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Posts Tagged ‘pronouns’

“Ordet” or “det ord”?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Hej alla svenskstuderande!

Long time no writing 😀

A while ago I received a question from one of my blog readers who is confused over a sentence that is common in Swedish textbooks and workbooks. It’s a very interesting question and also a bit hard to answer. I hope you’ll understand my explanation. Here’s the question:

Hej Sara!

I would like to make a question, I couldn’t find a topic specifically about this in your blog, so my apologies if it has already been asked.

I have a doubt on when I must use the definite article of a noun instead of the definite form. For example, in my Swedish book I often see sentences like: “Välj det ord som passar i meningen”. Why is this construction used instead of “Välj ordet som passar i meningen”? Are there other cases in which this form should be used?

Thank you very much!

Definite form and definite article

First of all, we have to sort out the difference between the definite form and the definite article. The definite form of the noun is in this case “ordet” and the definite article is the ”-et” morpheme. Let’s take look at a few more examples:

en bil

a car

“En bil” (a car) is the indefinite form of the noun, and “en” is what we would call the indefinite article (“obestämd artikel” in Swedish).



the car

“Bilen” (the car) is the definite form of the noun, and the morpheme “-en” is what we would call the definite article (“bestämd artikel” in Swedish).

ett hus

a house

In this case, “ett hus” is the indefinite form of the noun, and “ett” is the indefinite article (“obestämd artikel”).



the house

“Huset” (the house) is the definite form of the noun, and the morpheme “-et” is the definite article (“bestämd artikel”).

Determinative pronoun

Now you might be thinking – so if “det” in “det ord” isn’t the definite article of a noun – what is it then? In the example my blog reader is giving us, “Välj det ord som passar i meningen”, “det” is a so called determinative pronoun (“determinativt pronomen” in Swedish). A determinative pronoun refers forward, which means that we don’t have a lot of information yet and we will now get more information. The new information we usually get in a relative subordinate clause. Compare this to a noun in definite form (bilen, huset etc), which refers backward – we know which house or car we’re talking about, we have information about it.


I know the explanation might be a bit abstract and technical, but hopefully a few examples will help:

Kungafamiljen bor i slottet.

The royal family lives in the palace.

Using “the palace” (slottet) indicates that the listener knows which palace you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there is only one palace.

Kungafamiljen bor i det slott som ligger i Stockholm.

The royal family lives in the palace that is located in Stockholm.

Using the determinative pronoun (det), you are referring forward and explaining to the listener which palace you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som ligger i Stockholm).

Henrik tog inte jobbet.

Henrik didn’t take the job.

Using “the job” (jobbet) indicates that the listener knows which job you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there was only one job.

Henrik tog inte det jobb som han blev erbjuden förra veckan.

Henrik didn’t take the job that he was offered last week.

Using the determinative pronoun (det), you are referring forward and explaining to the listener which job you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som han blev erbjuden förra veckan”).

Lasse tyckte att pizzan var mumsig.

Lasse thought the pizza was yummy. Using “the pizza” (pizzan) indicates that the listener knows which pizza you are talking about (you are referring backward), or maybe there was only one pizza.

Lasse tyckte att den pizza som han bakade igår kväll var mumsig.

Lasse though the pizza that he baked last night was yummy. Using the determinative pronoun (den), you are referring forward, and explaining to the listener which pizza you are talking about by using a relative subordinate clause (“som han bakade igår kväll”).

If you have any questions, please post in the comment thread or on my Facebook wall.

Have fun learning Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Det var det

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013


“Det” is a personal pronoun that can be used in many ways, and it might me confusing if you always translate “det” to English “it”. In this article i will do my best to guide you to how to use “det”.

Det replacing a word, a phrase or a clause

Let us begin with the less confusing use of “det”, that is when “det” refers to something that is known, something that we already have information about. As we will see in the examples blow, “det” might replace not only a neuter noun (ett-ord), but also a verb phrase or a whole clause (“sats” in Swedish). Take a look at these examples:

– När kommer tåget?

