||Introduction to Swedish© by Urban Sikeborg, Stockholm (1997-98)|
Things in general & particular
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|On this page|| Nouns - naming words
Gender: 'En' or 'ett'?
Indefinite or definite?
Sentences to study
|Nouns - naming words||Practically
nothing is left in English of the rich inflection of
words that characterized the prehistoric ancestor of the
Indo-European family. Traces of this ancient and very
complex system of showing the exact meaning of a word in
a sentence by changing its endings are still preserved in
many formations in related languages, to some extent also
in Swedish. This can be seen in how nouns, i.e. naming
words (denoting persons, animals, things, material, and
abstracts, like house, love, and dog) are treated.
To use the correct forms of a Swedish noun you need to know the answers to the following questions:
2. Indefinite or definite
3. Number: Singular or plural
This is less complicated than it sounds, luckily.
'En' or 'ett'?
|First of all, in Standard
Swedish all nouns belong to one of two genders or groups:
the en-word group (in which we find approximately
80% of all nouns) or the ett-word group (around
20%).1 It is important to know which group a
noun belongs to if you wish to speak good Swedish, since
the group belonging affects what endings or special forms
of other words to use - but it may be comforting to know
that the differences between the groups are not very big,
and very seldom would anyone have any difficulty in
understanding you just because you have mixed up the
English is very simple in this respect, since it treats all the nouns the same way: There is no grammatical difference between a woman and a child, for example.2 In contrast to this very easy-to-learn system Swedish sees woman as an en word (en kvínna) but child as an ett word (ett barn), and therefore uses two different words for the English a to differentiate between them.
The rules for telling whether a noun is an en word or an ett word are rather intricate as well as vague, and it would be easier just to memorize each noun together with the article en or ett to avoid confusion. Words denoting people and animals, though, are, with very few exceptions (among them ett barn, and ett djur - an animal), en words. If you are not sure what form to use, treat the noun as an en word; statistically you would then be right four times out of five.
1. Many Swedish dialects still use the older division of nouns into three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter, and refer to things as he, she or it, like German. In Standard Swedish the nouns of the original masculine and feminine genders form the en-word group.
2. English has also two forms of the indefinite article: a and an (as in an example) both derived from the word for one. Since which one to use is decided by the initial sound of the following word only, they do not have the grammatical significance as the Swedish en and ett.
you use the word the (which with a linguistic
term is called the definite article) to show
that you are referring to one or several things or
individuals in particular: a bus but
the bus, not just any bus, but a specific
bus. Early in Swedish this definite article became
attached directly to the noun:
The special endings for the definite forms are thus -(e)n and -(e)t; a noun that ends in a vowel will take only -n or -t.
-sk- in människa is irregular and pronounced similarly as sh in shut, in spite of its being followed by the hard vowel 'a'. k in kök is pronounced like the tj sound, since it is followed by a soft vowel. Read more about the pronunciation in Chapter 9.
As mentioned in Chapter 1 the English pronoun it can be expressed in two ways in Swedish, depending on the gender of the word it stands for: den for en words; det for ett words, and in neutral expressions like its hot in here.
| Var är
bílen? Den står
Where is the car? It stands here.
When describing location, that is where something is, Swedes often say that things "stand" ("står") or "lie" ("ligger") somewhere, instead of just saying "they are here". Which expression to choose depends on the object in question and its position.
"Eller hur" has only this form, and corresponds to the English expressions "he's tall, isn't he?", "you're tired, aren't you", they won't come, will they?", "she does like me, doesn't she?", and so on, but is not used as frequently as in English.
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This page was updated on 21 December 1998.