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Posts Tagged ‘reader’s question’

Indefinite and definite form. Article or no article?

Saturday, October 16th, 2010


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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Åt, till eller för?

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010


Carlos has a question about how and when to use the prepostions “åt”, “till” and “för” and today we are going to take a closer look at that. Here is the question:


I would appreciate if you would provide me with the use of these words: åt, till, för when meaning “for” and in other cases.”

I am not going to list all cases of when to use “till” and “för” since it would just be a very long list and in my opinion not so interesting reading. In this post I will rather focus on when to use åt/till for English “for” and when to use “för” for English “to”.


“Till” is often used when we have an addressee of some kind. In other words, we give, say, send, buy, sell etc something to (till) someone. We also turn to someone, speak to someone or wave to someone. In all these cases we would use “till” in Swedish. Take a look at some examples:

Vad ska du ge till Anna när hon fyller år?

(What are you giving Anna on her birthday?)

– Jag har köpt ett halsband till henne, men du får inte säga det till någon.

(I have bought a necklace for her, but you cannot tell anyone.)

So in Swedish, just like we are giving something to (till) Anna,  we are also buying something “to” (till) her and saying something “to” (till) someone. I like to think that just like the gift is handed over from me to Anna, when I say “köper till” (buy for) it is more focus on that the gift is going from point A (me) to point B (Anna). In English, it seems to me, that using “for” makes things focus more on the receiver of the gift – the gift is for her, while in Swedish there is more focus on the transaction of the gift – jag köper en present till henne. We would use “för” (for) in Swedish when we say something like “Det är bra för dig” (it is good for you).

More examples of using till:

Kan du skicka det här brevet till huvudkontoret?

(Could you send this letter to the main office?)

Jag ska skänka en del av mina kläder till Myrorna.

(I am going to donate some of my clothes to the Salvation Army.)

Det är telefon till Lasse!

(There is a phone call for Lasse.)


“Åt” can be used instead of “till” in some cases, but the meaning is slightly different. When we use “åt” instead of “till” it means that we are helping someone or doing someone a favor. Examples:

Kan du göra min läxa åt mig? Den är så tråkig.

(Can you do my homework for me? It is so boring.)

– Nej, den får du göra själv!

(No, you’ll have to do that yourself!)

Jag ska handla mat åt morfar. Han har brutit benet och kan inte gå till affären.

(I’m going grocery shopping for my grandfather. He broke his leg and can’t make it to the store.)


“För” is used with “berätta” (tell) and other verbs that in English would be combined with “to”. Yes, that is confusing and I guess we just have to live with it 😉 Here are some examples when you use “för” in Swedish and “to” or no preposition in English:

berätta för, tala om för


förklara för

(explain to)

visa för


läsa för



Carlos, who posted the question about this subject, also wrote some examples that he wanted me to explain. We will take a look at some of them here, and I’ll do my best to explain what to use.

English: He always cooks for me.


1. Han lagar alltid mat åt mig.

2. Han lagar alltid mat till mig.

In the first example with “åt” the cooking is considered being help or a favor – this person is not capable of cooking. About the second example with “till” I’m thinking that it is a child we are cooking for. The child wouldn’t normally cook for herself/himself, so it is not really a favor. Note that it is a very fine line in this example, and you don’t really go wrong saying that you cook “åt” your children.

English: I baked a cake for you.


1. Jag bakade en tårta till dig.

The cake is a gift and a surprise. You were not planning to bake yourself.

2. Jag bakade en tårta åt dig.

Baking the cake is a favor. You were planning to bake, but didn’t have time. In this case we could also say:

Jag bakade tårtan åt dig.

(I baked the cake for you.)

English: She cleaned the house for me.

Swedish: Hon städade huset åt mig.

Well, if it is your house it is absolutely a favor that she cleaned it 😉 so here we have to go for “åt”.

A little test on “till”, “för” and “åt” will be up soon, keep an eye out!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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“Ska” or “kommer att” for future tense?

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Hej igen,

Today we will take a closer look on different ways of constructing/expressing future tense. Karen had the following question on that matter:

“I have a basic question:
Explain when you use “komma att ” and “ska”. I’m running along forever here using “ska” and realize suddenly everyone uses “komma att” this and that all the time( flew right over MY head!) There seem to be a million idiomatic phrases for “komma att”- help!”

