1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Swedish
  4. >
  5. Question about present tense …


Question about present tense (sort of)

Since Swedish doesn't differentiate between simple present and present progressive, I was wondering about those situations in English where the tense changes the verb's meaning -- from a current action to a general one, or from an action to a preference, for example -- and how those differences would be expressed in Swedish.

For example, if you say "Arbetar du?" how do I know if you are asking "Are you working?" as in "Are you at work?" or "Do you work?" as in "Do you have a job?"

Same thing with sentences like "Hon dricker te med socker." Are you telling me that she is currently drinking tea that has sugar in it or are you telling me that she normally takes her tea with sugar?

Or would these concepts be expressed in entirely different ways in Swedish?

December 14, 2014



Sometimes, the progressive tense can be expressed by other means in Swedish. A common verb is hålla på (med ngt) which means roughly ’to be occupied (with smth)’. You could say for example:

  • Jag håller på att baka en kaka. (I am baking a cake.)
  • Sverige håller på att gå sönder. (Sweden is falling apart.)

This roughly translates to the present continuous in English.

Another really common way of expressing progressive aspect is to use the verbs sitta, stå, ligga (sit, stand, lie) + the verb in question. Swedes are not usually aware of that this is used to express progressiveness in my opinion but it almost entirely grammatical. The verb you use depends on the position the person doing the action is in but you can often just translate it with a continuous tense in English.

  • I går skrev jag ett brev. (Yesterday I wrote a letter.)
  • I går satt jag och skrev ett brev. (Yesterday I was writing a letter; lit. ’Yesterday I sat and wrote a letter.)
  • Jag låg bara och läste i min säng hela dagen. (I was just in my bed reading all day. lit. I lay just and read in my bed all day.)
  • Jag stod och väntade på bussen i tjugo minuter. (I was waiting for the bus for twenty minutes. lit. I stood and waited for the bus for twenty minutes.)

These are two means of expressing progressiveness in Swedish, but as you have noticed from the course, there is no need of making the distinction in Swedish and many Swedish sentences can be translated to either.


This post provides a lot of great examples and this tense phenomena makes 80% more sense to me than it did before I read your examples. However, I'm still struggling with distinguishing between "Jag gråter inte" meaning either "I am not crying" vice "I don't cry." Maybe the way around the second example is to say something like "Jag är inte en som gråter," 'I am not one who cries'? I don't really see how to use (or which to choose/intuit of) sitta, stå or ligga.


First of all, there can be misunderstandings, especially with your first example. A possible conversation:

– Arbetar du?
– Undrar du om jag har ett arbete eller om jag är upptagen med att arbeta just nu?

There are of course ways to avoid confusion. For your tea with sugar example, I would probably say "Hon brukar dricka te med socker" to describe what she normally does or "Hon dricker alltid te med socker" to tell what she always does.

For the job case, there is this "håller på och" to use when there is an English -ing form:

Håller du på och arbetar?

I know it is included in the course, but probably rather late.

There is another way to express that something is going on right now and that is to use "sitter och ...", "står och ..." etc, but that wouldn't work very well in your examples above.

However, "I am reading" can be translated to "Jag sitter och läser" or "Jag ligger och läser" for example.


Thanks for the answer. Perhaps I'm thinking too much in terms of English.


My first language also doesn't differentiate between present simple and present progressive.But i also had the same trouble as you did since i mostly use English and not my language as a guideline.

What might be helpful is to simply specify that she always drinks tea,for example.That's how would in Croatian.Actually,˝she drinks tea˝ doesn't actually tell us that she always drinks tea,either,if you think about it.From my personal point of view i would always say She always drinks tea if i want to say that it's her habit,rather than she drinks tea.


but in Croatian it mostly depends on context. For example, you're planning a party and your friend asks you "jel' pije Ana kolu?" (does Ana drink Coke?), you answer "pije" (she drinks). From context, you can tell she's not drinking it right now, but the question was if she usually drinks it.


Thanks for this. This will definitely be useful later on. Just wondering, the second line of your dialogue would translate to “Are you wondering if I have a job, or if I am busy working right now?” or something to that effect, right?


Exactly! Your understanding of Swedish is very good :).


Tack :) I really appreciate your helpfulness.


Of course, using "nu" is also a good way of doing it:

  • Arbetar du nu?


Well, I guess "nu" can be either "right now" or "nowadays" :)! But generally I agree with Arnauti that this is not a big problem since you almost always understand from the context what people mean.

PS. I see that you have the same problem as I had yesterday. I spend 20 minutes trying to get rid of the dots that were created when I typed hyphens :).


Yeah, true, it can imply a change of state.


I think that I would you "Har du ett arbete?" as Swedish for "Do you work?" And probably default to interpret "Arbetar du?" as "Are you working?" Of course there is exceptions where the context would tell otherwise or where you would have to ask a clarification question.

Normally when you are speaking with someone you know if they are doing something else at the same time. However if you were speaking with someone of the phone you wouldn't really know if.

"Jag gör egen sylt." means "I'm making my own jam." or "I make own jam." However the inclusion of the "egen" in this case is a hint that it probably is the later form since if I were making jam right now it wouldn't make much sense in pointing out that it is my own (homemade) jam. That would probably only be needed if you were speaking with someone about what brand of jam they buy.


Just a personal reflection, from learning and using multiple languages, I often miss features of other languages in Swedish, but I don't think I've ever missed this one.


Thinking more about my "confusing job example" above, I must admit that it is not that likely to occur :). I mean if you meet someone in a bar for example and ask
– Arbetar du?
then, unless you wonder if the person is a social anthropologist doing a field study (or a prostitute), you probably want to know if he/she has a job.


I want to find all the social anthropologists that I can with that question.

Learn Swedish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.