-Det kommer klockan sju.

(When is the train coming? It arrives at seven o’clock.)

“Det” is replacing “tåget”, which is an ett-word.

– Kan du spela gitarr?

– Ja, det kan jag.

(Do you know how to play the guitar? Yes, I do.)

In this case, “det” is replacing the verb phrase “spela gitarr”. I guess in English one would rather use “that” instead of “it”. Next example:

– När börjar mötet?

(When does the meeting begin?)

– Det vet jag inte.

(I don’t know.)

In this case “det” is replacing the whole clause and what we’re saying is basically

– När börjar mötet?

– Det (=när mötet börjar) vet jag inte.

“Det” linking forward

Another function of “det” is that it links forward to something that is unknown. In such a case we can call “det”  “formellt subjekt” (formal subject). When we use “det” as a formal subject  we also have an “actual subject” (“egentligt subjekt” in Swedish). In such a case “det” is placed first in the clause and the actual subject, is placed in the subject’s position, after the first verb. Here are a few examples of “det”as a formal subject:

– Vem är det?

(Who is that?)

– Det är Agneta.

(It is Agneta.)

– Vilka är det?

(Who are they?)

– Det är Agneta och Björn.

(It’s Agneta and Björn.)

– Vad är det?

(What is that?)

– Det är en kanelbulle.

(It’s a cinnamon roll.)

– Vad är det?

(What is that?)

– Det är jordgubbar.

(It’s strawberries.)

As you can see, in these cases we use “det” no matter what gender or number the noun (the actual subject) is.

“Det” might also refer forward to a verb phrase, like this:

Det är roligt att dansa. = Att dansa är roligt.

(It is fun to dance.  = To dance/dancing is fun.)

“Det” is the formal subject, but the verb phrase “att dansa” is the actual subject.

“Det” when introducing something new

In Swedish a special construction is used when you want to introduce new persons or things into the conversation. This construction is called the existential sentence (“presenteringskonstruktion” in Swedish). Instead of beginning the sentence with the real subject, you begin with with a formal subject, “det”. In this case, “det” corresponds to English “there”. Here are some examples of existential sentences constructed with different verbs:

Det är någon i trädgården.

(There is someone in the garden.)

Det kommer en bil på vägen.

(There is a car coming on the road.)

Det finns älg i Sverige.

(There is moose in Sweden.)

Det finns öl i kylskåpet.

(There is beer in the fridge.)

Det saknas en person.

(There is one person missing.)

Det sitter en fågel i trädet.

(There is a bird sitting in the tree.)

Det ligger en tidning på parkbänken.

(There is a newspaper on the bench.)

Det går ett tåg i timmen till Stockholm.

(There is a train to Stockholm every hour.)

Det står en lampa i fönstret.

(There is a lamp in the window.)

“Det” when talking about the weather

When talking about the weather we also use phrases with “det” as the subject, since there is no natural subject.  This phenomenon in Swedish (and in English) is called “subjektstvång” or “platshållartvång”which means that we are forced to have a subject (and a verb in present or simple past tense) to create a complete clause. Therefore, if we don’t have a natural subject we are forced to use “det” instead. Take a look at the following examples:

Det regnar.

(It is raining.)

Det snöar.

(It is snowing.)

Det är kallt.

(It is cold.)

Det är varmt.

(It is warm.)

“Det” doesn’t really mean anything in the weather phrases above, but in Swedish (and in English) we have to have a subject to get the word order right. If we don’t have “det” we cannot make the difference between

Det snöar. (a statement)

Snöar det? (a question)

Ja, det var det (that was it) 😉 Have fun learning Swedish!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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“Denna” or “den här”?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

“Denna” or “den här”?

Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially seems to cause confusion is “denna” and how it is different from “den här”. Here is a question from one of my blog readers:


I have a question. When do we use denna/detta/dessa? I see that it is used like this/these in English. It is followed by a noun in the indefinite form. What’s the difference between it and den/det/de här? Also, sometimes denne is used instead of denna, for example “den 5 dennes”, which is supposed to mean “the 5th of this month”. Why is that?