In Swedish there is no specific ending that you ad to the verb to create future tense the same way as you ad for example -ade to create past tense. Although there are three different ways to express future tense and they are not always interchangable so we will take a closer look at the differences.

present tense + time adverbial

The most simple way to express future tense in Swedish is by using present tense and a time adverbial (time expression). Here is an example:

Katarina flyttar till London nästa vecka.

(Katarina is moving to London next week.)

ska + infinitive form of the verb

This is also common way to express future tense. “ska” translates to English “will” and should be followed by another verb, this one in infinitive form. So, no “åker” with “-er” after “ska”.

Vad ska du göra på lördag? Jag ska åka till Stockholm på lördag.

(What are you up to on Saturday? I will go to Stockholm on Saturday.)

Fredrik ska söka jobb på ABB.

(Fredrik will apply for a job at ABB.)

Hon ska sluta röka.

(She will quit smoking.)

So what is up with this “ska”? It is quite common for Swedish language learners to use “ska” a bit too much, just like the questioner recently realized she has been. Well, using “ska” not only means that something will happen in the future but also that this particular action is decided to happen. In other words someone has decided, promised, instructed or maybe even ordered what will happen. There is some sort of thinking and decisionmaking behind the future action.  We can look at the examples again:

Vad ska du göra på lördag? Jag ska åka till Stockholm på lördag.

Constructing the question and answer with “ska” gives us the undertone of that the person makes his/her own decision about the Saturday activities. To compare we can also put the question this way:

Vad gör du på lördag? Jag åker till Stockholm på lördag.

Here the subject of the sentence has slightly less power over the situation. It might be the case that someone else made the weekend plans this time. We can see this difference more clearly with the example about smoking:

Jag slutar röka nästa år.

Jag ska sluta röka nästa år.

There is nothing grammatically or vocabularily (?) wrong putting it like I do in the first sentence, but I would be a lot more convinced that the smoker actually will quit if he/she used the second sentence. The “ska” implies that the person really has made up his/her mind to quit smoking.

kommer att + infinitive form of the verb

Alright, what about “kommer att” then? As you might have figured out by now, “kommer att” does not imply that their is a mind, a decisionmaker behind the future action. No, “kommer att” expresses a prognosis or prediction, any development that we can’t have control with our minds like the weather or body functions. Hmm, I think we need some examples to make this clearer:

Det kommer att regna hela nästa vecka.

(It’s going to rain next week.)

It will rain wether we like or not, and the weatherman has no power over the forecast 😉

Du kommer att bli frisk om du tar antibiotika.

(You will get well if you take antibiotics.)

The doctor has no power over your body, he/she can only predict. The same thing goes for your parents:

Du kommer att vara jättetrött imorgon om du inte går och lägger dig nu!

(You will be very tired tomorrow if you don’t go to bed now!)

I hope this cleared things up! Why not test yourself with my quiz:

Lycka till!

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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Håller med, håller i, håller på …

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Thank you everyone for your questions! I’m working on them all and today I will answer one from Rach:

“Hi there!

What about a post or series of posts about the common words that go together but then mean something else compared to when the word is by itself. I see håller with different things and by itself in so many different ways and I never know what it means…  […] These are sneaky as you need to know the combinations so that the sentence makes sense.”

The teacher term for these sneaky words are “partikelverb” and I posted an introduction to some months ago.

I think it’s a brilliant idea to put up a series of posts with the most interesting “partikelverb”. I will start today with the verb that Rach asks specifically about – different ways of using “håller”. In this post I will go through some of the most frequent ones. You are more than welcome to ask about different “håller” that I don’t mention here.

håller (höll – har hållit/hållt) med

Stressing “med” this phrase does not mean “hold with” but agree. Anna tyckte att de vita gardinerna var snyggast och Anders höll med.

(Anna thought that the white curtains were nicer and Anders agreed.)

Anders höll med om att de vita gardinerna var snyggast.

(Anders agreed that the white curtains were nicer.)

The “med” will sometimes be separated from its main word for instance when the sentence contains a  sentence adverbial (like “inte”).

Anders höll inte med om att de vita gardinerna var snyggast, han föredrog de gula.

(Anders did not agree that the white curtains were nicer; he preferred the yellow ones.)

håller i

Stressing “i” makes “håller i” mean that you are holding something hard so that you won’t drop it. An example:

Den lilla flickan höll hårt i sin nalle.

