The peculiar Swedish “k”

Posted on 28. Mar, 2014 by in Swedish Language, Video, Vocabulary


I’ve had a lot going on for the past weeks so haven’t managed to finish editing my latest video until now. It’s called “The cat who drove the refrigerator into the church” and is about the Swedish letter “k”. “K”, in Swedish, is a peculiar letter that can be pronounced in (basically) two different ways. (If you’re a hardcore linguist, then that number is actually higher, but there’s no use in confusing you if you’re not!)

Here’s the video. My suggestion is to watch it first and then review with the rest of this post. Enjoy!

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Katten körde kylskåpet in i kyrkan.
The cat drove the refrigerator into the church.

katt[en] : “[the] cat”
körde : “drove” (past tense of köra)
kylskåp[et] : “[the] refrigerator”
in i : “into”
kyrka[n] : “[the] church”

Hard k:n (“K’s”, plural of k) are pronounced [k] and soft k:n are pronounced [ɕ] (similar to an English “sh”-sound but slightly brighter). The soft k:n in the example are colored in orange while the hard k:n are colored in blue below:

Katten körde kylskåpet in i kyrkan.

The “soft vowels“, which make k “soft” are as follows:

e : kela : “snuggle”
i : Kina : “China”
y : kylskåp : “refrigerator”
ä : r : “dear”
ö : rde : “drove” (past tense of köra)

The “hard vowels”, which make k “hard” (this is the original k-sound, before historic sound changes) are as follows:

a : katt : cat
o : ko : cow
u : kul : fun
å : kylsp : refrigerator

Languages being languages, there are exceptions in which k:n followed by soft vowels are pronounced hard:

kille : “guy”
r : “choir”
BUT: r “drive” (past tense of köra) (These words have different origins. Kör as in “choir” is a loan word; kör as in “drive” is a native Swedish word. You can remember this exception from the former’s similarity to the English word “choir”, which also has a hard k-sound.)

Have a great weekend, everyone!! Ha det så bra!

Democracy in Sweden

Posted on 26. Mar, 2014 by in Current Events

It’s been a while since we talked about Swedish culture. It’s been grammar heavy lately, which is obviously important when learning a language, but when studying a language, it’s also important to understand what is happening culturally in a country. That includes the good things (like delicious Swedish candy and amazing Swedish movies and wonderful Swedish nature) to the not so good things (like racism and the rise of the extreme right). And so, let’s talk about some of the not so good things. And if you want some Swedish work, you can practice your reading skills if you follow the links I’ve included at the bottom.

Recently, a young representative from Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) was kept from appearing at a high school in Stockholm. The SDU representative was blocked by a group of about 50 students who were protesting the potential disruption that such an appearance may cause. Sverigedemokraterna are an extreme-right-wing fascist political party in Sweden, sometimes also described as xenophobic, radical nationalist, racist, you get the idea. They currently hold 20 of the 349 seats in the Swedish parliament after having received 5.7% of the vote in the most recent election. This reputation precedes Sverigedemokraterna and some students at Globala Gymnasiet decided to protest the inclusion of a representative from SD. Fair enough.

But not fair enough according to Susanna Birgersson. Birgersson described the students’ actions as anti-democratic citing the fact that the party plays by current accepted political rules. She goes on to note that “…SD finns. Åsikterna finns. Väljarna finns.” (SD exists. These opinions exist. These voters exist.). Of course, what she seems to then be implying is that because those opinions exist, everyone must be willing to listen to them. That democracy is contingent upon our ability to listen, to converse, to debate, is all fine and dandy, yet Birgersson ignores the multitude of other ideals that create a truly democratic society.

Birgersson’s claim that the protest by the students is anti-democratic seems to ignore the fact that the students who were doing the protesting were actively participating in the democratic process. They were voicing their opinions. They were critically examining the issues. They were exercising their rights as engaged citizens in a democracy. They were taking part in the process. A very democratic one that allows students like those at Globala Gymnasiet to refuse entry to someone they believe is there to simply spew hateful and fascist commentary at a school that instead works to acknowledge the equal worth of all of its students. Not just the ones that certain factions deem to be Swedish.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

You can read a couple of pieces (in Swedish) here:
Skolblockad: Så vinner man inte debatten
Eleverna utövade sin demokratiska rätt

Swedish with Steve Returns to Life

Posted on 03. Mar, 2014 by in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Hej, dear readers!

On the 10th of June, 2011, I posted my last Swedish language video, a review of my series Swedish with Steve, here on the Transparent Swedish Blog. It was my final year of high school and I was planning a return back to Sweden to study Swedish at university level. My plans ended up working out – albeit after a particularly high level of uncertainty and confusion – and in three months from now, I will finally be a Bachelor of Swedish and Nordic Languages! The reason why I stopped making videos was so I could focus on my studies and realize this dream.

I have now reached a time in my university career in which I can plan my own studies and do everything at my own pace. As a result, and after several months of contemplating, I have decided to take up making Swedish videos again. So, here’s to the start to a new season of Swedish with Steve!

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This episode covers the Swedish verbs bo and leva, which both mean “to live”.

The English verb “live” can be used to specify both where one lives and that one lives or is alive. In Swedish, there is a distinction between att bo and att leva. Bo is the word you use when you want to tell someone where you “dwell” or “reside”. For example:

Jag bor i Sverige. – I live in Sweden.
Du bodde i Venedig i ett år. – You lived in Venice for a year.
Gustav bodde på en gård som barn. – Gustav lived on a farm as a child.

Leva, on the other hand, means “to live” as in “to be alive”. It pertains to the experience of life itself. For example:

95-åringen lever fortfarande. – The 95 year-old still lives/is still alive.
Sångerskan levde ett hårt liv. – The singer (female) lived a hard life.
Hennes minne lever vidare. – Her memory lives on.

It is incorrect to say *95-åringen bor fortfarande as a sentence on its own – you have to specify where if you use bo. For instance, you could say:

95-åringen bor fortfarande i byn. – The 95 year-old still lives/is still living in the village.

However, while it’s true that bo and leva are not interchangeable, it is not incorrect to say the following; it just has a different meaning:

Jag lever verkligen i Sverige. – I really feel alive in Sweden. (Lit.: “I really live/am really alive in Sweden.”)

It makes more sense if you compare your living situation in one place to that in another:

Jag levde inte riktigt i Danmark. Jag lever däremot i Sverige. – I wasn’t really alive in Denmark. I am, however, alive in Sweden.

(Denmark is most certainly a lovely place to live, but my fictional example character didn’t feel as “alive” in Denmark as in Sweden. To each his own. :))

When it comes to philosophical statements about society, it makes much more sense to say:

Vi lever i ett perfekt samhälle. – We live in a perfect society.

than to use bo. We don’t reside in society; we live it each and every day.

Lastly, as a reminder, Swedish verbs are different from, for example, the Romance languages, in that they are not conjugated based on person (yay!):


Hope you enjoyed the video and learned something! Have a great month of March, everyone!