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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: eller hur

Today's Swedish word of the day is actually a short phrase, and it's a crucial one if you hope to sound like a native.

Swedish word of the day: eller hur
Swedish is a great language, eller hur?! Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Eller hur literally means 'or how'. 

It's used at the end of a sentence and is roughly equivalent to saying 'right?', or 'isn't it/doesn't it/don't you think) – basically you're seeking confirmation from the listener. But when you use eller hur?, you're almost always expecting agreement, so it's a rhetorical question.

If you're genuinely wondering if what you said is correct, you should add eller? to the end of your statement instead, but in this case, you would usually change the word order of your statement, just like in a normal question. Compare the two sentences: Tycker alla om kaffe, eller? (Does everyone like coffee, or…?) and Alla tycker om kaffe, eller hur? (Everyone likes coffee, am I right?). If someone said the first example, it's more of a genuine question, so someone might respond Nja, jag föredrar te (Well, I prefer tea); you could simply ask tycker alla om kaffe? but adding eller? makes it clear you want a response. Someone who said the second example would be intending it as a rhetorical question.

An alternative to eller hur? is inte sant? (literally 'not true'). These kinds of phrases, added onto a statement to turn it into a question, are called question tags in linguistics, and in English they are complicated because they change based on the question, for example: 'he's Swedish, isn't he?', 'you're Swedish, aren't you?', 'you aren't Swedish, are you?' 'you moved to Sweden, didn't you?'. 

As you can see, in English tag questions, the subject (in this case, 'he' or 'you') usually matches the subject of the phrase, and the verb needs to agree with the subject and tense of the verb (aren't/didn't). If the statement is positive, the tag question will be in the negative form (he is Swedish, isn't he), and if the statement is negative, the tag question will be positive (he isn't Swedish, is he?). It can be a headache for English language learners, many of whom opt to use 'yes?' as a question tag instead. In fact, you'll often hear Swedish speakers add 'or?' to statements, inspired by eller?, because it's simply snappier. Stay in Sweden long enough, and even native English speakers might pick up this habit!

In Swedish, eller?eller hur? or inte sant? can be added to any statement to turn them into a question, without any agreement or conjugation. This is similar to 'right?' or 'correct?' in English; the two differences are that 'right?' can be used both for genuine and rhetorical questions, and that English 'right?' is generally informal and 'correct?' is formal. You can use eller? and eller hur? in most contexts in terms of formality, but as described above, eller? is mostly used for genuine questions and eller hur? for rhetorical ones.

You can also use eller hur on its own as an emphatic response, expressing your agreement. For example, if someone says kanelbullar är så goda! (cinnamon buns are so tasty), you can reply Eller hur?! (Right?!) as an alternative to another emphatic agreement, like ja, absolut! (yes, absolutely!) In this sort of situation, eller hur sounds much more colloquial and natural.

Examples

Vi borde åka på semester tillsammans.  
Kanonidé! 
Eller hur?!

We should go on holiday together.
Great idea!
Right?!

Det var en jättebra film. 
Eller hur!

That was a great film.
It was, wasn't it!

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

You don't have to spend long in Sweden to hear the word skärgård, especially if you live in cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg where the population relocate to the nearby skärgård every summer. Where does the word come from?

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

Skärgård is, like many Swedish words, a compound word made up of the word skär, describing a small rocky outcrop and gård, which has a number of meanings such as “courtyard”, “farm” or “garden”.

Although skärgård is often translated to English as “archipelago” – a group of islands – the word officially refers to an archipelago made up primarily of small islands, close to the coast of a larger island or landmass, such as the rocky archipelagos near Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Other kinds of archipelago – such as those which are not close to other landmasses, or those made up of larger islands – can be referred to as an arkipelag or ögrupp. However, many Swedes will just use skärgård for any kind of archipelago.

Although the word skärgård doesn’t exist in English, a variant of skär has made its way into the language. The English term for this type of small rocky outcrop is “skerry”.

Skerry has an interesting etymology in English – it comes from the Old Norse term sker, which refers to a rock in the sea. This is related to the Swedish word skära, meaning “cut” – a skerry is a rock cut off from land.

Sker came into English via Scots, where it is spelled skerry or skerrie. Other languages also have this word, such as Norwegian skjær/skjer, Estonian skäär, Finnish kari and Russian шхеры (shkhery). It can also be found in Scottish Gaelic sgeir, Irish sceir and Welsh sgeri.

This also reflects the geographic area where skerries are found – there are skerries or skärgårdar along the northernmost part of the Swedish west coast near Bohuslän and Gothenburg, as well as on the east coast near Stockholm. The Norwegian coast also has a large number of skerries, and Skärgårdshavet or “the Archipelago Sea” lies off the southwestern coast of Finland.

In Russia, the Minina Skerries (Shkhery Minina) are one example of a skärgård, and in Scotland, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach in the Hebrides are also made up of skerries. Northern Ireland is home to The Skerries, off the Antrim coast, and Skerries is also the name of a coastal area of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be wondering if the surname of the famous Swedish Skarsgård family of actors – Stellan, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Alexander Skarsgård, among others – comes from the word skärgård. Although the spelling is similar, this name actually comes from the town of Skärlöv on the island of Öland, and means “Skar’s farm” (Skares gård, in Swedish).

Example sentences

Jag ser redan fram emot sommarsemestern – vi har hyrt en stuga ute i Stockholms skärgård.

I’m already looking forwards to summer – we’ve rented a cottage out in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sverige har många skärgårdar, fast Skärgårdshavet vid Finlands västkust är störst i världen med över 50 000 öar och skär.

Sweden has a lot of archipelagos, but the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s west coast is the biggest in the world has over 50,000 islands and skerries.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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