Får får får? Hacking the trickiest word in the Swedish language

Får får får? Hacking the trickiest word in the Swedish language
Perhaps you'll understand that Swedish sheep joke after reading this. Photo: Thomas Warnack/dpa via AP
When does 'får' mean sheep and when does it mean 'get'? Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg explains one of the most difficult words in the Swedish language.

Far, får får får?

I often get asked how to use the verb får, it seems like it can be used in a thousand different ways, some students say. Well, there may not be a thousand ways to use får, but the word does have quite a few meanings, 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 an auxiliary verb

All right, the first case of that I want to shine some light on is when has the function of an auxiliary verb (hjälpverb in Swedish). As a hjälpverb one can use (or fick, which is past tense) when expressing that someone has 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 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 is a hjälpverb, the next verb should be in the infinitive form (ta, röka, bjuda).

As a hjälpverbfår 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 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 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 seems very similar to the 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 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 getting 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 but we before we finish I want to mention to you that får also means “sheep”. The 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 stay the same in plural)

I now hope you can understand this classic Swedish play on words:

– Far, får får får?

– Nej, får får lamm.

Until next time!

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.