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10 useful “hjälpverb”

When learning a new language you sometimes feel that you can’t express different shades of meaning. Something that can be a little help on the way to a more nuanced Swedish is the so called “hjälpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English). So today I wanted to share with you 10 useful “hjälpverb”. Varsågoda!

1. ska (will)

This verb has many functions. First of all we can use to express future tense:

Jag ska åka på semester snart.

(I’m going on vacation soon.)

We can also use “ska” for expressing a demand or a must, it can be compared to English “have to”:

Du ska borsta tänderna innan du går och lägger dig.

(You have to brush your teeth before going to bed.)

If we combine the past tense of “ska” – “skulle” and combine it with “kunna” (infinitive of “kan”) we get the meaning of English “could”. Like this:

Skulle du kunna hjälpa mig med en sak?

(Could you help me with something?)

2. bör (shall)

“Bör” is used for giving advice or recommendations. That is the verb your doctor would use when telling what to do or not to do. An example:

Du bör sluta röka om du vill bli frisk.

(You should quit smoking if you want to get well.)

We can also use “bör” when we are assuming something:

Anders bör vara framme i Göteborg nu, han åkte för tre timmar sedan.

(Anders should have arrived in Göteborg now, he left three hours ago.)

3. kan (can)

“Kan” expresses knowledge, ability or possibility :

Jag kan simma 1 000 meter.

(I can swim 1 000 meters.)

Jag kan inte komma till mötet.

(I can’t come/make it to the meeting.)

We might also use “kan” when giving a suggestion or offering something:

Kan jag hjälpa dig på något vis?

(Is there anything I can do to help you?)

4. får

“Få” has so many meanings there is no point trying to translate it to one word in English. First of all “få” expresses permission or allowance:

Man får röka utomhus.

(Smoking is allowed outdoors.)

Du får låna min bil idag.

(You can/you’re allowed to borrow my car today.)

To express English “mustn’t” or “it’s forbidden to”  you should use Swedish “får inte”:

Man får inte kasta snöboll på skolgården.

(You mustn’t throw snowballs at each other in the school yard.)

“Får” is also common to use when expressing politeness, for example when you want to pay for a dinner. I guess this is equivalent to English “may”:

Får jag bjuda på fika?

(May I buy you some fika?)

In combination with certain verbs “få” is equivalent to “got”:

I går fick Olle veta att han ska få löneförhöjning.

(Yesterday Olle got to know that he will get a raise.)

5. brukar

“Brukar” has the same meaning as English “usually”, although it is important to remember that “brukar” is a verb while “usually” is an adverb. The meaning is the same. Take a look at this example:

Jag brukar dricka kaffe på morgonen.

(I usually drink coffee in the morning.)

6. orkar

“Orkar” is a verb that expresses physical or mental strength. In English we would express the same thing with “being able to”, “being capable of”,  “manage” or “stand”. Here are some examples:

Det är bra att äta frukost så att man orkar jobba hela förmiddagen.

(It is good to have breakfast, so that you have energy to work all morning.)

Jag orkar inte studera mer svensk grammatik nu.

(I’ve had enough of Swedish grammar for now.)

Ät så mycket du orkar!

(All you can eat!)

7. vågar (dare)

With “vågar” you can express if you have the courage to do something or not:

Vågar du åka berg-och dalbanan?

(Do you dare to go on the roller coaster?)

Lisa vågar inte sova med lampan släckt.

(Lisa is afraid to sleep with the lights turned off.)

8. hinner

“Hinner” means that you have enough time to do something, as in that you will make it. There is not any single word in English that expresses the same thing (as far as I know), but I think a couple of examples will make the meaning clear to you:

Jag hann inte ringa dig igår.

(I didn’t have time to call you yesterday.)

Om vi springer nu så hinner vi med sista tåget till Uppsala.

(If we run now we will make it to the last train to Uppsala).

Hur långt hann vi i grammatikboken sist?

(How far did we get in the grammar book last time?)

9. slipper

Another favorite of mine! “Slipper” means that you don’t have to or not need to, in a positive sense. An example:

På sommaren slipper barnen gå i skolan.