When I started to work on an answer to this question I realized that there isn’t really a right and wrong way to use “denna” and “den här”. As a matter of fact even native Swedish speakers have different opinions about which one to use depending on which dialect they speak.

Let us first straighten out what the pronouns mean.

denna /den här, detta/det här, dessa/de här = this/these

We use “denna” or “den här” when the pronoun refers to a noun with en-gender (utrum). Here’s one example:

Denna bil (en bil) är min.

Den här bilen är min.

(This car is mine.)

We use “detta” or “det här” when the pronoun refers to a noun with ett-gender (neutrum). Here’s one example of that:

Detta hus (ett hus) är mitt.

Det här huset är mitt.

(This house is mine.)

We use “dessa” or “de här” when the pronoun refers to a noun in plural form:

Dessa bilar är mina.

De här bilarna är mina.

(These cars are mine.)

Which one do I use?

As you can see we use the noun (bil) in indefinte form after denna/detta/dessa and in definite form (bilen) after den här/det här/de här. This is the most common way in spoken Swedish in the eastern, central and northern parts. It is also the norm in written standard Swedish according to Svenska språknämnden. In many western and southern dialects, on the other hand, it is quite common to use denna/detta/dessa also in spoken Swedish, and it’s also common to use the following noun in definite form. In Värmland, Skåne and other western and southwestern parts of Sweden our previous examples could look like this:

Denna bilen är min.

Detta huset är mitt.

Dessa bilarna är mina.

In these dialects it is common to say “Denna bilen” instead of “denna bil” which is the norm in written language and standard Swedish.

What about “denne”?

In written Swedish “denna” can also be used independently (without a noun) instead of a personal pronoun. The purpose of doing that is to clarify who you are referring to in a sentence. Take a look at this example:

Tor ringer ofta till sin son, men denne har sällan tid att tala med sin far.

If we use ”han” in this case it isn’t all clear if we are referring to ”Tor” or to ”sin son”. If we instead use “denne” it’s more obvious that we’re referring to “sin son”. This is especially common in formal texts like legal documents. But why are we using “denne” with an “e” instead of “denna”? “Denne” is an old masculine form that we still can run into every now and then. Other examples of masculine form are “bäste” (bästa) and “store” (stor).

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Den or det?

Monday, November 8th, 2010


Many of you readers have been asking for help with  “den” and  “det”, so my mission for this post is to clarify not only when to use which one but also how they have an effect on definite and indefinite form (bestämd och obestämd form).


First of all “den” is a personal pronoun (personligt pronomen in Swedish) and means “it” when it refers to an en-word. Like this:

Jag ska se en film ikväll. Den heter “Män som hatar kvinnor”. Har du sett den?

(I am going to watch a movie tonight. It is called “Men who hate women”/”The girl with the dragon tatoo”. Have you seen it?)

“Den” also have the function of a freestanding definite article. And what is THAT?? you might be thinking now. Well, as you know in Swedish just like in English, you need to have either a indefinite or definite form of nouns. A indefinite form can look like this:

en hund

(a dog)

ett hus

(a house)

The en/ett in Swedish and a (and sometimes an) in English is  with a grammar term called indefinite article. The definite form of the noun looks like this:


(the dog)


(the house)

You can see here that in Swedish the definite article is an ending attached to the noun, -en or -et. This is the most common way to make definite form, but it also happens that we use a freestanding definite article and it can be den, det or de. Here are some examples:

Jag vill köpa den röda klänningen.

(I want to buy the red dress.)

Vi bor i det röda huset.

(We live in the red house.)

De röda klänningarna var slutsålda.

(The red dresses were sold out.)

