Hallå mina vänner! I had thought I was done with my series on demonstrative pronouns in Swedish, but I noticed a comment at the last minute with a great question that I decided deserved a full post.
You might notice when listening to Swedish that when a person is presenting something new, they will use det här, even if what they are presenting is of common gender (“n-gender”), in constructions such as this:
Det här är en hund. − This is a dog.
Det här is the neuter gender (“t-gender”) form of den här, which means “this”. (More about den här here!) But hund is of common gender. Why in the world would it make sense to say det här when referring to a word of common gender if det här is a neuter gender declination?
But that’s the thing: By the time you say det här, you still haven’t assigned the phenomenon dog a noun. It is only when you say the actual word hund that the phenomenon dog acquires grammatical gender. You say det här because it is the default demonstrative pronoun for things (phenomena) that not yet been introduced into a conversation and have therefore not yet been assigned a grammatical gender.
But let’s say your friend is describing a set of sculptures (skulptur, common gender) to you. One of them looks like a dog (hund, common gender). She describes this particular sculpture by saying this:
Och den här skulpturen är en hund. – And this sculpture is a dog.
But if it is already clear that she is talking about sculptures, she might decide to leave out the noun skulpturen and say this:
Och den här är en hund. – And this (one) is a dog.
In this case, it would make sense to say den här instead of det här, because in the context, she is referring to one of the sculptures (skulptur), which is of common gender.
Your friend then shows you another sculpture. It is a sculpture of a house (hus, neuter gender).
Och den här är ett hus. – And this (one) is a house.
Even though hus is neuter, she says den här because she is still referring to one of the sculptures (skulptur, common gender).
Later on, you and your friend are walking along a street, discussing different types of trees (träd, neuter gender). She stops and points at a particular tree.
Och det här är en lönn. – And this (one) is a maple.
In this case, she uses det här (neuter) because she is referring to one of the trees (träd), which is also neuter. She could also have said det här trädet (“this tree”).
Next to this tree, there is a house. You and your friend have not been talking about houses. Nonetheless, your friend wants to point out that what you see in front of you is, in fact, a house:
Det här är ett hus. – This is a house.
This time, she uses det här (neuter) as a general pronoun because she is referring to something new (a real house) that has not been introduced to the conversation earlier. She is not using det här to refer to the neuter gender word hus, which has not yet been introduced into the conversation and thus has not yet been assigned grammatical gender.
While you are looking at the house, a dog comes running out the front door to the sidewalk where you are standing. It stops and sits on the ground in front of you. Your friend points to the dog and says:
Det här är en hund. – This is a dog.
Since she is introducing a new phenomenon (dog) to the conversation, she uses the general det här instead of den här because the phenomenon dog has not yet been assigned a grammatical gender in the conversation.
Roughly, if you are referring to something that is a member of a group, you start the sentence with the correct declination of den här for the gender of the group noun (for example skulptur) in the same way that, if you were to ask “Which sculpture?”, you would say:
Vilken skulptur? – Which sculpture?
to which you would answer:
Den här! – This (one)!
because the gender of skulptur is common. If the actual word, which has a grammatical gender, has not been introduced to the conversation and is not part of a group for which you can ask “Which one?”, use det här.
I know, it’s a bit complicated, but just practice and you’ll get used to it in no time!