’t stress the sentence adverbials in Swedish, they are more or less mumbled through and can actually be hard to hear for a non native speaker. Let’s play around with the word order here to discover how it makes a difference for what information is stressed. Look at this:
Jag känner inte henne.
(I don’t know her.)
The stress/melody in this sentence is something like this:
Jag känner inte henne.
Here we have an example of the most common structure. The “jag” is placed first and therefore most in focus.
Henne känner jag inte.
(Her I don’t know.)
The stress/melody in this sentence is:
Henne känner jag inte.
In this case the object, “henne”, is more in focus than “jag”. We are pointing out the object, making her different from others. It is like saying “I know everyone here, but I don’t know her” or “I don’t know her, but I know him”.
If we want to stress the sentence adverbial, in this case “inte”, it is a little complicated. If you go like this:
Jag känner inte henne.
You are definately risking to sound aggressive, like if she was a person you don’t want to know, don’t want to have a connection to or like you said it hundreds of times before. It sounds like:
Jag känner INTE henne!!!!
So what can you do if you still want to put emphasis on the sentence adverbial without sounding all mad? You place it after all the other words. This is the only case you can do this though. A few examples:
– Känner du Lena?
– Nej, jag känner henne inte.
– Träffar du Anders någon gång?
– Nej, jag träffar honom aldrig.
– Läser du tidningen på morgonen?
– Ja, det gör jag alltid.
Alright, so far we have only been looking at “huvudsats”, and no we are going to get into something more complicated – “bisats”. Like I said, a bisats is a subordinated clause, dependent on the huvudsats. If i just said “so that you don’t get cold” or “that he is leaving now” it wouldn’t make much sense, would it?
The bisats have a little different construction than the huvudsats. Like this:
subjunction – subject – sentence adv. – verb – verb – particle -object – place – time
Compare that to huvudsats:
starter – verb – subject – sentence adv. verb – particle – object -place – time
This makes more sense with a couple of examples. First a huvudsats:
Jag ska kanske hälsa på farmor i helgen.
(Maybe I will visit my grandmother this weekend.)
In this example “jag” is the starter, so the subject spot is empty. “Kanske” is the sentence adverbial and “på” is the particle belonging to “hälsa” (together they mean “visit”). Let’s use the same example and turn it into a bisats:
Sara säger att hon kanske ska hälsa på farmor i helgen.
(Sara says that maybe she will visit her grandmother this weekend.)
What you can see here is that “kanske” (the sentence adverbial) ends up before both the verbs. “Inte” is, as you remember, also a sentece adverbial:
Sara säger att hon inte ska hälsa på farmor i helgen.
So far so good, when many Swedish language learners get in trouble is when they start constructing longer and more complicated sentences, like starting the sentence with bisats or having more than one bisats. Let me show you what I am talking about.
Jag ska inte gå på festen eftersom jag inte mår bra.
(I’m not going to the party since I’m not feeling well.)
So, first there is a huvudsats:
Jag ska inte gå på festen.
Then comes the bisats:
eftersom jag inte mår bra.
Now we are going to move things around and put the bisats first.
Eftersom jag inte mår bra ska jag inte gå på festen.
Now I want you to look at the whole sentence as a huvudsats – from “Éftersom” to “festen”. The bisats is now just not a bisats, but also the starter of the sentence, the big huvudsats. (The “starter” is called different things in different grammar books – fundament, base, X etc.) So the word order we get here is just like a more simple huvudsats:
Jag ska – inte gå på festen
eftersom jag inte mår bra ska jag inte gå på festen
When you construct a sentence with many subordinated clauses, you just have to keep track of them. This is of course hard to do when you are out in the real world speaking Swedish, people rarely have patience for someone checking their bisatsordföljd, but when in class or when writing it is good to take an extra look. I’m going to borrow an example from a student of mine. The example is about “Erik” who bought a new noiseless electric handmixer
Jag tror att Erik köpte den så att grannarna inte kunde höra att han bakade något gott.
(I think that Erik bought it so that the neighbours couldn’t hear that he was baking something tasty.)
In this case the huvudsats is:
and the subordinated clauses (bisats) are:
att Erik köpte den
så att grannarna inte kunde höra
att han bakade något gott
What happened to this student was that he på the “inte” in the wrong spot, because he first didn’t think of that part of the sentence as a bisats, since it was a bit far away from “jag tror”.
When do I use inverted word order? Well, answering this question is quite easy – anytime you start your sentence with something else than a subject. To do it right when you are using more complicated sentences is much more difficult, I know. A simplified schedule of a huvudsats looks like this:
starter/base – verb – subject – sentence adv. – verb – object – place – time
Now we are going to play around with some short and simple examples.
Jag åker till Malmö på lördag.
starter (subject) verb place time
På lördag åker jag till Malmö.
starter (time) verb subject place
Jag köpte den här boken.
starter (subject) verb object
Den här boken köpte jag.
starter (object) verb subject
Basically, whatever you wish to emphasize (the time, the place, the object, the subject) you put as the starter of your sentence. What is not always clear is that time, place and object are many times a whole bisats and not just a word or two. Let me show you:
Eva fick sitt drömjobb nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen.
(Eva got the job of her dreams almost directly after she graduated from university.)
If you take a close look at the sentence you will discover that “nästan” and everything after that is the time part. So if I want to emphasize the time it will look like this:
Nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen fick Eva sitt drömjobb.
We can break it down to see the structure more clearly:
Nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen
fick Eva sitt drömjobb.
verb subject object
Well, I hope I didn’t forget anything. If you still have questions or, even better, examples of sentence structure that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to put them in the comment field.
Til next time!