Have you noticed something that these three examples have in common? That’s right, all of them have an adjective (röda) before the noun, and that is when we use the freestanding definite article – den, det or de. But wait a second! Isn’t “klänningen”, “huset” and “klänningarna” also definite form?! Yes they are, and this is a very special and maybe irritating feature of Swedish – we sometimes use a so called double definite form (dubbel bestämning). We use both the freestanding definite article (den, det, de) and the regular definite article (-en, -et, -na).

den röda klänningen

det röda huset

de röda klänningarna

This construction is quite special for Swedish, you don’t find it in Danish for example. As if it wasn’t enough with double definite form the den/det/de also controls the form of the following adjective, which basically means that you have to use -a on your adjective after all these three. In other cases you only use -a on the adjective when it is combined with the plural form of the noun. Take a look:

en röd klänning

(a red dress)

ett rött hus

(a red house)

röda klänningar

(red dresses)

Compare this to:

den röda klänningen

det röda huset

de röda klänningarna

A grammarian would say that we also have a definite for of the adjective (röda) here, but it might be easier to just remember to have -a on the adjective after den/det/de. It is all up to you.


“Det” is first of all, just like “den”, a personal pronoun (personligt pronomen) referring to an ett-word. An example:

Jag har köpt ett nytt hus. Det är gult.

(I have bought a new house. It is yellow.)

“Det” can also have the function of a freestanding definite article as we just saw above.

det röda huset

OK, that is not so complicated, but “det” can have several other functions and that is probably what my questioners have noticed.  Just like “det” refers to only one word, the noun with gender “ett”, it can refer to a whole clause or a part of a clause. Take a look at this:

Tågen från Uppsala till Stockholm är ofta försenade. Det upprör många resenärer.

(The trains from Uppsala to Stockholm are often delayed and that upsets many travelers.)

– När har vi rast?  –Det vet jag inte.

(When do we have a break? – I don’t know that.)

– Kan du spela piano?   – Ja, det kan jag.

(- Do you know how to play the piano?   – Yes, I do.) or literally  (-Do you know how to play  the piano?   -Yes, that I know.)

Another function of “det” is the so called formal subject (in Swedish “formellt subjekt”). In such a case there is a formal subject (det) and the actual subject which can be a noun or a verb phrase. Here are some examples:

Vem är det? Det är Anders.

(Who is that? /Who is this? That is Anders./It is Anders. )

“Anders” is the so called actual subject of the sentence and “det” is the formal subject.

Vad är det? Det är en iPhone.

(What is that? That is an iPhone/It is an iPhone.)

“en iPhone” is the so called actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

Det är roligt att spela fotboll.

(It’s fun to play football.)

“Att spela fotboll” is the actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

Det var bra att du kom.

(In English: It‘s good that you came.)

“Att du kom ” is the actual subject and “det” is the formal subject.

In Swedish, just like in English, there is a linguistic phenomenon called “subjektstvång”. I am not sure of the English term for this but it means “need of subject”. Basically, in Swedish as well as in English we must always have a subject to construct a complete sentence. This type of subject is sometimes called “platshållarsubjekt” meaning” in-place-keeper-subject”. You see the word order is so important in Swedish so we always need a subject to figure out where to place the other parts of the sentence. Let me show you with an example:


(rains/is raining).

You can probably see that this isn’t a complete sentence.We don’t know if you mean:

Det regnar.

(It is raining/It rains.)

or if you are trying to say:

Regnar det?

(Is it raining?/Does it rain?)

So you can see that little “det” plays a very important part.

Finally it is also common to use “det” as a subject when you don’t know who is doing something. Note that it is also all right to use another subject like “någon” (someone) or “något” (something) in these cases but “det” is more common. Examples:

Det ringer på dörren.

(There is someone at the door.)

Det luktar illa i kylskåpet.

(Something in the fridge smells bad.)