(In the summer the children don’t need to go to school.)

It is important to be aware of that it is a positive experience to “slippa”, so in the example above we understand that the children don’t always like to go to school. You could unintentionally hurt people’s feelings if you use “slipper” the wrong way. Let’s say that you were supposed to meet a colleague to go through some paper work, but the two of you talked over the phone and don’t really have to meet up anymore. In this case it is more proper to say:

Då behöver vi inte träffas. (Then we don’t need to meet up.)

rather than:

Då slipper vi träffas. (Great, we don’t have to see each other then!)

The colleague might think you don’t like him/her. 😉

10. råkar

“Råkar” expresses that you are doing something unintentionally or by chance. Again, this is a verb in Swedish. Take a look at these examples:

Jag råkade slå sönder mormors dyra Orrefors-vas.

(I accidently broke my grandmother’s expensive crystal vase.)

Jag råkade springa på Anna på stan idag!

(I ran into Anna in the city center today!)

Good luck with your “hjälpverb” and don’t forget to post questions!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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14 responses to “10 useful “hjälpverb””

  1. Brian Hodges says:

    Tack så mycket. You are a Godsend! / Brian

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  2. Matt Lee says:

    Tack ska du ha! jag har studerat på Komvux i nästan två år och nu efter har läst dina bloggar är allt klockrent! bra jobbat. Det ska bli kul med nästa blogg…

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  3. Archer says:


    Tack så mycket . Jag titta för nästa blog.

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  4. Eddie says:

    Very useful tips, despite the interference mistake in the blurb (“nuanced”??)

    Actually, Swedish “ska” is more like English “must”, when “must” is used to express a strong or formal obligation (here in example 2 of “ska”).

    “The animals must not be fed” = “Djuren ska inte matas”…although, of course, we would probably say “Do not feed the animals” in English.

    English “have to” is more the equivalent of “måste” in Swedish.

    ie Du ska borsta tänderna innan du går och lägger dig = You must brush your teeth before going to bed.

    Du måste borsta tänderna innan du går och lägger dig. = You have to brush your teeth before going to bed.

    Not the best examples I agree, and there is an overlap in meaning between both sets of modals. I base my comment on 20 years in the translation business and the fact that “have to” in English is used more in everyday language.

    NB…”ska” is often incorrectly translated to “shall” = usscchh!

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  5. Eddie says:

    PS..The Swedish modal “råkar” can also be translated to “happened to”

    Eg “Jag råkade träffa henne förra veckan” = “I happened to bump into (meet) her last week”.

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  6. Eddie says:

    Sorry, one more comment…”slipper” can also be translated to “don’t have to” since “don’t have to” and “don’t need to” are more or less interchangeable.

    In fact, “don’t have to” is more much common in spoken English and we’d be more likely to say “In summer the children don’t have to go to school” for “På sommaren slipper barnen gå i skolan.”

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  7. Mark says:

    Absolutely wonderful. Please keep this up!

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  8. Michael says:

    Useful advice. Learn phrases that are actually used, never single words.

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  9. ruth says:

    As an English speaker but with Swedish parents it amazes me how one can pick up that the teacher is Swedish.

    Yes its the finer points. Yes dear, you MAY use the car to-day – Not can !!

    Feel like I am correcting my South African children again!!

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  10. ruth says:

    Yes dear you CAN use the car to-day because Dad is not using it, but you certainly MAY not use it, you should be home studying for your exams.

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  11. Monark 540 says:

    I’m a fan! With SFI-C under my belt (thanks, Swedish Teacher!), I’m off to SFI-D with high hopes.

    Report abuse »

  12. Rafiiq says:

    I think this is a good collection and it is quiet helpful to those who don’t speak Swedish and would like to learn.. like me.

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  13. pgemosa says:

    @Eddie: Very useful comments! One disagreement is that I find “nuanced Swedish” to be perfectly fine; in fact it is not at all an uncommon construction. (You are perfectly within your rights to dislike it, förstås.)

    @Ruth: re: Can vs May. Informal, colloquial speech usually favors “can” among English speakers (at least in America); but I suppose a teacher ought to use “may.”

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