Swedish Grammar: General and specific “this”

Posted on 03. Nov, 2014 by in Grammar, Swedish Language


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! :)

Super Scary Prepositions: Till

Posted on 31. Oct, 2014 by in Grammar

It’s Halloween. A time for super scary creatures. And super scary parts of grammar. Nothing scares me more than prepositions. I hate them. There, I said it. I hate prepositions. I mess them up in Swedish and English. And I’ve been speaking both of those languages for a lot of years. A lot of teachers might cringe at what I’m about to write because some people believe you should avoid saying that things you’re teaching are difficult, but there’s no point in lying: prepositions are hard and they never seem to have any rules.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. The rule part at least. A while back, we published a post titled How fast can you eat 25 hotdogs? In Swedish. It gave you a few questions to ask yourself to help guide your preposition use when dealing with frequency. How fast? How long? How often?
Hur snabbt, which is answered with the preposition .
Hur länge, which is answered with the preposition i or no preposition at all.
Hur ofta, which is answered with the preposition om or i.

One way of conquering your fears is to face them. And then bore them into submission. So today, we’re going to face prepositions. Actually, we’re just going to face one preposition in particular. But it’s a very common one: TILL!

There are a lot of different ways till can be used (and even more here that won’t make this list), but this a start:

  1. To indicate movement
  2. To indicate a new owner using an indirect object
  3. To indicate a future time period
  4. To indicate a connection to something or togetherness

To indicate movement:
Till usually translates pretty easily as to, as in I’m moving to Sweden. There’s motion here. You’re moving TO Sweden:
Jag flyttar till Sverige. I’m moving to Sweden.

The same can be said if you decide to walk to the library:
Jag går till biblioteket. I’m walking to the library.

But that’s the easy part of till. It does so much more.

To indicate a new owner using an indirect object:
Till can also be used as a preposition with an indirect object. Indirect objects are those objects that are receiving the direct object. If your friend is sending you a postcard from Sweden, your friend is the subject, the postcard is the direct object, and you are the indirect object. In these cases, till usually translates as to or even for:
Min vän skickade ett vykort till mig. My friend sent a postcard to me.
Ge den till mig. Give it to me.

To indicate a future time period:
Till can also be used when discussing time periods. You can often translate till as either until or for depending on what you’re trying to say. Think about things that are going to happen in the future with this preposition:
Hon kommer hem till jul. She’s coming home for Christmas.
Jag ska jobba till den 1 januari. I’m going to work until January 1.

A couple of things to keep in mind here: first, you might hear people say tills in these cases instead of till. That’s totally acceptable. When those two words are used as prepositions, they are considered synonyms. Second, don’t use till when discussing the clock. If it is 10:55 and you want to say that there are five minutes until 11 you say: klockan är fem i elva. I is the preposition you want there.

To indicate a connection to something or togetherness:
This can be a tricky one, but till is used when you need almond milk for your cereal or a sandwich for lunch. It can sometimes be translated as with or for:
Kan jag få mandelmjölk till flingorna? Can I have almond milk with my cereal?
Jag vill ha en macka till lunch idag. I want a sandwich for lunch today.

So there are four of the ways you can use the preposition till. You can also use till in a few other instances, to show possession, for example:
Han är en kollega till mig. He’s a colleague of mine.

Or in a prepositional phrase like, for example, you use till also. Till exempel = for example. Remember, you can read about abbreviations on this post titled 14 Swedish Abbreviations You Need to Know, where you’ll learn that the abbreviation for till exempel is t.ex.

And now that we’ve faced our fear of prepositions, and probably bored ourselves a bit along the way, we don’t have to be as afraid of the preposition till.

Swedish Grammar: This and that, Part 3

Posted on 29. Oct, 2014 by in Grammar, Swedish Language


Hej på dig! I’m back with Swedish Grammar: This and that, Part 3. In parts 1 and 2, I explained two different ways to say “this” in Swedish. Now it’s time to explain “that”.

If you recall from Part 1, the first way I taught you how to say “this” was den här. Den här is used for common or “n-gender” nouns. Det här is used for neuter or “t-gender” nouns, and de här is used for all plural nouns, regardless of gender.

To say “that”, you basically just take each of these forms and replace här with där. So, for common gender nouns, you get den där. For example:

den här stolenthis chair
den där stolenthat chair

For neuter gender nouns, you get det där:

det här pianotthis piano
det där pianotthat piano

And for plural nouns, regardless of gender, you get de där:

de här stolarnathese chairs
de där stolarnathose chairs


de här pianonathese pianos
de där pianonathose pianos

Fantastiskt! And just like den här and its declined forms, den där can also be used independently:

Den där var min favorit.That one was my favorite.
Jag tänker inte äta det där! – I’m not going to eat that!
De där går inte att köpa just nu.Those you can’t buy right now.

Similarly to det här, det där can be used to refer to the state of affairs in a mentioned situation. In contrast to det här, though, it refers to a situation that isn’t occurring in the speaker’s current time and place. This sounds complicated, but the difference is actually expressed in the exact same way in English: Whereas one might say “This is fun!” about one’s own current situation, one might say “That’s fun!” about a situation that is not their current one. For example, two friends are on a rollercoaster. One of them shouts:

Det här är kul!This is fun!

Later, she tells a colleague that about the rollercoaster. Having been on the rollercoaster before, the colleague comments:

Det där är kul!That is fun!

Hope that made sense!

As a general concept, “here” and “this” are related. When you talk about “this”, you are talking about something that is close to you either physically or mentally. In the same way, “there” and “that” are also related. When you talk about “that”, you are talking about something that is farther away either physically or mentally. Hence, det här means “this” and det där means “that”.

Awesome! Now you’ve mastered the basic ways to say “this” and “that” in Swedish. Grattis! Ha så kul!