All right, let’s hope that I was able to clarify when to use “den” and “det”. Why don’t you take the quiz and let me find out:

Lycka till!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Sin, sitt & sina

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Some parts of the Swedish language are more important than others to master. I mean even though it is good to know which words are “en” and which are “ett”, there isn’t really a disaster if you happen to say “en hus” or “ett bok”. Using the wrong pronoun (such as “han”, “hon”, “den”) could definitely cause more confusion. Take a look at this classic example:

1. Patrik kysser sin fru.

2. Patrik kysser hans fru.

In English both sentences translates to “Patrik is kissing his wife”. In Swedish however, you make a distinction between “his own wife” = sin, and his as in someoneelse’s wife. This might get more clear if we change “sin” and “hans” for names:

1. Patrik kysser Patriks (sin) fru.

2. Patrik kysser Henriks (hans) fru.

In other words,  if Patrik is the subject of the sentence and he is also the owner (excuse me Patrik’s wife 😉 ) of the object, then we express that ownership by using “sin” instead of “hans”.

It is of course not only “hans” that sometimes should be replaced with “sin”. This is also the case for “hennes”, “dess”, “ens” and “deras”. It is also good to know that “sin” changes to “sitt” if the object is an ett-word, and to “sina” if the object is plural. Like this:

Patrik har målat sitt hus i sommar.

(Patrik has painted his house this summer.)

Patrik ska hämta sina barn på dagis.

(Patrik is going to pick up his children at kindergarten.)

Now we are going to take a look at some more complicated sentences, because that is when it usually gets a little tricky with the “sin” and “hans”. Take a look at these sentences:

Patrik tycker om maten som sin fru lagar.

(Patrik likes the food that his wife cooks.)

Olle sitter uppe, eftersom sin dotter inte har kommit hem än.

(Olle is waiting up, since his daughter is not home yet.)

Anna och sin pojkvän ska äta på restaurang ikväll.

(Anna and her boyfriend are going out for dinner tonight.)

All three sentences are wrong! We mustn’t use “sin” instead of “hans” or “hennes” in any of them! At this point in class some students are ready to leave the classroom 😉 “Why not “sin” all of a sudden? You just said that when you are the owner of the subject… ” The explanation for example one and two is that we can not look at the whole sentence an figure out subject and object, we have to look at each clause of the sentence. So let’s do that:

“Patrik tycker om maten”

is our main clause (huvudsats) in which “Patrik” is subject.

“som hans fru lagar”.

is a subordinated clause (bisats) and “hans fru” is the subject in it. Only an object can use the pronoun “sin”, “sitt” or “sina”. The same explanation goes for example number two:

“Olle sitter uppe”

is the main clause (huvudsats) and “Olle” is the subject.

“eftersom hans dotter inte har kommit hem än.”

is the subordinated clause (bisats) in which “hans dotter” is the subject, and therefore cannot be “sin”.

I know that it is hard to analyze the sentence structure when you are out there speaking Swedish, so to make it simple – don’t use “sin”, “sitt” and “sina” after common subjunctions (bisatsord) such as “som”, “att”, eftersom”, “därför att” , “om” etc.

But what about the third example? Again we should take closer look and find out if we really are dealing with an object and an owner of that object:

Anna och hennes pojkvän…

The thing here is that “Anna” is the subject of the sentence and since “och” is a conjunction, which combines two things of the same kind (a subject with another subject or an object with another object) “pojkvän” is also a part of the subject and can not use “sin” for a pronoun.

OK, so now everything is clear, right? Why don’t we take a little test:

1. Erik gillar … jobb.

2. Man måste lyssna på … föräldrar.

3. Johan och … flickvän ska flytta ihop.

4. Johan köper ofta blommor till … flickvän.

5. Tomas och Björn bor fortfarande hemma hos … föräldrar.

6. De ska låna ut sin sommarstuga till … dotter och … pojkvän.

7. Annas mamma säger att Anna kan låna … bil.

8. Anna får låna bilen, eftersom … bil är på verkstaden.

9. Hon är ute och går med … hund.

10. Hon och … man är ute och går.

How did it go? Put your answers in the comment field :)

Til next time!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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