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What’s the difference between här/hit, hem/hemma and var/vart? – on motion and location

Swedish has a series of adverbs that are used to describe where something is or where something is going. In English these are often the same. You say both ’I am there’ and ’I am going there’, even though the first one really describes a location (you are located at a place) and the latter motion (you are going to a place).

In Swedish, these are distinguished in many of these adverbs, and Swedish would use two different words for ’there’. These sentences would be translated into Swedish as ’Jag är där’ and ’Jag åker dit’, respectively. Older English also made this distinction and had ’there’ for location and ’thither’ for motion, but this is mostly archaic today.

The motion adverbs are often used with verbs of motion like komma, gå, åka, and the location adverbs are often used with verbs of location like vara, ligga, stå etc.

I am going to first give a list, and then some examples, and then go into detail with some of the adverbs and how they are used. If you just want the general gist, you can stop before the line.

Here is the list of adverbs:

Here are some examples of their usages:

  • När åker du hem? (When are you going home?)
  • Jag är redan hemma. (I am already at home.)
  • Hammaren ligger uppe på taket. (The hammer is up on the roof.)
  • Hur kommer jag upp dit? (How do I get up there?)
  • Det är väldigt kallt ute, så jag vill inte gå ut. (It is very cold outside, so I don’t want to go outside.)
  • Jag ska åka bort på fredag. (I am going away on Friday.)
  • Jag är borta på fredag, kan du göra mitt arbete? (I am away on Friday, can you do my work?)

Two of these adverbs are a bit tricky. The first one is fram which has two major meanings. The first one is ’motion towards a more central and visible place from having been hidden’. This word often matches ’forth’ in English, but is used much more in Swedish.

  • Hon drog fram en kniv ur fickan. (She took out a knife from her pocket.)
  • Kom fram i ljuset där jag kan se dig! (Step into the light where I can see you.)

The second meaning is towards a goal, forward. In English this is often translated to just ’there’.

  • Hon gick fram och tillbaka. (She went back and forth.)
  • Vi hinner inte fram i tid. (We won’t make it there in time.)
  • Vi kom fram klockan 7. (We got there at 7 o’clock.)

The location variant is framme and thus means either ’in a central and visible position’ or ’there, having reached a goal’

  • Pappa. är vi framme snart? (Dad, are we there yet?)
  • Han står där framme i kyrkan. (He is standing up there in the church.)
  • Låt inte tidningen ligga framme! (Don’t leave the newspaper about; i.e. don’t let it lie visible, but rather put it away somewhere.)

The second adverb I want to mention is var and vart. In more formal language and written language, there is a distinction where var means ’where? at what place?’ and vart means ’whereto? to what place? whither?’

  • Vart ska du åka? (Where are you going?
  • Var är hon? (Where is she?)

However, in spoken language, these forms have merged for many people, and many people don’t make the distinction and use either (mostly vart but it depends on dialect) for both motion and location. In the course, the distinction is always made, but be prepared that you will hear Swedish speakers say Vart är han? for ’Where is he?’.

I also want to mention that you can add -ifrån to all of these to mean ’from’. This is added to the motion adverb.

  • Får jag se dig framifrån? (May I see you from the front?)
  • Varifrån åkte han? (Where did he go from?)
  • Jag åker hemifrån nu. (I’m leaving home now.)
  • Han hoppade ner/ned uppifrån taket. (He jumped down from up on the roof.)

Thirdly, the difference between ned and ner is that ned is used in writing and formal language and ner is the usual spoken variant. However, both are equally accepted in writing. In certain compounds, ned can be common even in speech and you can say/write either nedladdning/nerladdning (downloading). For a few words, only ned- is possible in compounds such as nedlåtande ’condescending’.

They are both derived from the older word neder (cf. Eng. ’nether’) which is used in a few words like Nederländerna (The Netherlands) and nederbörd (precipitation)

January 9, 2015



Great post, it helped me a lot, I really think it should be included in the lesson ! It comes a bit later, but I would also complete it with the cardinal points, because it can be quite confusing. Here's what I understood :

Name * Fixed Motion
Nord/Norr (North) Norra (Northern) Norrut
Väst/Väster (West) Västra (Western) Västerut
Öst/Öster (East) Östra (Eastern) Österut
Syd/Söder (South) Sôdra (Southern) Söderut

* Each cardinal point name has a synonym, they are the same.


