The Swedish Teacher: How to use ‘att’

The Swedish Teacher: How to use 'att'
"For everyone who loves to read and talk about books". Photo: Ola Torkelsson/TT
Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg explains how to master the many different uses of 'att'.

It often seems like the small words are the ones that cause the most confusion. Another problem that can be extra tricky for a Swedish language student is, “att.” In Swedish we use “att” for everything and anything it seems like, so today I wanted to share with you a few common ways to use “att.”

“Att” as an infinite marker

First of all, “att” has the function of the infinitive marker (på svenska “infinitivmarkör”) when a verb is in infinitive form like in “att läsa” to read.

Det är roligt att läsa.

(It’s fun to read.)

“att läsa” is also used when you say in English, “reading” like this:

Att läsa är roligt.

(Reading is fun.)

Det är svårt att uttala “ö.”

(It’s difficult to pronounce, “ö.”)


Att uttala “ö” är svårt.

(Pronouncing, “ö” is difficult.)

“Att” meaning “that”

When creating so-called indirect speech you use, “att” in Swedish when you would say in English, “that.” This is probably one of the first, “bisatsinledare/bisatsord” or subjunction that your Swedish teacher will tell you about. We use, “att” when we refer to what a third party is saying, wondering, wishing, etc.

Han säger att det är kallt ute.

(He says/is saying that it’s cold outside.)

Hon undrar om hon får titta i sitt lexikon under provet.

(She wonders/is wondering if she can look in her dictionary during the test.)

”Att” in the subjunction “därför att”

We also find, “att” in the subjunction “därför att” which means “because.” If we begin the subordinate clause (bisats) with, “därför att” it will explain the reason for what is going in the independent clause (huvudsats).

Daniel vill gifta sig med Åsa därför att han älskar henne.

(Daniel wants to marry Åsa because he loves her.)

“Att” in the subjunction “för att”

“För att” looks very similar to, “därför att” and what is even more frustrating to someone learning Swedish is that the two often are pronounced almost the same! Many Swedes (probably myself included) say something like, “f’ratt” for both “därför att” and “för att.” Listen carefully out there, and you will hear it.

They do have different meanings. While “därför att” means, “because,” “för att” means, “in order to.” We have a main clause and a subordinate clause with a conjunction joining the two. Where the subordinate clause begins with, “för att” the subordinate clause explains the reason for what’s happening in the main clause.

Agneta bantar för att bli smal.

(Agneta is on a diet (in order) to become skinny.)

Now compare the example above to how we use “därför att”:

Agneta bantar därför att hon känner sig tjock.

(Agneta is on a diet because she feels chubby.)

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.