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Words with uncertain gender

I've read that some nouns in Swedish have uncertain gender, such as näbb. Does this ever cause any issues? Does it even come up in daily life?

I realize it will probably never matter me, but I am curious nonetheless.

January 25, 2015



Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Most people stick to one gender for every word. For example, it'd be unlikely for you to come across someone who said en choklad in one sentence and then ett choklad in another. People tend to be consistent.

Also, this is usually regional, meaning that if there is a word where both genders are possible, they will usually be consistently used in different regions. For instance, ett choklad is common in Scania (Skåne), while not in the Rest of Sweden, or in Finland.

For newer words, generally loans, it's harder to say. They tend to be assigned to one gender soon enough which will then turn into the norm, but for a certain period of time it's common for different people to have different genders with the same loan word. That's because people have different intuitions with words, and because they're new there is no standard and nothing but your own intuition to fall back on. I'd say that this hardly ever causes any issues though, because in a conversation you'll hear what you expect to hear anyway and not bother with such things if it concerns a word where the gender isn't fully established yet (i.e it doesn't stand out as much). For example, you can encounter both en deal and ett deal for the English word when used in Swedish. There is simply no standard, so people will use what sounds best to them until a norm is established.


Thank you for your insight. That answered my curiosities :)


I can't recall any problems in daily life. My feeling is that most of these uncertain words (like en/ett apelsin) are pretty certain for most people. I.e, it is almost always en apelsin.

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