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

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.

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

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.


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The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish

Once you've learned the basics of Swedish, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for Swedish learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish


Coffee Break Swedish 

Coffee Break Swedish aims to take you through the basics of Swedish in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where Swedish native Hanna teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break Swedish Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes.

Say it in Swedish 

This lively podcast from Stockholm-based Joakim Andersson has an enormous amount of content, with a course of beginners lessons, and stand-alone lessons on various different aspects of Swedish usage. Andersson stopped making podcasts after 80 episodes to concentrate on his YouTube channel, which is also very much worth a watch, with a lot of interesting, and fun, snippets on how to pronounce and use Swedish. There’s also a merchandise site, with some fun Swedish-themed t-shirts. 

Pimsleur Swedish.

OK, so this is an app rather than a podcast, but the experience of doing the daily 30-minute audio lessons in Pimsleur Swedish is very similar to listening to a regular podcast. This is a highly structured audio-based language learning programme, which encourages you to learn through sound rather than the written word, and repeats vocabulary and grammar at intervals to implant them in your memory. It’s very effective, and is a good way to have decent pronunciation from the start. The downsides are the cost – at $150, or $20.95 a month, it’s not particularly cheap – and the fact that Pimsleur have so far only made 30 lessons, meaning it only gets you to quite a basic level.  


Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska

This daily news bulletin in simplified Swedish put out by Sweden’s state broadcaster SR is a fantastic resource which, so far as we know, exists in no other country. It’s essentially the main stories from Ekot, SR’s main news bulletin, simplified and then read very slowly, with short sections of real-life interviews. If you go onto Radio Sweden’s website, you can read along with the text. Incidentally, 8sidor, which means literally “eight pages”, a newspaper in simplified Swedish, has a function which allows you to listen to the stories. 

Klartext on P4 

The Klartext news bulletin is actually designed for mentally disabled people, but it also works for beginners learning Swedish. It’s faster than Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska, but still uses simplified language, so it’s good for language learners wanting to move a step up (so long as you don’t mind getting a bit more news than you might expect of particular relevance to the disabled). 

Simple Swedish

Despite its name, the Simple Swedish podcast from Fredrik Arhusiander, is not for beginners, but rather to help people who already understand basic Swedish develop their vocabulary and listening skills. The episodes aren’t graded, so can be listened to in any order, and feature Fredrik discuss his life, what he’s doing, what’s in the news, basically anything at all, in slow, simplified Swedish. With 146 episodes so far, there’s a lot of material to get through. Fredrik also offers his Strong Swedish online course for €199. 

SR Ekot nyheter 

After you’ve listened to the two simplified versions of Sweden’s official radio news bulletin for a few months, it might be time to try the real deal. The Ekot Nyheter podcast has three major broadcasts a day: in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. If you make it part of your routine, you’ll find that what starts off a bit hard to grasp slowly becomes as easy to understand as news in your own language. 


Anyone with half-Swedish children can benefit from listening to Radioapan, “the radio monkey”, a podcast from Swedish state radio’s children’s channel which has original stories, children’s radio plays, and readings from children’s books. It’s a really great resource. 


Lysande Lagom. The Lysande Lagom podcast from Emil Molander and Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux combines analysis of the clichés and reality around Sweden and Swedishness with language-learning advice. It’s from Lys Förlag, the publisher which published The Local’s Swedish Word of the Day anthology, Villa, Vovve, Volvo, and it makes for very entertaining listening. 

Ekots Lördagsintervju

The long Saturday interview on SR, Ekots Lördagsintervju, is a great way to develop your listening skills, with host Johar Bendjelloul grilling party leaders, ministers, agency chiefs and other important people in the news  

Alex och Sigges poddcast 

The 10-year-old comedy podcast, Alex & Sigge’s podcast, is an institution in Sweden. It features Alex Schulman and Sigge Eklund, two novelists and media personalities, talking about the news, their lives and just about anything they find amusing. 


Currently Sweden’s most listened-to podcast, Rättegångspodden, which translates as “The Trial Pod”, exploits the fact that all trials in Sweden are recorded, with the audio available to the public, to develop dramatic true crime podcasts. The podcast’s founder Nils Bergman, also uses audio evidence collected by police, such as intercepted phone calls. For language learners with a true crime bent, this is a great way of improving your Swedish. The long form documentary podcasts on P3 also have a lot to offer for true crime enthusiasts.  


The Politiken podcast from Svenska Dagbladet is far and away the best podcast in Swedish on politics in the country. Wife and husband journalist team Maggie Strömberg and Torbjörn Nilsson analyse the week’s developments, with Strömberg providing up-to-the-minute gossip from the Riksdag cafeteria and Nilsson drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Swedish political history to put it all in context. Linguistically, it’s quite rich, so regular listening will expand your vocabulary.  


Language geeks might enjoy Språket, a podcast from SR on language usage and etymology, which will help advanced Swedish learners get to grips with some of the things that puzzle even native speakers. If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, then you might also enjoy Språktidningens podd, the podcast from Sweden’s language newspaper Språktidning.