(The little girl was holding on to her teddy bear.)

håller i sig

“Håller i sig” looks quite similar to “håller i” but the reflexive pronoun “sig” makes a difference to the meaning. “Sig” makes the verb reflexive which means that whatever activity the verb describes we are doing to ourselves, to our own body. Håller i sig “means” that you are holding on to something so that you don’t fall.

Anna höll i sig hårt när hon åkte berg-och dalbana.

håller igång

This is an expression for being active in different ways. A couple of examples:

Morfar håller igång trots att han är gammal. Han cyklar, snickrar och går på fotokurs.

(Grandpa is very active even though he is old. He goes bike riding, does carpentry and takes photography classes.)

Grannarna festade och höll igång hela natten.

(My neighbors went on partying all through the night.)

håller ihop

One of the most common ways to use “håller ihop” is with the meaning to stay together as a couple or a family. Like this:

Rikard och Annika har hållit ihop i flera år nu. De planerar att köpa en lägenhet tillsammans.

(Rikard and Annika have been a couple for several years now. They are planning to buy an apartment together.)

håller om

“Håller om” is synonymous with “kramar” wich means hugs. An example:

Lilla Karin håller om sin nalle hela natten.

(Little Karin hugs her teddy bear all night.)

Det unga paret tittade på solnedgången och höll om varandra.

(The young couple were watching the sunset and hugging each other.)

håller till

“Håller till” is another way to express “befinna sig” which means to be somewhere. It’s a common expression when you are looking for someone, for example at an office. Take a look at this:

– Ursäkta, vet du i vilket rum Börje Andersson håller till?

(Excuse me, do you know where I can find Börje Andersson.)

– Ja, han sitter i rum 305. Det är på höger sida lite längre ner i korridoren.

(Yes, he’s in room number 305. You’ll find it on your right hand side further down the hallway.)

håller upp

“Håller upp” has two different meanings. First of all it can be close to the English “hold up something” meaning showing something. Like this:

Håll upp bilden så att jag kan se den!

(Hold up the picture so that I can see!)

“Håller upp” also means hold as in “open”. Like this:

Är du snäll och håller upp dörren? Jag har så mycket att bära.

(Could you please hold the door? I have my hands full.)

håller kvar

“Håller kvar” means that you are making someone stay, simply “keep” in English. The difference is that “håller kvar” is about people, if you are keeping things you would use “behåller” in Swedish. An example of “håller kvar”:

Polisen höll honom kvar över natten.

(The police kept him over night.)

håller ut

First of all “håller ut” means “hold out” as in reach out, for example your hand:

Blunda och håll ut handen så ska du få en överraskning!

(Close your eyes and hold out your hand and you will get a surprise!)

Secondly “håller ut” means hold on. As a teacher you might say:

Håll ut tio minuter till så tar vi lunch sedan.

(Hold on for ten more minutes and then we will take a lunch break.)

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Plural endings

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Hej igen!

I have already received a number of questions and I want to thank everyone for contributing to this blog! As we say in Swedish:

Frågar man inget, får man inget veta.

One reader wants to know the rules for constructing plural of the noun. His question is this:

“Can you do something on plurals, and how we know which ending to add to a word?

If you could have these for the indefinite and definite forms that would be very helpful! “

5 noun groups – declensions

The nouns in Swedish can be sorted into five different groups or “declensions” as we also can call them.

1. In the first declension we find en-words (nouns with gender en) that end with an -a. This is a quite large group with common words as:

en blomma

(a flower)

en lampa

(a lamp)

en kvinna

(a woman)

en flaska

(a bottle)

en väska

(a bag)

All words in this group will look like this in plural form:






As you can see, what you need to do to create the plural form is removing the –a and ad -or. If you want to create the definite form (bestämd form), the flowers, the bottles, you ad -na. Now it looks like this:






2. In the second declension there are mainly one-syllable nouns with gender en. Common words that fit into this group are:

en bil

(a car)

en kopp

(a cup)

en hund

(a dog)

en stol

(a chair)

en säng

(a bed)

