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Posts Tagged ‘huvudsats’

More about “ordföljd”

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Hej igen!

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.

(I did not remember that we had homework.)

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:

Jag tror

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! :)

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Word order, part 1

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

One of my readers have challenged me with a question about word order:

“I know word order might be boring… but I cannot find anywhere an easy to understand explanation or chart…

Not just huvudsats, but I mean word order in a sentence when it starts with a question or bisats ord and combinations…and then of course the word order changes… but when does it change and why does it change.”

Word order is a quite complex thing, so I will write several posts about this to guide you through step by step.

We will start with word order, or sentence structure if you prefer, in main clauses (in Swedish “huvudsats”). But, what is a main clause then? It is so to speak a complete or independent sentence. We have four types of main clauses:

1. Statements

På söndagar går jag och fikar med mina kompisar.

(On Sundays I meet my friends for coffee.)

2. Questions beginning with a question word

När kommer du hem?

(When are you coming home?)

3. Questions beginning with a verb – yes/no-questions

Kommer du på mötet i morgon?

(Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?)

Kan du komma på mötet i morgon?

(Can you come to the meeting tomorrow?)

4. Requests and orders

Öppna fönstret, är du snäll!

(Open the window, please!)

So now when we now what a main clause (huvudsats) is, we are going to see how it can be constructed. A main clause an be very simple or very complex, we will here start with a simple one and step by step add more parts.

Hon äter.

(She is eating/she eats.)

This is the most simple way to construct a sentence in Swedish, first comes the subject and after that a verb in present tense.  Now we can add another part – an object – to our sentence:

Hon äter glass.

(She is eating/eats ice cream.)

Now, let’s ad a word for place:

Hon äter glass i parken.

(She is eating/eats ice cream in the park.)

And why not have an expression for time as well:

Hon äter glass i parken på sommaren.

(She eats ice cream in the park in the summertime.)

And a sentence adverbial:

Hon äter alltid glass i parken på sommaren.

Our main clause construction now looks like this:

subject + verb + sentence adverbial + object + place + time

We can also if we want put the object, the place or the time in first position:

Glass äter hon alltid i parken.


I parken äter hon alltid glass.


På sommaren äter hon alltid glass.

As you can see, and as many of you probably heard before, the verb stays in its place even if we change the word/words in first position. In a Swedish grammar mind (if there is such a thing ;-) ) the first spot of the main clause is considered “the base” and we are free to place almost whatever we want there, but we have to keep the verb (verb in present or simple past) in the second spot. If we follow English word order and say

“På sommaren, hon äter alltid glass.”

it sounds like “the summer” and “she always eats ice cream” are two separate things, like if they had nothing to do with each other. It almost sounds like you start saying one sentence and then start over with another one.

Questions starting with a question word actually follows the same pattern as the statements:

Vad äter du?

For English speaking people it might be interesting to look at the fact that Swedish does not have a do/does-construction for questions. So, the question above actually translates to “What eat you?”. The question word is in position number 1, it is our base, the verb comes second and, since we don’t have the subject in position one it ends up after the verb. If we construct a yes/no-question there are two ways to look at it.

Äter du glass?

Either you could consider the first spot empty:

base         verb        subject    object

- Äter       du              glass?

Or you could look at it as if you had just switched spots with the statement:

Du äter glass.

Äter du glass?

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, word order is a very complex thing so I will continue with the subject in later post.

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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