En eller ett
I want to celebrate finishing my skill tree by giving back to the community: Sometimes one can tell whether a noun is preceded by en or ett by its ending.
If the noun ends as follows, it is an en-word: -a, -ing, -dom, -lek, -an, -else, -het, -nad, -ik, -sion, -(t)ion, -ism, -(i)tet, -ist, -ant, -ent, -or, -log, -nom, -ur, -(n)är, -ör, -are, -ande (when referring to a person) and -(ik)er. The most common exceptions are ett hjärta, ett öga, ett öra, ett fängelse and ett universitet.
If the noun has one of the following endings, it is an ett-word: -ande (when not referring to a person), -ende, -tek, -on, -um, -ium, -eum and -eri.
I want to thank everyone for their help. I hope that I am able to help here someone in return. :)
It's not as bad as other languages. Because your language merged masculine and feminine into "en", most words are "en". It's easier than German, which has three. It's also, I think, easier than Spanish, which has "la" and "el" (feminine and masculine) but, apart from people which are obviously male and female, it's not always clear when they should be used.
Generally, I have been going with the rule that any living animals or people (except for ett barn) get "en", and any abstract concepts, usually, get "ett", and try to learn the exceptions.
I also try to learn the word in it's definite form first ("bordet" for the table) it's easier for me.
I personally think the la/el in Spanish is MUCH easier than en/ett and der/die/das (my native language is Swedish, so I do know those, but never even knew there were rules and would probably struggle with them if I had to learn it as a second language). Spanish is basically "el" for -o (el chico) and "la" for -a, -dad and -ión (la chica, la ciudad, la estación). Makes sense to me, that rule applies most of the time so it's generally quite easy.
Thank you for your insight. There are, however, more exceptions to the rule that any living animals (including people) other than "ett barn" receive the article "en". Other special cases include: ett får, ett lamm, ett småkryp, ett svin, ett lejon, ett lodjur and more. Still, you're right in saying that the vast majority of animals are preceded by "en". Oh! And kudos to Zzzzz... for figuring out what they did. ^_^
I can expand on this even more .. if the word ends in -erska (skådespelerska) .. i.e. it is the feminine version of a word ending in -are ... then it is also an en gendered word.
Also, any word that ends in -i which has a corresponding word in English ending in -y (parti, energi, batteri) is an ett word, and they will always decline this way:
ett parti ... partiet ... flera partier ... alla partierna
And in current Swedish, the -are/-erska (or -inna) terms are being used less and less in favor of gender-neutral terms. This does not necessarily mean that these terms don't appear to match -are/-erska, but they don't change depending on the person. A nurse would be "sjuksköterska" regardless of actual gender. An actor would typically be a "skådespelare" regardless of gender, on the other hand. We used to say "polisman" but will now say just "polis", and there are other similar cases where truly gender-neutral terms are used.
Also note that historically there were two versions of these gendered terms. The pair "lärare" and "lärarinna" mean male and female teacher, respectively (with only the first being used today). On the other hand, for the pair "professor" and "professorska" the meanings are "professor" and "wife of professor" because obviously there's no such thing as a female professor. Except now there is, and they are also "professor". And, incidentally, in Swedish "professor" is a high academic title meaning someone with a doctorate holding a specific position at a university. It does not translate to "teacher", even though a "professor" will typically do some teaching.
Your question seems to have disappeared. I hope you did not delete it because it was a very good question. You should never be afraid of asking questions!
There are some words that have different meanings depending on the article you use (en lag = a law; ett lag = a team), but there really are not that many of them. If you get the definite/indefinite form correctly, you will usually be understood even if you get the en/ett thing wrong. The definiteness of a word is much more important. Things are a bit more complicated with plurals since en and ett words are declined very differently in plural, but every Swedish speaker I have ever met has understood me when I have blundered while using singular forms. The sooner you start talking in Swedish the better, so do not worry about it too much, OK? :)
@SifuEricson I assume you’re asking this because most berries use ett. Here’s one way to remember that it’s en jordgubbe, not ett. The ending of the word in this case is not important. Jord means “soil” or “earth”, and gubbe means “fellow” or “dude” (it can mean other things too, but in this context, these are the most important translations). So in Swedish a strawberry is a little fellow that grows from the soil. Since it’s a compound word, the final word of the compound determines the grammatical gender. Most words that refer to people are en words (although there are exceptions like ett barn). If you think of Swedish strawberries as funny little red men that pop out of the ground, it’s easier to remember that they need en with them, just like other words for men do. :)
I would actually like to see someone write a web application, where you can put in a Swedish noun in it's indefinite form without article (say, "bord"), and it will output all all 8 forms, with articles:
ett bord - indefinite singular bordet - definite singular flera bord - indefinite plural borden - definite plural
Plus bords, bordets, bords, and bordens for the genitive (possessive) cases.
Most (but not all) of the exceptions are words with a single syllable. While there are a few longer words (like ett fängelse) that do not follow the guidelines, the general rule is that endings that create new words from shorter words (like -ship and -dom in English) prefer to go with certain articles. The ending -a and a few others on the list are not this type of suffixes. :)