In this group we will also find a number of other nouns that ends with a unstressed -e, –el, -en, -er or –on. Some examples of these words are:

en pojke, en bulle

(a boy, a cinnamon roll)

en cykel, en fågel

(a bike, a bird)

en öken

(a desert)

en syster, en vinter

(a sister)

en morgon

(a morning)

This is what the words in the second group look like in plural form:














So, you can see that the plural ending for this group is -ar. You might also have noticed already that the words with an unstressed -e, –el, -en, -er or –on loses the -e or -o in plural. For plural definite form we ad -na just like in the first declension. Then we end up with:

bilarna, kopparna, hundarna, stolarna,  sängarna, pojkarna, bullarna, cyklarna, fåglarna, öknarna, systrarna, vintrarna and morgnarna

3. In the third declension there are words like en polis, en biljett and en telefon: and what do they have in common? Well they are all loan words as they originally come from another language. Many of the words in this group consists of several syllables. More examples:

en familj

( family)

en cigarett

(a cigarette)

en ingenjör

(an engineer)

To create the plural form of the nouns in this group we ad -er. Like this:






Again, to create the definite form plural we ad -na at the end of the word. Like this:






The words are starting to get quite long now, right? 😉  It is also worth mentioning that some of the words in this group get a so called “omljud” in plural which means that they change vowel. This happens to words that we use on a daily basis:

en hand               händer

(a hand)

en tand                tänder

(a tooth)

en son                   söner

(a son)

en fot                     fötter

(a foot)

4. Ok, enough with the en-words! In the fourth declension are a number of ett-words. The second thing they have in common is that they all end with a vowel. Hurray! Finally a rule that is easy to remember! Common words in this group are for example:

ett äpple

(an apple)

ett knä

(a knee)

ett konto

(an account)

ett meddelande

(a message)

ett arbete

(a job)

To express the plural form of these nouns we simply ad -n which will make our examples from above look like this:






It is worthy of note that if you are not familiar with the Swedish plural rules, or think that äpple is an en-word, you might think that äpplen means “the apple”. To create the definite form plural out of the words in the fourth group we will have to ad –a so we get:


(the apples)


(the knees, my knees)


(the accounts)


(the messages)


(the jobs)

5. All right, one more group to go – the fifth declension. (By this time in a classroom you would have been in coma!) Luckily, the fifth group is the one that is the easiest to remember. The rule is simple: ett-words ending with a consonant. A few examples:

ett hus

(a house)

ett barn

(a child)

ett rum

(a room)

ett problem

(a problem)

ett år

Ok, so what do we have to do to turn these guys into plural form? The answer is:nothing! One might think that the Swedes ran out plural endings or something. Anyway, this is what our examples look like in plural:











To make definite form we ad –en. Like this:






Congratulations for reading this far! Now you can practice your new skills by taking this test:

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Sämre eller värre?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

As you might know already there are two ways to express “worse” in Swedish – sämre and värre. My blog reader Caroline has asked me to explain the difference between those two.

Comparison of adjectives

To answer this question I’ll take a step back and quickly go over how we can make comparisons in Swedish. The basic form of the adjective has the grammar terms positiv. For example:


Anders är glad. Han har vunnit 100 kronor på lotto.
(Anders is happy. He has won 100 SEK on the lotto.)


Diamantringen är dyr.
(The diamond ring is expensive.)

When we want to express that someone is happier or that something is more expensive, we use the komparativ form of the adjective. In Swedish it looks like this:


Åsa är gladare än Anders. Hon har vunnit 1 000 kronor på lotto.
(Åsa is happier than Anders. She has won 1 000 SEK on the lotto.)

(more expensive)

Diamantarmbandet är dyrare än diamantringen.
(The diamond bracelet is more expensive than the diamond ring.)

When we want to express who is the happiest, most expensive, biggest, smallest etc, we use the superlativ form of the adjective:


Lena är gladast av alla. Hon har vunnit 100 000 kronor på lotto.
(Lena is happiest of them all. She has won 100 000 SEK on the lotto.)

(most expensive)

Diamanthalsbandet är dyrast. Lena tänker köpa det.(The diamond necklace is the most expensive of the all. Lena is going to buy it.)

dålig – sämre – sämst and dålig – värre – värst

So now when we have cleared out how to make comparisons we will take a look at sämre, sämst and värre, värst. Both sämre/sämst and värre/värst are komparativ/superlativ of “dålig” (bad). Apparently there are two kinds of “bad” when speaking Swedish, a bit strange one might think. As a matter of fact something can be bad in itself, always bad, or it could be bad just sometimes. Diseases are good examples of things that are bad in themselves:

Hostan har blivit värre de senaste dagarna.
(My cough has got worse the past couple of days.)

