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Archive for September, 2010

Quiz on förr, förut, före, förrän and innan

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Test yourself on what you learned from the previous post.

Good luck!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Förr, förut, förrän, före and … innan!

Friday, September 10th, 2010


Diana, and she is most likely not alone, is wondering about different words that mean “before”. Here is Diana’s question:

It would be a huge help if you could explain how and when to use the different words that mean before. I never know if it’s förr, or if it’s innan. […] and I’ve heard a word like förns, or something, …

Well Diana, I can’t blame you for being confused 😉 There are a lot of words in Swedish that sounds “för” something, actually I never thought about it myself before I started teaching Swedish.


“Förr” has different meanings. First of all it simply means “before” as in earlier or previously. Here are a couple of examples of how to use it.

Vi har träffats förr, eller hur?

(We have met before, haven’t we?)

A nice (pick up) line, isn’t it?  :-)

When the teacher explains for example word order the students often say:

Jag har aldrig hört det förr!

(I have never heard that before!)

“Förr” can also, when it means “before” be replaced by “förut” and we get the exact same content of our sentence. Like this:

Vi har träffats förut, eller hur?


Jag har aldrig hört det förut!

Now some bad news – “förr” also means “in former times” or in “former years” which is way further back in time than just “before”.

Förr trodde man att jorden var platt.

(People used to think that the earth was flat.)

Det var bättre förr i tiden.

(“Everything was better in earlier times.”)

As if this wasn’t enough “förr” also occure in phrases like the ones below, meaning “sooner”. Take a look at this:

ju förr desto bättre

(the sooner the better)

förr eller senare

(sooner or later)

innan and före

“Innan” means “before”. The problem is that there is also is the word “före” that also means “before”, and I can see how it can be hard to know which one to use. “Innan” is a “subjunction”, which means it is the conjunction between a independent and a dependent clause. Other words from the same category that you probably recognise are “därför att” (beacuse), “eftersom” (since) and “att” (that).

“Före” is simply a preposition and only has a relation to a noun, not a whole clause. “Före” means “before” as a preposition, but is also used meaning “in front of” or “ahead of”. Let’s check out a couple of examples that hopefully illustrates the difference:

Jag äter frukost innan jag åker till jobbet.

(I have breakfast before I go to work.)

Mycket ska man höra innan öronen faller av!

(“You will hear many things before your ears fall off!” = I have never heard anything like it!)

Det var många före mig i kön på posten idag.

(There were a lot of people in front of me at the post office today.)

Anna Andersson står före Bengt Bengtsson på listan.

(Anna Andersson is before Bengt Bengtsson on the list.)

inte förrän/inte förrns

The word “förrän” is never by itself, but has to be combined with “inte” or other negating words like “knappt” (hardly). Together they translate to English “not until” or “before”. The “förrns” that Diana is mentioning in her question is actually just a colloquial or maybe regional version of “förrän”. Actually my mother often uses “förrns” more often than she uses “förrän”. Remember though, that the correct written form is “förrän”. Here is an example with “förrän”:

Du får ingen glass förrän du har ätit upp din broccoli.

(You don’t get any ice cream until you have finished your broccoli.)

Some common sayings also have “inte förrän”. Please help me with the English versions of these :)

Man ska inte sälja skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten.

(“Don’t sell the bear’s coat before the bear is shot.”)

Man ska inte ropa hej förrän man är över bäcken.

(“Don’t shout “hej” before you have jumped over the stream.” “Don’t crow too soon.”)

Keep up the good work speaking Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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More about “ordföljd”

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Hej igen!

I have been silent for a while. That is because I have been thinking of how to attack the questions about word order that have been coming in :) Four different readers have put detailed questions about word order. Shortly, what these and other Swedish language learners mostly struggle with when it comes to word order are the following questions :

1. Where do I place the sentence adverbial(for example “inte”)?

2. When do I use inverted word order?

3. What on earth do I do with the “particle” in the “particle verbs?

The sentence adverbial is, as you maybe know already, small words with great impact on the whole sentence. I am sure that you recognize “inte” (not), “kanske” (maybe), “bara” (only) and “tyvärr” (unfortunately). Why not take a look at a simple sentence and how the sentence adverbial changes the meaning of it:

Jag ska arbeta imorgon.

