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Third person Swedish: When do you use sin, sitt and sina?

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Third person Swedish: When do you use sin, sitt and sina?
Is Patrik painting his own house (sitt hus) or someone else's house (hans hus)? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg explains the best tips, tricks and pitfalls to watch out for when learning the Swedish language.


Sin, sitt & sina

Some parts of the Swedish language are more important than others to master. What I mean is, that even though it is good to know which words are en and which are ett, it is not a disaster if you happen to say "en hus" or "ett bok".

Using the wrong pronoun (such as han, hon, den) could cause more confusion. Take a look at this classic example:

1. Patrik kysser sin fru.

2. Patrik kysser hans fru.

In English, both sentences translate to "Patrik is kissing his wife". In Swedish however, you make a distinction between "his own wife" = sin, and his as in someone else's wife.

If we swap sin and hans for names, it might get more clear what I mean:

1. Patrik kysser Patriks (sin) fru.

2. Patrik kysser Henriks (hans) fru.

In other words, if Patrik is the subject of the sentence and he is also the "owner" (pardon me, Patrik's wife) of the object, then we express that ownership by using sin instead of hans.

It is of course not only hans that sometimes should be replaced with sin. It is also the case for hennes, dess, ens and deras. It is also good to know that sin changes to sitt if the object is an ett-word, and to sina if the object is plural.

Like this:

Patrik har målat sitt hus i sommar.

(Patrik has painted his own house this summer.)

Compare the sentence above to:

Patrik har målat hans/hennes/deras hus i sommar.

(Patrik has painted his (maybe Göran's)/her/their house this summer.)

How nice of Patrik to paint someone else's house!


Patrik ska hämta sina barn på förskolan.

(Patrik is going to pick up his children at pre-school.)

Compare to:

Patrik ska hämta hans/hennes/deras barn på förskolan.

(Patrik is going to pick up his (maybe Kristian's)/her/their children at pre-school.)

Patrik is in this case not picking up his own children at pre-school. Hopefully, he has notified the staff...

Is this Patrik or Kristian's child? Photo: Izabelle Nordfjell/TT

Now, let us take a closer look at a few more complicated sentences because that is when usually when sin/hans/hennes/deras get a bit tricky.

Patrik tycker om maten som hans fru lagar.

(Patrik likes the food that his wife cooks.)

Olle sitter uppe, eftersom hans dotter inte har kommit hem än.

(Olle is waiting up since his daughter is not home yet.)

Anna och hennes pojkvän ska äta på restaurang ikväll.

(Anna and her boyfriend are going out for dinner tonight.)

At this point in class, some students are ready to leave the classroom. "Why not 'sin' all of a sudden?"

The explanation for the first and second examples is that we cannot look at the whole sentence and figure out subject and object, we have to look at each clause of the sentence. So let's do that:

Patrik tycker om maten...

This section of the sentence is our main clause (huvudsats) in which “Patrik” is subject.

...som hans fru lagar

This is a subordinate clause (bisats) and hans fru is the subject in it. Only an object can use the pronoun sin, sitt or sina.


The same explanation goes for example number two:

Olle sitter uppe...

is the main clause (huvudsats), and "Olle" is the subject.

...eftersom hans dotter inte har kommit hem än.

is the subordinated clause (bisats) in which hans dotter is the subject, and therefore cannot be sin.

When you are out there speaking Swedish, you probably don’t have time to analyze sentence structure and subject/object. Make it simple and don’t use sin, sitt and sina after common subjunctions (bisatsord) such as som, att, eftersom, därför att and om.

But what about the third example? Again we should take a closer look and find out if we are dealing with an object and an owner of that object:

Anna och hennes pojkvän

In this case, Anna och hennes pojkvän both constitute the subject of the sentence, and therefore we shouldn’t use och sin pojkvän. So, if there is an och after the obvious subject, think twice before using sin, sitt or sina.

Sara Hörberg began teaching Swedish as a foreign/second language in 2001. Ask her anything about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Read more here: Sara the Swedish Teacher.


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