We use “värre” here because a cough is never considered being something good or positive, it is always a negative thing. Another good example of when to use “värre” is from Dagens Nyheter:

Oljekatastrofen är värre än befarat.
(The oil disaster is worse than first feared.)

A disaster is a negative thing of course, and therefore we use “värre” and not “sämre”.

To make sure this is all clear I’m now going to share an example of using “sämre”:

Patienten mår sämre idag.
(The patient is feeling worse/weaker today.)

Here we can see that the patient himself/herself is not a bad thing, like the cough is. Therefore we should use “sämre”.

Also those of you who have spent this summer in Sweden know that:

Vädret var sämre förra sommaren. Det var inte alls lika varmt som i år.
(The weather was worse last summer. It was not as warm as this year.)

So, the Swedish weather is not something bad in itself, even if it might feel like that sometimes 😉

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Nog, väl and ju

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Hej alla!

It took me a while but finally I will try to explain how to use small words with big meaning – nog, väl and ju. A reader brought up the subject with the following question:

” Hi,

Just had a lesson on how to use Nog, Väl and Ju, but my teacher was no very clear on what is the meaning of them. She said it was impossible to translate them directly to Swedish. Nevertheless, I believe there should be some kind of rule or at lest trend, rather than just doing it by “feeling” as my teacher said.

First of all nog, väl, and ju are all so called satsadverb (sentence adverbials). Those of you who have read previous posts about word order and adverbials, know that a satsadverbial is a word that changes or specifies the meaning of the whole clause or sentence. Examples of satsadverb that might be more familiar to you are inte (not), kanske (maybe) and bara (only).


“Nog” is a troublesome little word since it has several different meanings and can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted, even by native speakers I dare to say. Myself I really had to think hard what nog really means in different examples. That might be an explanation to why teachers often say that it is a question of “feeling for it”.

I would say that a translation of “nog” goes from the weaker förmodligenprobably to the stronger visserligen – to be sure, it is true:

förmodligenprobably weak

säkerligen – no doubt, doubtless

helt säkert – certainly

visserligen  – to be sure, it is true strong

Here are a few examples of how “nog” can be used:

Det blir nog sent i kväll.

(It will probably be late tonight. I will probably come home late tonight.)

In this case “nog” has the weaker meaning as in “I’m not sure, but probably”.

Det ska du nog inte räkna med.

(I wouldn’t count on it.)

Here the speaker is not 100% sure, but pretty close. I would say that the “nog” in this sentence means that the speaker has some doubts, but is more sure than if using “probably”.

Det ordnar sig nog.

(It will be alright, for sure.)

This should not be interpreted as “It will probably be alright”, which would be a strange thing to say I guess, not that encouraging 😉 In this case “nog” means “I’m sure of it”.


Väl is a sentence adverbial that makes the sentence end up somewhat in between a statement and a question. I’ve had many students during the years being very frustrated over this. They ask me:  “Is it a question or not? I want to know!” And all I can answer is: “Well, it is sort of a question, but still not quite.” :)

Stäng fönstret!

(Close the window!)

This is a command. You will go and close the window.

Du kan väl stänga fönstret.

(Why don’t you close the window.)

This is a little softer, rather an expectation or a wish than a command.

Kan du stänga fönstret?

(Can you close the window?)

This is, as you can see, a plain question.

Here are a few more examples with “väl”:

Det är väl inte hela världen.

(That’s not the end of the world, is it?)

“Väl” here corresponds with the “is its?”

Nu ska det väl  snart sluta regna.

(It should stop raining soon, shouldn’t it?)

Det vore väl underbart om …

(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…)

One thing that can be tricky with “väl” is that it is used when the speaker want to request something or give you an order so to speak, but still want to be polite. So the order can be mistaken for a question. This way of using “väl” is common in a work situation or in school. At work for example, your boss might say :

Du kan väl skriva klart den där rapporten till på måndag morgon.

This is a polite way to say “Finish this report, I want it in Monday morning.”

Your teacher might say:

Ni kan väl titta på den här artikeln till i morgon.