(I will work tomorrow.)

Jag ska inte arbeta imorgon.

Jag ska bara arbeta imorgon.

Jag ska tyvärr arbeta imorgon.

Alright, now we know what a sentence adverbial is. Next step is to be sure of where to place it, which is different for the huvudsats (the independent clause) and the bisats (the subordinated clause that needs to be together with a huvudsats to make sense). We will look at the huvudsats first.

Jag har inte gjort läxan.

(I have not done my homework.)

In this simple statement the construction is exactly the same in Swedish and English. The sentence adverbial is placed after the verb, before the object. If we construct a question with a question word it will look like this:

Varför har du inte gjort läxan?

(Why have you not done your homework?)

In a question with a question word, and in other constructions when anything else than the subject is in the first position, the sentence adverbial is placed after the subject (in this case “du”). If we ask a yes/no-question we get the following word order:

Har du inte gjort läxan?

(Have you not done your homework?)

As you can see, the sentence adverbial is put after the subject also in this case. Here we have to verbs and the sentence adverbial is placed between the two.

Another example when we need to place the particle kind of in betweeen words is when we are dealing with a particle verb. Two common particle verbs are “tycker om” (like) and “kommer ihåg” (remember).

Jag tycker om kaffe.

(I like coffee.)

Jag tycker inte om läxor.

(I do not like homework.)

Jag kom inte ihåg att vi hade läxa.

(I did not remember that we had homework.)

So you can see that we need both “tycker” and “om” to express English “like”, but when we ad a sentence adverbial, the sentence adverbial always separates the main word and the particle (which means it is incorrect to say “jag kommer ihåg inte”). That is why it sometimes is hard to know that you are dealing with a particle verb, it is not always completely obvious that the particle belongs to the verb.

So, it is incorrect to say “jag kommer ihåg inte”, but we are allowed to say:

Jag känner henne inte.

(I don’t know her.)

Why?! This is about what information in the sentence is more important or more interesting. Generally you don’t stress the sentence adverbials in Swedish, they are more or less mumbled through and can actually be hard to hear for a non native speaker. Let’s play around with the word order here to discover how it makes a difference for what information is stressed. Look at this:

Jag känner inte henne.

(I don’t know her.)

The stress/melody in this sentence is something like this:

Jag känner inte henne.

Here we have an example of the most common structure. The “jag” is placed first and therefore most in focus.

Henne känner jag inte.

(Her I don’t know.)

The stress/melody in this sentence is:

Henne känner jag inte.

In this case the object, “henne”, is more in focus than “jag”. We are pointing out the object, making her different from others. It is like saying “I know everyone here, but I don’t know her” or “I don’t know her, but I know him”.

If we want to stress the sentence adverbial, in this case “inte”, it is a little complicated. If you go like this:

Jag känner inte henne.

You are definately risking to sound aggressive, like if she was a person you don’t want to know, don’t want to have a connection to or like you said it hundreds of times before. It sounds like:

Jag känner INTE henne!!!! :( :(

So what can you do if you still want to put emphasis on the sentence adverbial without sounding all mad? You place it after all the other words. This is the only case you can do this though.  A few examples:

– Känner du Lena?

– Nej, jag känner henne inte.

– Träffar du Anders någon gång?

– Nej, jag träffar honom aldrig.

– Läser du tidningen på morgonen?

– Ja, det gör jag alltid.

Alright, so far we have only been looking at “huvudsats”, and no we are going to get into something more complicated – “bisats”. Like I said, a bisats is a subordinated clause, dependent on the huvudsats. If i just said “so that you don’t get cold” or “that he is leaving now” it wouldn’t make much sense, would it?