Wow! Tremendous, ThoDela: tack så mycket! I especially appreciate the explanation about the synonyms. Oh, and please have a lingot on me :).


I think that in the chart, "där" and "dit" are swapped.


Yes, thank you. I will correct it. Same goes for ”här”.


Also var, vart? Nevertheless the compilation will be very helpful. Regarding ned/ner. Listening to the news at 8sidor I remaked sometimes that the one was spoken and the other was written. Are both spoken the same way?


I’ve corrected the chart.

Yeah, it’s very often that you write ned but say ner which is the more natural spoken variant.


Thank you so much for the explanations and the chart.


This is a great post! I just learnt "hither and thither" for "hit och dit", so it was nice to see it mentioned here as well.


>Older English used thither

Actually even in the days of Beoƿulf "þǣr" and "þider"/"hēr" and "hider" were being confused.


Thank you so much! This is very helpful. Hem och hemma used to haunt me in my sleep! :D


The differences in these words seem a lot like the difference between "At [word]" vs to [word]. Like, for example "At where are you" vs "To where are to going", "You are at here" vs "You are going to here", and "I am going to [the] outside" vs I am at [the] outside. And so saying something like "Var går du" would translate to "At where are you going", which doesn't reaööy make sense in english. It seems that while English can insert this distinction if it pleases, it has managed to do without it.

Is it safe to say, in this sense, the the motion column can be thought of as "to [word]" and the location column can be thought of as "at [word]?


Yes, if that helps you to remember the distinction, that’s a fine way of thinking about it. However, you can say var går du? with the expected answer ’on the road/pavement’ or something similar.


just wanted to say thanks, great post, very helpful.


Very useful post. How about the difference between "tillbaks" and "tillbaka"?


"Tillbaka" is the correct word and "tillbaks" is more colloquial :).


This is very interesting, thanks for posting , it clarifies alot for me !!!!

[deactivated user]

    "Vart" is the motion form, but in your examples you've added -ifrån to the fixed location form ("varifrån"). Is this an exception?


    Yeah, I’d see words like varifrån, härifrån, därifrån as fixed words.


    So, would it be "När åker du hem?" (When are you going home?) and "När är du hemma?" (When are you at home?)??


    Grat post! Note that many native speakers often confuse var and vart and (incorrectly) use them interchangeably. As a sidenote, in dialects in northern Sweden vars or vors is used for both var and vart.


    Varifrån åkte han? (Where did go from?) You left out "He" as in "Han" in your translation! :) So "Where did he go from?" or "Where from did he go?"


    In Arnauti's post https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8970470 He mentions ville, is that vill with motion?


    No, this only applies to adverbs. Ville is a verb, and it’s the past tense of vilja (to want). The present tense is vill.


    I feel like gone and away half make this distinction in english. We can say "He is gone" and "He is away" (and are thus interchangable in this context), but while we can say "He goes away" We can't say "He goes gone" (and thus they are not interchangable). A bit odd/neat I think.


    Historically, they're entirely different: away began life as an adverb and developed an adjective sense, while gone originated as a verb and had its participial meaning interpreted as an adjective.

    The "I am gone," "he is risen", "they are come" forms seen in older writings are remnants of the use of "to be" as an auxiliary with some English past participles, rather than "to have" -- much as German still uses "sein" rather than "haben" (er ist gegangen) with about three dozen verbs in the present perfect, French uses "être" and not "avoir" (elles sont retournées) with seventeen or so verbs in the passé composé, and Italian has thirty or forty verbs that take "essere" and not "avere" (siamo stati) in the passato prossimo.

    There's a discussion here: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/i-am-gone-i-am-come-to-be-with-past-participle.550921/


    Tusen tack, det är väldigt användbar!


    Very helpful, thanks


    Thank so much for the explanation. You have a lingote.


    I teach Spanish in Sweden and was confused as to why my students weren't able to distinguish between Adónde (vart) and Dónde (var) because I hadn't heard about Swedes not always distinguishing the two! This is great information to have!

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