Carlos has a question about how and when to use the prepostions “åt”, “till” and “för” and today we are going to take a closer look at that. Here is the question:
I would appreciate if you would provide me with the use of these words: åt, till, för when meaning “for” and in other cases.”
I am not going to list all cases of when to use “till” and “för” since it would just be a very long list and in my opinion not so interesting reading. In this post I will rather focus on when to use åt/till for English “for” and when to use “för” for English “to”.
“Till” is often used when we have an addressee of some kind. In other words, we give, say, send, buy, sell etc something to (till) someone. We also turn to someone, speak to someone or wave to someone. In all these cases we would use “till” in Swedish. Take a look at some examples:
- Vad ska du ge till Anna när hon fyller år?
(What are you giving Anna on her birthday?)
- Jag har köpt ett halsband till henne, men du får inte säga det till någon.
(I have bought a necklace for her, but you cannot tell anyone.)
So in Swedish, just like we are giving something to (till) Anna, we are also buying something “to” (till) her and saying something “to” (till) someone. I like to think that just like the gift is handed over from me to Anna, when I say “köper till” (buy for) it is more focus on that the gift is going from point A (me) to point B (Anna). In English, it seems to me, that using “for” makes things focus more on the receiver of the gift – the gift is for her, while in Swedish there is more focus on the transaction of the gift – jag köper en present till henne. We would use “för” (for) in Swedish when we say something like “Det är bra för dig” (it is good for you).
More examples of using till:
Kan du skicka det här brevet till huvudkontoret?
(Could you send this letter to the main office?)
Jag ska skänka en del av mina kläder till Myrorna.
(I am going to donate some of my clothes to the Salvation Army.)
Det är telefon till Lasse!
(There is a phone call for Lasse.)
“Åt” can be used instead of “till” in some cases, but the meaning is slightly different. When we use “åt” instead of “till” it means that we are helping someone or doing someone a favor. Examples:
- Kan du göra min läxa åt mig? Den är så tråkig.
(Can you do my homework for me? It is so boring.)
- Nej, den får du göra själv!
(No, you’ll have to do that yourself!)
Jag ska handla mat åt morfar. Han har brutit benet och kan inte gå till affären.
(I’m going grocery shopping for my grandfather. He broke his leg and can’t make it to the store.)
“För” is used with “berätta” (tell) and other verbs that in English would be combined with “to”. Yes, that is confusing and I guess we just have to live with it Here are some examples when you use “för” in Swedish and “to” or no preposition in English:
berätta för, tala om för
Carlos, who posted the question about this subject, also wrote some examples that he wanted me to explain. We will take a look at some of them here, and I’ll do my best to explain what to use.
English: He always cooks for me.
1. Han lagar alltid mat åt mig.
2. Han lagar alltid mat till mig.
In the first example with “åt” the cooking is considered being help or a favor – this person is not capable of cooking. About the second example with “till” I’m thinking that it is a child we are cooking for. The child wouldn’t normally cook for herself/himself, so it is not really a favor. Note that it is a very fine line in this example, and you don’t really go wrong saying that you cook “åt” your children.
English: I baked a cake for you.
1. Jag bakade en tårta till dig.
The cake is a gift and a surprise. You were not planning to bake yourself.
2. Jag bakade en tårta åt dig.
Baking the cake is a favor. You were planning to bake, but didn’t have time. In this case we could also say:
Jag bakade tårtan åt dig.
(I baked the cake for you.)
English: She cleaned the house for me.
Swedish: Hon städade huset åt mig.
Well, if it is your house it is absolutely a favor that she cleaned it so here we have to go for “åt”.
A little test on “till”, “för” and “åt” will be up soon, keep an eye out!
Sara the Swedish Teacher
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