The bisats have a little different construction than the huvudsats. Like this:

subjunction – subject – sentence adv. – verb  – verb – particle -object – place – time

Compare that to huvudsats:

starter – verb – subject – sentence adv. verb – particle – object -place – time

This makes more sense with a couple of examples. First a huvudsats:

Jag ska kanske hälsa på farmor i helgen.

(Maybe I will visit my grandmother this weekend.)

In this example “jag” is the starter, so the subject spot is empty. “Kanske” is the sentence adverbial and “på” is the particle belonging to “hälsa” (together they mean “visit”). Let’s use the same example and turn it into a bisats:

Sara säger att hon kanske ska hälsa på farmor i helgen.

(Sara says that maybe she will visit her grandmother this weekend.)

What you can see here is that “kanske” (the sentence adverbial) ends up before both the verbs. “Inte” is, as you remember, also a sentece adverbial:

Sara säger att hon inte ska hälsa på farmor i helgen.

So far so good, when many Swedish language learners get in trouble is when they start constructing longer and more complicated sentences, like starting  the sentence with bisats or having more than one bisats. Let me show you what I am talking about.

Jag ska inte gå på festen eftersom jag inte mår bra.

(I’m not going to the party since I’m not feeling well.)

So, first there is a huvudsats:

Jag ska inte gå på festen.

Then comes the bisats:

eftersom jag inte mår bra.

Now we are going to move things around and put the bisats first.

Eftersom jag inte mår bra ska jag inte gå på festen.

Now I want you to look at the whole sentence as a huvudsats – from “Éftersom” to “festen”. The bisats is now just not a bisats, but also the starter of the sentence, the big huvudsats. (The “starter” is called different things in different grammar books – fundament, base, X  etc.) So the word order we get here is just like a more simple huvudsats:

Jag                                                          ska          –            inte    gå      på festen

eftersom jag inte mår bra      ska         jag       inte    gå      på festen


When you construct a sentence with many subordinated clauses, you just have to keep track of them. This is of course hard to do when you are out in the real world speaking Swedish, people rarely have patience for someone checking their bisatsordföljd, but when in class or when writing it is good to take an extra look. I’m going to borrow an example from a student of mine. The example is about “Erik” who bought a new noiseless electric handmixer :)

Jag tror att Erik köpte den så att grannarna inte kunde höra att han bakade något gott.

(I think that Erik bought it so that the neighbours couldn’t hear that he was baking something tasty.)

In this case the huvudsats is:

Jag tror

and the subordinated clauses (bisats) are:

att Erik köpte den

så att grannarna inte kunde höra

att han bakade något gott

What happened to this student was that he på the “inte” in the wrong spot, because he first didn’t think of that part of the sentence as a bisats, since it was a bit far away from “jag tror”.

When do I use inverted word order? Well, answering this question is quite easy – anytime you start your sentence with something else than a subject. To do it right when you are using more complicated sentences is much more difficult, I know. A simplified schedule of a huvudsats looks like this:

starter/base  –  verb – subject – sentence adv. – verb – object – place – time

Now we are going to play around with some short and simple examples.

Jag                                    åker             till Malmö           på lördag.

starter (subject)          verb            place                           time

På lördag                      åker           jag              till Malmö.

starter (time)                verb            subject       place

Jag                                    köpte           den här boken.

starter (subject)          verb               object

Den här boken           köpte               jag.

starter (object)               verb                  subject

Basically, whatever you wish to emphasize (the time, the place, the object, the subject) you put as the starter of your sentence. What is not always clear is that time, place and object are many times a whole bisats and not just a word or two. Let me show you:

Eva fick sitt drömjobb nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen.

(Eva got the job of her dreams almost directly after she graduated from university.)

If you take a close look at the sentence you will discover that “nästan” and everything after that is the time part. So if I want to emphasize the time it will look like this:

Nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen fick Eva sitt drömjobb.

We can break it down to see the structure more clearly:

Nästan direkt efter att hon hade tagit sin universitetsexamen


fick       Eva          sitt drömjobb.

verb       subject    object

Well, I hope I didn’t forget anything. If you still have questions or, even better, examples of sentence structure that you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to put them in the comment field.

Til next time! :)

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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