When you learn Swedish, sooner rather than later, you'll have to tackle Swedish irregular verbs. Some of these verbs are incredibly common and are essential for communicating in Swedish.
Swedish irregular verbs are in the fourth group and have different conjugation patterns. Fortunately, a lot of the verbs in this group are conjugated according to similar rules, which makes your life much easier!
By the end of this post, you'll know what Swedish irregular verbs are, how to conjugate them and how to learn them without the stress.
So let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
What Exactly Are Swedish Irregular Verbs And Strong Verbs?
Let’s start off by explaining what a strong or irregular verb is. If you're further along in your Swedish learning then you’ve probably come across this expression multiple times.
But what exactly is a strong verb?
A strong verb is a verb that changes a vowel in the verb stem when conjugated in other tenses. (Check out this post on Swedish verb conjugation is you need a refresh or primer on conjugation).
This automatically makes a strong verb irregular because of the vowel change.
Vowels change according to different patterns, which are known as the “fourth conjugation”. This is because the verbs are regular within their patterns (but are still viewed as irregular because of the vowel change).
As you might realise from this, all strong verbs are irregular, but all irregular verbs are not strong verbs, because not all verbs follow this pattern.
But this classification of verbs is highly debated and some make no distinction between the two.
So to make this easier for you (after all you don’t need to know the difference between irregular and strong verbs to learn the verbs) from this point on I'll just refer to all the verbs as Swedish irregular verbs.
5 Rules For Conjugating Swedish Irregular Verbs
So let’s start speaking about the rules that exist for this verb group! They're not official rules per se, but instead important patterns that are vital to learn, because a lot of the verbs that end with the same letter use the same pattern when conjugated.
1. Verbs That Have A Long i In The Infinitive, Imperative And Present Form
This pattern applies to verbs that have a long i (check out my post on Swedish pronunciation for more on different types of vowel) in the infinitive, imperative and present form.
For example, rida (ride), riva (rip), skriva (write) and glida (glide/slide), will get a long e in preterite/past and long i in the supine form.
Here are a few examples:
As you can see all the verbs follow the same pattern. The verbs in the infinitive form end with the letter a. That letter is removed in the imperative form, but no other changes are made.
In the present form, a is removed and the suffix er is added. This makes these verbs very similar to verb group 2 (see my post on Swedish verb conjugation for a refresh), which goes through similar changes.
These verbs start to differ from verb group 2 in the preterite/past and supine forms.
When conjugating these verbs in the preterite/past form, you just use the imperative form, but change the i to an e.
For the supine form, the i in the verb is kept, which means that you can use the imperative form when conjugating the supine form. Just take the imperative form and add it to it.
This is the pattern used for verbs with a long i and using this rule to conjugate these verbs should take you quite far.
2. Verbs That Have A Short i In The Infinitive, Imperative And Present Form
Verbs that have a short i in the infinitive, imperative and present form, for example, binda (tie), springa (run), vinna (win) and dricka (drink), will get an a in the preterite/past form and a short u in the supine form.
Here are a few examples:
Just as for the first pattern, the infinitive, imperative and present form follow the same rules. The a is removed in the imperative form and er is added in the present form.
The difference is in the preterite/past and supine form. When conjugating the preterite/past form, you can use the imperative form as a guide, as you did for the previous pattern. But instead of adding a long e, you add an a in this pattern.
For the supine form, you should add the suffix it, as you would to the previous pattern’s supine form, but here you also have to change the short i to a u.
3. Verbs That Have A Short j And Long u In The Infinitive, Imperative And Present
The next verb pattern is for verbs that have a short j combined with a long u in the infinitive, imperative and present form. Some verbs that follow this pattern are bjuda (offer/treat), njuta (enjoy), ljuga (lie) and gjuta (cast/mould).
These verbs get a long ö in the preterite/past form and keep the letters in the supine form.
A few examples:
* Note that j is removed because you can never have a j between a g and an ö in Swedish
The infinitive form ends with an a, just like the two previous patterns. In the imperative form that a is removed and in the present form er is added.
