Super Swedish grammar: The beef rule

Posted on 07. Oct, 2015 by in Grammar, Swedish Language

Yes, Swedish has a rule known as the BIFF rule. This is spelt and pronounced in speech the same way as the word biff, which means “beef”, so I like to call it the “beef rule” in English. Fortunately enough, the language doesn’t regulate beef, however — the BIFF rule, in Swedish biff-regeln, has to do with word order in Swedish sentences.

BIFF stands for I bisats kommer “inte” före det finita verbet. Or, in English, “In subclauses, inte comes before the finite verb”.

Does this sound like a bunch of scary high-level grammar lingo? Don’t worry, it’s not extremely crucial that you master all the fancy linguist jargon! Let me simplify it. A subclause (Swedish bisats) is basically any “sentence” within a sentence, usually introduced by “that” or a pronoun. We also have these in English. Compare:

Main clause: “Anna wants a car.”
Subclause 1: “Peter says that Anna wants a car.”
Subclause 2: “Peter says what Anna wants.”

It’s not so hard to identify subclauses with a bit of practice.

Let’s translate this to Swedish then:

Main clause (huvudsats): “Anna vill ha en bil.”
Subclause (bisats) 1: “Peter säger att Anna vill ha en bil.”Subclause (bisats) 2: “Peter säger vad Anna vill ha.”

As you can see, positive statements are the same in main clauses and subclauses. But what happens if you negate the clause?

Main clause: “Anna vill inte ha en bil.”
Subclause 1: “Peter säger att Anna inte vill ha en bil.”
Subclause 2: “Peter säger mig vad Anna inte vill ha.”

Here, you’ll notice that the negator inte “not” comes after the main verb in main clauses. By contrast, inte comes before the main verb in subclauses.

And the same pattern goes for clause adverbs. Let’s use verkligen “really” as an example :

Main clause: “Anna vill verkligen ha en bil.”
Subclause 1: “Peter säger att Anna verkligen vill ha en bil.”
Subclause 2: “Peter säger vad Anna verkligen vill ha.”

This is a rule that all native speakers follow in nearly all cases, but everyone will understand you even if you don’t master it. But it’s good to learn for the sake of better fluency!

Good luck, or lycka till! 😉

Emergency Vocabulary in Swedish

Posted on 30. Sep, 2015 by in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Sweden is an incredibly safe country. Serious crimes are rare, but that being said, crimes do occur. In 2014, according to The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådetBrå), there were 20,300 reported sex-related crimes, of which 6,700 were rape. Eighty-seven people died as a result of murder or manslaughter and 6,269 hate crimes were reported. And then there’s the pickpocketing—53,355 cases were reported. So yes, crime happens in Sweden. Serious crime, deplorable crime. With that in mind, it can be good to know some vocabulary that can help you in an emergency situation, whether it’s due to crime or just an accident.

Let’s start with the basics. Help. Hjälp. There’s the noun form, which can be useful to know:
Jag behöver hjälp. = I need help.
Jag behöver din hjälp. I need your help

Then there’s the verb form: att hjälpa
Kan du hjälpa mig? = Can you help me?

If you’re traveling, you may not have your phone with you, but you need to call the emergency telephone number, nödnummer in Swedish, which is 1-1-2. Do not call 9-1-1. It won’t help you much. You’ll need to ask to borrow a phone:
Kan jag få låna din telefon? / Får jag låna din telefon? = Can I borrow your telephone?
Kan jag få låna din mobil? / Får jag låna din mobil? = Can I borrow your cellphone?

Of course the Swedish police drive a Volvo. By ssa0089 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""

Of course the Swedish police drive a Volvo.
Photo credit: ssa0089 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you need to tell someone to call the police.
Ring polisen. = Call the police.

The police could come in handy if you’ve been pickpocketed:
Någon har stulit min plånbok. = Someone has stolen my wallet.
Någon har stulit min handväska. = Someone has stolen my purse. 

Or maybe you need to tell someone to call an ambulance.
Ring (en) ambulans. = Call an ambulance.

This is especially useful if there’s been an accident:
Det har hänt en olycka. = There’s been an accident.
Jag behöver en läkare. = I need a doctor.

Of course there are plenty of other situations where you might need emergency vocabulary (Det brinner. = There’s a fire. For example), but the above should give you a few of the basic phrases you might need. Hopefully you won’t have to use this new vocabulary, but it can be good to know.

Exciting Swedish dialects: Grammatical differences

Posted on 29. Sep, 2015 by in pronunciation, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Normally, learners of a second language like Swedish want to learn the standard version, which for Swedish as known as rikssvenska or standardsvenska. Yet, Sweden, being the long, vast country it is, has numerous dialects spoken in all the different parts of the country — some big, some small. So even if your goal is to be proficient in standard Swedish, it is a good idea to understand how Swedish dialects can vary.

Dialects in general can differ in many ways: pronunciation, vocabulary, even grammar. Within each of these categories are various subcategories. Here, you can read all about how Swedish dialects differ in terms of grammar.

In Uppland, the municipality hosting the city of Uppsala, the dialect spoken is called uppländska. In Standard Swedish, the word var means “where” in the sense of static location. Vart, on the other hand, asks for direction, as in “to where”. Compare:

Var är mataffären?Where is the grocery store?
Vart åker ni på semester?(To) where are you going on vacation/holiday?

In Uppland, you will often hear vart used for both of these:

Vart åker ni på semester? – but also:
Vart är mataffären?

(More about “where” here!)

In many parts of Norrland (dialect norrländska), predicative adjectives are not declined in plural. In other words, an adjective’s form does not change when it is not accompanied by a noun or article. For example:

Jag hittade klänningarna. De var fin.
I found the dresses. They were pretty.

In the example, fin is not changed to its Standard Swedish plural form fina – it remains in its non-changed form fin.

Various parts of, for example, Uppland, Gästrikland, where the city of Gävle is located, and Närke, where the city of Örebro is located, present a particular deviation from the standard language. Some weak verbs in these parts are declined as strong verbs – this means that rather than using the Standard Swedish way of adding something to the end of the verb to make it past tense, the central vowel of the verb is changed for this function. This applies primarily to verbs of Germanic/Nordic origin. For example:

Sofie tröck på knappen. – Sofie pressed the button.
Huset lös i mörkret. – The house shone in the dark.
Sofie böt däcken på bilen. – Sofie switched the tires of the car.

Tröcklös and böt are considered incorrect in Standard Swedish, but they are frequently used in the mentioned dialects. They are replacements for tryckte (from trycka ‘push’), lyste (from lysa, ‘shine’) and bytte (from byta ‘switch/change’), respectively. Interesting, huh?


What kind of Swedish do the Swedes you know speak? Närkingska? Gävlemål? Do they often use dialectal words you haven’t learnt? What kind of Swedish do you ultimately want to learn? Tell us about it in the comments!