The Swedish Teacher

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Indefinite and definite form. Article or no article?


In this post I will try my best to answer a question from Cecile:

“When do you use a preposition before your nouns? Specifically en or ett. Because in English you always use a this, or a that, or at least the before an object […] What are the rules for that in Swedish?”

What I think Cecile is asking about here is actually when to use indefinte form or definite form of the noun, and when to use a indefiite/definte article. “This” and “that” are pronouns that I will deal with in a later post since I have another question about that on my list.

To use the right form of the noun (indefinite or definite) is, next to word order, one of the more important things when it comes to the Swedish language. It is not so hard to master if you speak English, Spanish or German, but the whole thing is a lot more vague if you speak Russian or Finnish.

The form of the noun (the person, the book, the buss, the desease, the job etc) is detrmined by if it is new or old information to you or to the person you are talking to.

We use indefinite form (obestämd form) of the noun:

* when we are introducing new information, we have not talked about it before. The listener does not know exactly who or what we are talking about. The information can of course also be new to the person who is talking. Here are a couple of exmples:

Kalle: Var bor du?

(Where do you live?)

Olle: I en lägenhet på Storgatan.

(In an apartment on Storgatan.)

Here the speaker use indefinte form (en lägenhet) since it is the first time he/she is mentioning this apartment. When you use the indefinite form you are in most cases also supposed to use a indefinite article (obestämd artikel), better known as “en” or “ett”. We also use the indefinite form after many other words:

någon, något, några (some/any)

Vet du om det ligger någon bra restaurang i närheten?

(Do you know if there is any good restaurant in this area?)

ingen, inget, inga (no)

Nej, det finns inga bra restauranger här i Askersund.

(No, there are no good/there are not any good restaurants here in Askersund.)

annan, annat, andra (other, another)

Då måste vi åka till en annan stad. Hur långt är det till Örebro?

(The we will have to go to another town. How far away is Örebro?)

varje/var, varje/vart

Anders åker till Stockholm varje vecka.

(Anders goes to Stockholm every week.)

vilken, vilket, vilka (literally translates to “which”, but in English constructions it is common with “what”)

– Vilket är ditt favoritprogram på TV?

(What is your favorite TV-show?)

“Bonde söker fru”! Jag sitter som klistrad vid TV:n varje onsdag.

(“Bacherlor farmers”! I’m glued to the TV every Wednesday.)

sådan, sådant, sådana (such a, one like this)

Jag vill ha en sådan, en sådan och en sådan! sa Anna till sin pappa och pekade i leksakskatalogen.

(“I want one like this, one like this and one like this!”Anna said and showed showed her father the toystore catalog.)

samma (the same, of the same kind)

De är födda på samma dag och går i samma skola.

(They were born on the same day and go to the same school.)

possessiva pronomen (possessive pronouns)

Kan jag få din email-adress?

(Can I have your email address?)


Kalles pappa bor i Östersund.

(Kalle’s father lives in Östersund.)


Nästa sommar ska jag åka till Sverige.

(Next summer I will go to Sweden.)

So far so good, but as some of you readers have already discovered you sometimes use the indefinite form of nouns without an article (en, ett, flera or många)! I think the best way to explain that is that you in these situations rather are referring to the activity than the location. A few examples hopefully clarify what I am trying to say:

Jag ska gå på fest på lördag.

(I am going to a party on Saturday.)

In this example the fact that I’m going is more important than the party itself. Therefore I use “fest” without “en”. If I say:

Jag ska gå på en fest på lördag.

the party itself is more interesting than the fact that I’m going. More examples with nound without article:

going to concerts, visiting museums

går på museum

(visiting a museum)

musical instruments

spelar piano

(plays the piano)

spelar trumpet

(plays the trumpet)


är lärare

(is a teacher)

är läkare

(is a doctor)

diseases, medical condiotions

har huvudvärk

(has a headache)

ha influensa

(has the flu)

But hey, it is not over yet! If we throw in a description, an adjectice, to the noun we all of a sudden need to ad the article (en or ett). Like this:

Jag har huvudvärk idag.

(I have a headache today.)

Compare that to:

Jag har en fruktansvärd huvudvärk idag.

(I have a terrible headache today.)


Jag ska gå på museum i London.

(I am going to visit a museum in London.)

compared to:

Jag ska gå på ett berömt museum i London.)

(I am going to visit a famous museum in London.)

Anders är lärare.

(Anders is a teacher.)

compared to:

Anders är en mycket kompetent lärare.

(Anders is a very competent teacher.)

The definite form (bestämd form) we use when the person listening to us knows what person or thing we are talking about. An example:

Anders är lärare. Klassen är stor men barnen är snälla.

(Anders is a teacher. The class is big but the children are nice.)

Since we know that Anders is a teacher, we must say “the class” and “the children” since we know that teachers have classes and children in the classes.

Other good examples of the definite form are streetnames, hospitals, governmental offices and state owned liquor stores:


(The queen’s street)


(the tax bureau)


(the immigration bureau )


(the customs)


(the state owned liquor store in Sweden)

In Swedish we also use definite form when talking about body parts, our own or others:

Jag har ont i ryggen.

(My back hurts.)

So you can see here that in Swedish you are literally saying “the back hurts”. Another example:

Lisa bröt benet när hon åkte snowboard.

(Lisa broke her leg went she went snowboarding.)

Same thing here, Lisa breaking “the leg” means it is “her leg”, although that isn’t really said.

Also when it comes to definite form there are certain words after which we just have to use definite form:


Annika har två barn. Båda barnen går i skolan.

(Annika has two children. Both her children go to school.)


När jag hade ätit halva pizzan var jag jättemätt.

(When I had finished half the pizza I was really full.)


Jag orkade inte äta upp hela pizzan.

(I couldn’t manage to finish the whole pizza.)


Förra veckan var det varmt i Kalifornien, men den här veckan det svalare.

(Last week it was warm in California, but this week it is cooler.)


Första tåget till Stockholm går klockan 05.00.

(The first train to Stockholm leaves at 5 am.)


Sista tåget till Uppsala går kl 24.00.

(The last train to Uppsala leaves at midnight.)

I hope I have been able to clear things out in this matter! Please help me find out if I did by taking my quiz:

Test yourself!

Thank you everyone for reading the blog :-)

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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