What the teacher really means is “Read this article for tomorrow.”


The turn has come to “ju”. As I explained in a previous post, “ju” expresses something like “as you know” or “I know that you know”. Actually it is used a lot when the speaker thinks that the listener should know better. Some examples:

Va?! Köpte du en sprillans ny BMW? De kostar ju en hel förmögenhet.

(What?! Did you buy a brand new BMW? You know they cost a whole fortune.)

– Du tog väl med dig ett paraply?

(You brought an umbrella, didn’t you?)

– Nej.


– Men, jag sa ju att det skulle bli regn.

(But I told you it was going to rain.)

– Vill du ha en cigarrett?

(Do you want a cigarette?)

Nej, jag har ju slutat röka.

(No, I told you I’ve quit smoking.)

Phew, this was a tough one! I hope a have clarified something for you. Please post questions if you have any!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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Gånger, timmar, tid och dags

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Hej igen!

I hope everyone is having a great summer so far. Time has come to answer the question about  different phrases for English “time”. The question is:

“Hi hi,

Could you have a section explaining the different phrases for time? I’ve notice that in english we have “time”. . and in Swedish there’s , gång, timmer, dags, tid. . . so on. I feel like there might be more. But can you explain the different situations each word is used?”

en gång, många gånger

Let me beging with gång and gånger. Gånger is the type of time/times that we can count, we talk about one time, two times, three times and so on. I’ll show you what I mean with an example:

– Hur många gånger har du varit i Stockholm?

(How many times have you been to Stockholm?)

En gång.

(Once/One time.)

Jaha. Jag har varit där två gånger.

(I see. I’ve been there twice/two times.)

Not surprisingly we also use gånger when multiplying:

Vad är 5 gånger 5?

(What is 5 times 5?)

You can also find gång and gånger in some common phrases:

gång på gång

(time after time/over and over again)

Han misslyckades med provet gång på gång.

(He failed his test over and over again.)

på samma gång

(at the same time)

I Kalifornien får man inte köra bil och prata i mobiltelefon på samma gång.

(In California you are not allowed to drive and talk on the phone at the same time.)

för en gångs skull

(for once)

I kväll ska jag titta på fotboll för en gångs skull.

(Tonight I’m going to watch football (soccer ;-)) for once)

Det var en gång…

(Once upon a time…)

Det var en gång en liten flicka…

(Once upon a time there was a little girl..)

en timme, många timmar

A  word that is ofte mistaken for meaning “rime” is timme, probably because the two words look alike, but en timme, timmar simply means hour/hours. The correct written form is “timme” but in spoken Swedish it isn’t uncommon that timme is pronunced “timma”. A couple of examples using timme/timmar:

Hur lång tid tar det att åka från Uppsala till Västerås?

(How long does it take to travel from Uppsala to Västerås?)

-Ungefär en timme.

(About an hour)

Jag satt och väntade på akuten i flera timmar.

(I was waiting in the emergency room for several hours.)


Tid is time as in a period of time and is not countable. Examples:

– Hur lång tid tog det?

(How long did it take?)

Det tog bara 10 minuter.

(It only took 10 minutes.)

Tid is also often used when referring to a longer period of time, maybe several years or even longer.

Vi har haft en rolig tid tillsammans.

(We have had a good time together.)

– Ja, vi har känt varandra i 20 år nu.

(Yes, we have known each other for 20 years now.)

Therefore you shouldn’t really say:

Hade du en rolig tid i Stockholm på din semester?

Semester (vacation) is too short to be referred to as “tid“. To express “Did you have a good time in Stockholm?” you should simply say “Hade du roligt i Stockholm?” and completely leave out the word “time”.


Last but not least there is dags. Dags means time as in it is the right time to do something. Examples:

Det är dags att gå nu.

(It is time to leave now.)

Stäng av TV:n nu, det är lägg-dags.

(Turn off the TV now, it is bed-time.)

You can also talk about lunch-dags, kaffe-dags, middags-dags, städ-dags and other everyday activities.

Hur dags? means at what time, or simply when. In Swedish it can be replaced by “när”.

Hur dags börjar filmen?/När börjar filmen?

(At what time does the movie start?/When does the movie start?)

Thank you for reading and don’t forget to take my new quiz on Swedish plural forms:

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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