The short j and long u are also kept in the supine form and here just the suffix it is added.
The only form that changes a vowel in this pattern is the preterite/past form where the u is changed to an ö. Just remember to use the imperative form to create this form and not the infinitive form.
Another thing to keep in mind are verbs that have a long u, but not a j before it. They should also be conjugated according to this pattern.
One example is sluta (seal) (not to be confused with the other verb sluta which means stop) that should be conjugated in the following way:
The pattern is the same as the one used above and u is changed to ö in the preterite/past form.
Stop, you might say! Isn’t sluta the verb “stop” that is supposed to be in the first verb group? And that is absolutely correct, you know your Swedish verb groups well!
Here comes the funny thing: the verb sluta has two meanings in Swedish.
One of the meanings is “stop”, “leave” or “quit” and the other meaning is “seal” (not the animal seal, but to fasten or close something securely, like an envelope). And these two meanings are conjugated in two different ways.
If sluta means “stop” it should be conjugated according to the rules of verb group 1. But if it means “seal” it should be conjugated according to the pattern that I showed above. Tricky? That’s Swedish nuances for you.
So how can you tell the difference between these two and conjugate them in the right way? Well, there isn’t a way really – the meaning of the word depends on the context and when you have the context you can deduct the meaning.
And when you have the meaning you can use either of the two conjugation patterns to conjugate the verb correctly.
4. Verbs That Have A Short u In The Infinitive, Imperative, Present & Supine
This next verb pattern is very similar to the previous pattern.
This pattern applies to verbs that have a short u in the infinitive, imperative and present form (and the supine form) and which get a short ö in the preterite/past form.
Here's a table to show this pattern:
As you can see, this pattern is very similar to the previous one and all the changes in the form are the same as they were in the pattern above this one.
The only difference is that these vowels (u and ö) are short instead of long as they were in the previous table.
5. Verbs That Have A Long y In The Infinitive, Imperative And Present Forms
The last conjugation pattern is for verbs that have a long y in the infinitive, imperative and present form. Some examples include bryta (break), krypa (crawl), smyga (sneak) and knyta (tie).
These verbs will get a long ö in preterite/past and a long u in the supine form.
Let’s take a look at the table:
|stryka (iron [a shirt])
As you can see, the first three columns are similar and no vowel change happens. The a is removed in the imperative form and er is added in the present form.
For the preterite/past form, y is changed to a long ö and for the supine form is the y changed to a long u and the suffix it is added.
That means that a lot of these verb patterns for Swedish irregular verbs are very similar to each other and the first three forms are always regular. It is the preterite/past and supine form that changes.
Hopefully, this will make it easier to bridge the gap to irregular verbs and make them easier to learn.
Truly Irregular Swedish Verbs
There are a few more verbs that belong to verb group 4, but these do not have any patterns. Instead, these verbs are truly irregular and different from each other and will have to be learned.
These are harder than the previous Swedish irregular verbs that I’ve mentioned because there really isn’t any rule to them.
But fortunately, there aren't that many of them and you will be able to learn most by heart.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones!
You can study this table to discover more similarities, but one thing to notice is that få and gå have the same conjugation pattern as each other. It might come in handy if you learn them! Then you’ll immediately be able to learn the other one as well.
And I’m sure that you can find other verbs where this is true as well. These similarities will hopefully make it a bit easier for you to learn these “true” Swedish irregular verbs as well.
Swedish Irregular Verbs: Practice Is Your Friend
Just as with regular verbs, just reading a table can be quite boring, but it's an important starting point.
That will familiarise you with the conjugation and the verbs in the respective group and is also a way to find similarities and combinations that you can use to speed up the learning process.
As you immerse yourself in Swedish, and particularly as you follow the rules of StoryLearning and read in Swedish, you'll pick up the Swedish irregular verbs naturally, without having to study them.
That is a quick way to put what you’ve learned into practice and actually use the verbs in real situations and relevant sentences. So good luck with your verb learning and keep practising!