Learning Swedish? Feeling daunted by Swedish grammar? Here's some good news: Swedish grammar rules, in general, are similar to English.
There are, however, a couple of Swedish grammar rules that might be tricky, even if you speak English fluently.
But in this guide I’ll do my best to go over a few basic Swedish grammar rules for you to know so you can get started speaking Swedish. Let’s go!
For a quick overview of the basic Swedish grammar rules in this post, check out the table of contents below. You can use it to navigate to the section that interests you most.
Table of Contents
1. Swedish Has Word Gender
Word gender is a concept that doesn't exist in English, but in Swedish it does. So it might be difficult to get a hang of it at first. But with practice it will be a breeze, particularly if you follow the rules of StoryLearning and read books in Swedish.
Swedish uses two genders: common gender and the neuter gender.
Common gender refers to both the feminine and masculine genders that used to exist in Swedish. They aren't used anymore and were combined into the common gender.
The other gender is neuter and is used for things that aren't in the above mentioned category.
In general, neuter is used for things that aren't alive, while the common gender is used for things that are alive.
There are however exceptions to that. For example, “child” and “witness” are neuter, while “stone” is common gender. But for the most part, that classification will work.
They are usually called ett-gender and en-gender and are only used for nouns. En and ett are used to refer to if the noun should be preceded by the word en or ett.
They are similar to “an” and “a” in English, but it isn't quite as easy to know which one of them should be used with the noun.
En is used for the common gender and ett for the neuter gender.
The most common gender is fittingly the common gender, which means that en is used the most. It’s quite easy to use them, as you just add them before the noun, like this:
- ett barn (a child)
- en skog (a forest)
- ett hus (a house)
- ett äpple (an apple)
- en laddare (a charger)
2. Swedish Verb Conjugation
To form sentences in Swedish correctly, it's important to conjugate the verbs.
Swedish verbs can be divided into four different verb types and most of the types within the same group are conjugated in the same way.
The first group has by far the most verbs as over 50% of the verbs are estimated to belong to that group.
All of the verbs in group 1 end with the letter ‘a' in its common case. You keep this form as the verb stem when you add suffixes to it. These suffixes are added to the verb stem to create different verb forms.
The verb forms in Swedish are infinitive, present, past and past participle. To form the correct verb forms in verb group 1 you should add +r to the word in present, +de to the past and +t to past participle.
A few examples:
|common case||present||past||past participle|
Group 2 verbs also end with the letter ‘a' in common case, but instead they change the verb stem.
A is removed to form the verb stem and +er instead of +r is added in the present form. The suffixes for the past and past participle forms, +de and +t, are just the same as for group 1.
Here it is however important to note that if +de is added to a verb stem that ends with a ‘d', one ‘d' should be removed so that only one d is spelled in the word instead of two.
It’s also important to note that if the ‘d' is combined with a consonant, like s, f, p, t, k or x, it's transformed to a t. Check out this article for more on Swedish pronunciation.
A few examples:
|common case||present||past||past particple|
|använda (use)||använder||använde||använt (användt, d is removed)|
In verb group 3, words that only are one syllable long and end with a long vowel (except ‘a') are included. The verb stem is the same as the common case.
For the present form you just add a +r, but for past and past participle you instead add +dde and +tt respectively.
A few examples:
|common case||present||past||past particple|
Verb group 4 is the hardest group because it's constructed of irregular and strong verbs. They have no uniform conjugation system so most of them have to be learned which makes it quite difficult for a new learner.
But some of the verbs in the group are conjugated in a similar way which might make them a bit easier to learn when you are getting into it.
I recommend starting with the first three verb groups however, just to get a hang of the conjugation before getting into the irregularities.
3. Swedish V2-Word Order
Swedish uses V2-word order which might be a bit tricky for English speakers.
English is a SVO language, which means that the subject comes first, then the verb and then the object.
For the most part English and Swedish sentences will be constructed pretty similarly because both languages place the verb in second place in a sentence most of the time.
Swedish is a V2-language which means that it will place the verb in second place, always, with no exceptions.
There are however some instances where English places the verb later in the sentence and this is where the two languages differ.
This makes it easier to learn Swedish though – just keep in mind that the verb always comes second.
One example of a sentence where Swedish places the word second, while English places the verb later, is in sentences that begin with an adverb before the subordinate clause.
Here are two examples:
- When I bake, I make cookies first – När jag bakar gör jag kakor först
- In school, I read about Mozart – I skolan läser jag om Mozart
The first few words before the comma is part of the subordinate clause. The whole clause is counted as being in the first position.
This means that the verb ends up in the third position in English instead. First is the subordinate clause, then the subject and then comes the verb. This is how you write it in English, but in Swedish the verb needs to be in second position.
Hopefully it’ll be quite easy when you get a hang of it. The verb's position doesn’t differ as it does in English which makes it easier to remember where to place the verb in Swedish – always second.
4. Definite Suffixes In Swedish
To make a noun definite in English, you add the article “the” before the noun.
In Swedish you instead add a suffix to denote that it is definite.
The suffixes follow the gendered nouns closely which makes them easy to remember.
To make common gender nouns definite add +en to the end of the noun. Essentially you just move the article en before the word to the end of the word to make the noun definite.
If the noun already ends with a vowel, just add +n instead to avoid double vowels.
A few examples:
- en matta => a mat
- mattan => the mat
- en byggnad => a building
- byggnaden => the building
For nouns with neuter gender, you make the definite form in the exact same way as you did with the common gender, but this time you add et instead.
It's important to note here that the article is ett but the definite suffix is +et. One of the t is removed when forming the definite form so keep that in mind.
Just as with the common gender, when a noun ends with a vowel, it only gets a +t instead of +et.
A few examples:
- ett barn => a child
- barnet => the child
- ett äpple => an apple
- äpplet => the apple
5. Swedish Adjectives
Swedish adjectives work similarly to adjectives in the English language. They usually come before the noun, unless you're stating that the noun is something, then it comes after the noun, but with an extra word between.
- ett grönt hus (a green house)
- huset är grönt (the house is green)
The thing that's important with Swedish adjectives and what differentiates them from English ones is that Swedish adjectives change depending on noun gender and number.
Adjectives that go with en-nouns don't change when they are singular, but adjectives with ett-nouns get a +t at the end. All adjectives get +a at the end of plural forms.
|en fin trädgård (a nice garden)||ett fint hus (a nice house)||fina kläder (nice clothes)|
6. How To Form Negative Sentences
Negative sentences in Swedish work very similarly to negative sentences in English. One way to form a negative sentence in English is to use the word “not”.
Sentences in English that use the word “not” are very similar to sentences in Swedish that use the word inte.
Let's take a look at a few examples:
- De gör inte det (They are not doing that)
- Hon kan inte måla (She cannot paint)
- Vi kan inte simma (We cannot swim)
Inte is usually put in the same place in a sentence as “not” is. Oftentimes it goes after the subject and verb.
But if the sentence is constructed of both a helping verb and a main verb, like in the following sentences, the word inte goes between the verbs, just as it does in English.
- Jag har inte studerat svenska (I have not studied Swedish)
- De har inte gjort läxan (They have not done their homework)
One of the few times it deviates from English is when the word inte is in a sentence with a reversed word order, like in a question. Inte is placed after the main subject instead.
Here's an example:
- Har hon inte gjort det? (Hasn't she done that?)
7. Swedish Prepositions
The last thing I’m going to mention is the Swedish prepositions. They might vary a bit from English so it’s important to figure them out quickly to know when to use them.
The following are the prepositions used in swedish:
- i (in)
- på (on)
- på/vid (at)
- med (with)
- av (by)
- från (from)
- bakom (behind)
- framför (in front of)
- bredvid (next to)
As you can imagine you can use these prepositions almost interchangeably as you do with the English prepositions.
- We are at the bus stop (vi är vid busshållplatsen)
- They are in front of the shop (de är framför butiken)
The prepositions that differ from Swedish are in, on and at.
When Swedes are talking about being somewhere, maybe in the cinema or at school, they use the prepositions i, på or vid. These are similar to in, on and at in the sense that it’s a bit hard to know when to use them.
For example, you can’t say “at the train” in English because that would be grammatically wrong, but in Swedish it’s called “på tåget”, which could be directly translated to either “at the train” or “on the train” as both mean på in Swedish.
That makes it way harder to know when to use i, på and vid in Swedish because they can mean the same thing in English.
It's important to know when to use på (on) and i (in) in Swedish, because oftentimes they both are translated to “in” in English.
- in the university (på universitet)
- in the hospital (på sjukhuset)
- in the bank (på banken)
- in the school (i skolan)
- in the grocery store (i mataffären)
- in the house (i huset)
As you can see can the translations betweens these words vary a lot which will make it difficult for English speakers to get an easy grasp of when the words should be used
There isn't one rule that works for all prepositions, which means that the prepositions that end up being used could be a bit surprising.
As a general rule of thumb however, when speaking about places that are in close proximity to water, like islands or beaches, på is used.
I should be used for administrative divisions like cities, countries or municipalities.
There isn’t a general rule for when på or i should be used for buildings and other places, but in the majority of the cases i is used.
Once again, if you keep immersing yourself in Swedish, by reading for example, you'll soon figure out which preposition to use.
Succeed With Basic Swedish Grammar
So, this was the short list of some helpful basic Swedish grammar rules that are quite useful to know.
Hopefully they’ll come in handy when you embark on your language learning journey and they’ll serve as an introduction to the grammar rules you'll be more acquainted to as you delve deeper into the language.
For now stick to your practice and good luck with your learning!