||Introduction to Swedish© by Urban Sikeborg, Stockholm (1997-98)|
What is yours like?
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|On this page|| Introduction
What is an adjective?
Adjectives and their endings
Some common irregular adjectives
Notes and explanations
Some colors in Swedish
Adjectives 'weakened' after identifying words
The three groups of identifying words in
|Introduction||By now you
have met, in one form or another, around 100 frequent
Swedish words. That may not sound like much to you, but
what you have learned so far will enable you to decipher
many Swedish texts on your own by using a good dictionary
- in fact, the normal vocabulary of everyday speech
rarely comprises more than 1,000-1,500 words. There are,
however, a few more things about Swedish grammar you
should know before plunging into deep water, among them:
a) How adjectives are formed, and b) How verbs change in
In this chapter we will deal with the adjectives; at the same time we will introduce the so-called possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his, hers etc.), since some of them follow the same pattern as the adjectives.
You may find this chapter rather heavy, but do not worry. Take one thing at a time and you will find that it is not that complicated after all; there are only some things you need to memorize. And besides, it is not a serious problem if you happen to mix the endings of the adjectives up occasionally, since people will understand you anyway.
|What is an adjective?||What IS an adjective?
Well, adjectives are simply quality words, words that
describe things or people, like red, high, angry, and
small. In Modern English there is one form only left for
each adjective, regardless of its position in a sentence
or the number of things/persons it is you are referring
A long day.
|Adjectives and their endings||Most Swedish adjectives
have three endings, depending on whether they are used
together with an en word or an ett word or
are in the plural:
As you can see the regular adjectives receive the ending -t when used together with ett words. There is only one plural ending, regardless of gender: -a (stora, lĺnga, lätta).
|You should not be
discouraged by the fact that some adjectives are slightly
irregular. They are very common and will therefore be
easy to learn.
(night) has a special plural form -
nä´tter - but is otherwise formed
The Swedish word man is, like its English counterpart, irregular:
This man should not be mistaken for the common pronoun man. In English you can use the words one or you when talking about things in general, when not referring to a specific person: "One/you would think that etc.", "One has (you have) to accept that one is (you are) only human" and so on. The Swedish indefinite pronoun man has the same function - "Man lär sĺ lä´nge man léver" ("one learns as long as one lives") - and exists only in this form. (Compare with the German man and the French on.)
The English word good can be translated both god (the 'o' pronounced like 'oo' in 'tool') and bra. The latter is actually closely related to the English brave and functioned for a while as kind of an amplifier (like awfully good, very strong), and only lately did it become used as an adjective as well, something which explains its total lack of endings. Bra is very common and can be used about practically anything, while god nowadays primarily refers to food and drinks, or to personal qualities, sometimes even with religious connotations: "En bra mä´nniska" would be a decent, trustworthy person, whereas "en god mä´nniska" more would convey the impression of a Mother Theresa, so to speak.
The adjective líten (little, small) is also irregular, and has no plural form of its own; instead another word is used in the plural: liten, litet, smĺ. After an identifying word (see below) liten is changed to lilla: Den lilla bílen (the/that little car).
|Colors are very frequent
words and are treated like other adjectives (with few
adjectives follow the above pattern when placed directly
before a noun in the indefinite form (en gámmal
man) or after a form of the Swedish verbs for
be (in this case the word är),
become, and make (húset
är vitt). But here comes the tricky part:
When an adjective is preceded by a word that points out or identifies the noun in question as a specific thing or person, or belonging to somebody, the adjective is weakened, and will only take the ending -a, no matter if it refers to an en word or an ett word or is in the singular or the plural. (With one exception: If the noun is a male person, the ending will be -e instead, a remnant of the old three-gender system, but this distinction nowadays usually applies to written Swedish only: "Den gámle mánnen" - "The old man", but "den gámla kvínnan" - "the old woman".)
Such 'identifying' or 'pointing-out' words can be divided into three groups:
For the sake of clarity, a rather intimidating list of identifying words is included below. The simple key to it all is:
The adjective, when preceded by an identifying word, takes an -a.
pronouns are simply pronouns that show who owns
something: My, your [singular], his, her, its, our, your
Only the "us" pronouns (my,
your, ours) have separate forms for en words and ett
words, similar to the endings for the adjectives; for the
others there is only one form. The possessive pronouns in
Swedish can also stand independently, without any change,
in contrast to English: "Är de
The peculiar 'sin'
There is also a common pronoun without a counterpart in English which is also treated in a similar way: sin (with ett words: 'sitt', in the plural: 'sina'). It is closely related to the possessive pronouns and can mean either his, her, its or their. Even most Swedes many times find it difficult to tell when to use sin or a regular possessive pronoun when a sentence becomes more complex, so you need not to be overly concerned about mastering it at this stage. The rule of thumb is:
Sin is used every time you could insert own in English, and refers to the person or thing that does something.
The following examples might help you to see the difference:
Han kýsser hans únga hústru passionérat.
nouns in the
denotes a person or thing that possesses something, and
is formed by adding an -s to the name or the noun, like
in English, but without the apostrophe. Swedish uses the
genitive construction more often than English; basically
the usage is the same, though:
"Johns [old watch]" - "Jóhans [gamla klocka]"
"the womans [white car]" - "kvínnans [víta bil]"
"Moms [new job]" - "mámmas [nýa jobb/árbéte]"
English also often favors a construction with of, mainly when referring to things, but Swedish is in many cases quite happy to use the -s form even there:
"the new rector of the school" - "skólans nýa réktor"
"the city of Stockholm" - "Stóckhólms stád"
thing or person
|The third group of
identifying words are other words designating or
indicating a specific thing or person, like 'this' and
|In the second
chapter you learned that there is no definite article
like the English the in Swedish; instead
special endings are attached to the nouns to show that
they are in the definite form. There is only one
exception to the rule:
When an adjective is followed by a noun in the definite form, like above, a special definite article is placed in front of the adjective. This is quite easy, really: These articles are old acquaintances, identical to the pronouns den, det, and de ('dom') you met in the first chapter :
Den, det, and de have a strong demonstrative quality and can also be used as synonyms to den där/det där/de där (see also next section):
This/that/these/those are in colloquial Swedish formed by adding a här (here) and där (there) respectively to the pronouns den/det (it) and de (they). The noun it refers to is then always in the definite form: "Den här gámla bílen/De där gámla bílarna" ("This old car/Those old cars"); please observe that de is also pronounced dom. In more formal written Swedish the following forms still take precedence, however:
dénne (this [male person])
After any of these words the noun must be in the indefinite form: "Dénna gámla bil" ("This old car").
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This page was updated on 21 December 1998.