Answers to some common questions on grammar that beginners have
I thought I'd put together a quick good-to-know list of things new learners may want to know, based on questions I find come up often. These are meant to accompany the lesson notes, which I highly recommend reading through. There's bound to be some overlap with other info you may have read, and I'm sure I've missed loads of things, but hopefully it's useful to someone. :)
What are the Swedish letters åäö?
The Swedish alphabet generally mirrors the English one, but with one notable difference: we have three more letters. These are very important to cover early, because they're not just the letters a and o with accents - they're entirely different letters in their own right.
In other words, å is as different from a as b is from d, and so on.
This also means that words can have very different meanings depending on the letters that are in them. For instance, lök means "onion" but lok means "locomotive". And it can get a lot worse - like confusing höra ("hear") with hora ("whore").
For learning how to pronounce åäö, and everything else in Swedish as well, do check out Academia Cervena's excellent videos on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUb87YTKOTgnGcAM4toC-6A/videos
What's the difference between "en" and "ett"?
A long time ago, Swedish used to have three genders - masculine, feminine, and neuter. Over time, the masculine and feminine genders merged into a single one, called the common gender.
The common gender consists of what we call en-words, because when we want to say "one" of something, we say en for those. The neuter gender consists of what we call ett-words, using the same logic.
- ko ("cow") is an en-word, so "one cow" is en ko
- bord ("table") is an ett-word, so "one table" is ett bord
This means that Swedish words do not care about femininity or masculinity. So our genders are completely grammatical, and have nothing to do with biology any longer.
Similarly, the definite forms are den for en-words, and det for ett-words. So you can always tell a word's gender by their singular articles!
How do I know the gender of a word just by looking at it?
I am sorry to say that the gender of a word will most often need to be learned by heart. This post by Zzzzz... has a great list of tendencies, however: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/6329293
Why does the voice pronounce "de" as "dom"?
In contemporary Sweden Swedish, the word de ("they") is actually pronounced dom by the overwhelming majority of natives. The same goes for dem ("them"), which is pronounced the same way.
Written Swedish still prefers the spellings de and dem, but dom is acceptable for both - especially in colloquial texts.
This course accepts either spelling, and defaults to de and dem. But beware that Duolingo only allows for one accepted spelling in "type what you hear" exercises, which means that you can't use dom there. This is a technical limitation that the course administrators are not able to affect.
Want the etymological reason? Academia Cervena's got you covered again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ld9ieozJ-ws
How do you translate continuous forms into Swedish?
This one's easy. Swedish doesn't have a continuous form, so you just skip that in translation. In other words:
- "I eat" translates to jag äter
- "I am eating" also translates to jag äter
Dead simple! There are some ways of expressing continuous actions in Swedish, and you'll come across those later. For the most part, however, we just use the same form and derive the meaning contextually if needed.
Why do some verbs take the att and some don't?
The basic rule here is that modal verbs never take the att. These include common ones like "want", "need", "must", and so on, but the Swedish modal system is extensive and covers a wide range of verbs.
Non-modals either always take the att, or do so optionally. There is no way to tell just by looking at the verb whether the att is optional or mandatory. I usually recommend always using the att for non-modals, and adjusting your mental list of which ones are optional as you go.
Do note that att can also be a conjunction, in which case it corresponds to "that" in English. For instance: jag hörde ATT du gillar pizza = I heard THAT you like pizza. This meaning of att is completely separate from the one above, and works like "that" does in English - meaning that it's mostly optional, grammatically speaking, and may or not be preferred idiomatically.
How many definites do I need when I have an adjective describing a noun?
This might be a little too advanced for most beginners, but it's a very common question.
The answer is that the principle is fairly simple:
Whenever you have a phrase that goes [article] [adjective] [noun], you need to make either all three indefinite or all three definite. So if you're talking about a specific thing, you need a definite article, you need the definite suffix on the adjective, and you need the definite suffix on the noun.
There is one caveat to this: if the adjective comes before the noun, you use the definite form - and if it comes after the noun, you use the indefinite. Think of it as "the silly jester" versus "the jester is silly" - in English, there's no difference in the adjective, but Swedish frequently has different forms for the two. (These forms are called attributive and predicative, respectively, and you really don't need to remember that.)
Why don't I need a definite article for possession?
Take a simple phrase such as "the girl's dog". You'll find many questions in the forums on why this translates to flickans hund, with the dog in the indefinite, and not to flickans hunden, with the dog in the definite.
Swedish actually functions like English does here. The possessive removes the need for the definite. So it's exactly how you say "the girl's dog" in English, and not "the girl's the dog".
The English construction "the dog of the girl" uses a different grammatical construction and is not used in Swedish, so it doesn't quite compare.
What is the "v2 rule" I keep hearing about?
Swedish, like all Scandinavian languages, has a really, really strong preference for putting the head verb in the second position of a sentence or main clause. That's why it's called v2 - "verb second". Do note, however, that the second position of a sentence may not always be the same as the second word.
The v2 rule holds true for main clauses and is very handy to keep in mind, but for more complex grammar, other rules apply. Arnauti's post on this is older than my son but still a great read: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8970470
Why does Swedish always use "det" when translating "it is", even for en-words?
Semantically speaking, a sentence which begins "It is [...]" has not yet introduced its subject, so you don't yet know if it's going to be an en-word or an ett-word. Swedish makes this simple by always defaulting to the neuter-gender option det in these cases.
This tendency is so strong that even when speaker and listener both know exactly what the subject is, natives will almost always still use det anyway.
That's also the reason you will be marked wrong for using den in many constructions where it seems like it would work - it's not ungrammatical per se, but so unidiomatic that teaching it would be doing learners a great disservice.
Which Swedish dialect is the greatest?
The correct answer is clearly Smålandian, and anyone who says differently is probably a Dane in disguise.
Aww Jettaska, I am currently watching a series "tjockare an vatten" "thicker than water", and it's setting is on Aland (sorry no accents).
I got a little lost when you mentioned the difference between attributive and predicative adjectives... could you give an example, please?
Absolutely, and thanks for the feedback. I didn't really intend to make it sound like people should know what those terms mean, and I'll go back to edit and clarify in a minute.
An attributive adjective is one that's used before the noun it describes - like "a silly jester". A predicative adjective is one that modifies the sentence subject through a verb - like "the jester is silly". In Swedish, these often have different forms. But it's easier to just think of it as "don't use the definite form if the adjective comes after the noun". :)
Thanks so much. I was confused as to why “det” was always used for “det är” and now I know :)
Thanks devalanteriel, that was very informative :)
For everybody who's wondering what Småländska sounds like, here you can hear a few samples and compare them to other Swedish dialects: