Super Scary Prepositions: Under

Posted on 16. Feb, 2015 by in Grammar, Swedish Language

This is the second post in the “Super Scary Prepositions” series. The first, written around Halloween inspired the name. Since prepositions are scary at any time of the year, I’m going to stick with the title and just call it a series.

Anyway, if you missed the first one, it was about the preposition till and was, appropriately, titled: Super Scary Prepositions: Till. This time, let’s take a look at the preposition under.

Under is actually a relatively simple preposition to deal with. Under, like so many prepositions, helps to indicate location and time. It also helps us indicate measurement. That gives us three rules or guidelines to start with:

  1. To indicate the location of something as being below or under something else
  2. To indicate the duration of a certain time period
  3. To indicate the measurement of something as being below or under something else

To indicate the location of something as being below or under something else
Location is relatively easy when it comes to under. That’s because it’s so similar to the English “under,” underneath, “below,” or “beneath.” In fact, if you want to describe the location of something and you’d use the word “under” in English, you can feel fairly confident in using the word under in Swedish. A few examples:

Tre troll bor under bron. Three trolls live under the bridge.
Hunden sover under bordet. The dog is sleeping under the table.

To indicate the duration of a certain time period
This one is a bit trickier, but under is used to describe a duration of time that corresponds to the English word “during” or the phrase “in the course of.” So if you want to describe something that happened during an entire time period, under is the word you’re looking for. Here are some examples:

Jag lärde mig svenska under sommaren. I learned Swedish during the summer.
Vad ska du göra under påsklovet? What are you going to do during Easter break?

To confuse you just a bit, under can be used to replace i when responding to the question hur länge. I and no preposition at all is most common when responding to this question. Just in case, though, here is an example:

Hur länge har du varit borta? Under hela sommaren!
How long have you been away? (During) the whole summer!

To indicate the measurement of something as being below or under something else
Using under as a form of measurement corresponds nicely with the English usage as well. You’ll especially see this when people are describing temperature, age, or height. For example:

Barn under 18 år får inte köra i Sverige. Children under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to drive in Sweden.
Medeltemperaturen under juni är under 25 grader. (Two unders in one sentence!) The average temperature during June is below 25 degrees Celsius.


Now you have three ways of using the preposition under. As with most prepositions, there are exceptions and nuances and phrases where this word will pop up. You might see it used to describe silence (under tystnad) or to describe something under construction (under byggnad), for example. But keep in mind the three guidelines you learned above and you should get the hang of the word under in no time.


As always, good luck!

What Does That Mean? Swedish Town Names

Posted on 10. Feb, 2015 by in Geography, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Since you’ve all been browsing IKEA’s website to improve your Swedish, you may have noticed that a lot of Swedish cities, towns, and villages have similar endings. Those endings actually mean something though. Let’s take a look at ten different endings that you may find while shopping IKEA or driving through the Swedish countryside:

Borg means stronghold or even castle. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that these towns and cities were at one point home to some sort of borg. Göteborg and Helsingborg are probably the best-known cities with the –borg ending. Fun fact, Göteborg is the only city in Sweden with a special English-language name. You might know it better as Gothenburg.

By means village in Swedish (although it means city in Danish and Norwegian) and a lot of the places with the –by ending are just that—villages. Osby in Skåne, for example, has a population just north of 7,000. Of course, there are places like Visby on the island of Gotland. Once an important Hanseatic trading city, today it is the largest town on Gotland with a population of about 22,000.

You’ve heard of this one before, right? Stockholm. So what does –holm actually mean? Holme is the word for islet—a small island. Stockholm is built on a whole bunch of little islands, hence the holm at the end there

You’ll find plenty of places down in Skåne and Småland with the –hult ending. Hult actually means forest. Head to Älghult and hope that you see the moose in the forest that gives the community its name.

Jönköping, Linköping, Norrköping. These are all cities with populations hovering right around 100,000 people. They are also all cities that boast the –köping ending. You should recognize a word in there köpa, to buy. Köping means trading center or market town. Norrköping is a northern trading center or northern market town. Very creative.

Mora comes from the word mor, which is the word for mother. It is also the word for moor or a swampy spruce forest and that’s what towns like Dannemora and Hedemora are named after.

Näs looks like it might be referencing a nose. It might be. But näs is the word for isthmus or promontory. Bollnäs, for example, is a small community in Hälsingland that juts out into lake Varpen.

Sala comes from the word sal, which has (or had, at least) a couple of meanings. One was hall, as in a great hall, and the other was a small building with one room. Chances are that places like Uppsala are referencing the former, a place where a ceremonial hall may have stood.

Torp means croft. The word has undergone a few changes over the years, mostly in the size of the farm being described. Originally it described a small, independent farm, but eventually came to describe what we know as a croft—a small farm that is usually worked by a tenant. For example there’s Anderstorp, Perstorp, and Staffanstorp.

Today, this word means marsh or swamp. It’s also an old word for lake, though, and especially common up in northern Sweden where you’ll find places like Bastuträsk and Klöverträsk.

Have you seen any of these endings in places around Sweden? If not, have you noticed any other endings that pop up again and again? Let us know in the comments.

And if you want to learn more about place names, check out this wonderful post on Wikipedia (in Swedish) titled: Svenska ortnamnsefterled

Swedish grammar: Is it “han” or “honom”? The answer might not be what you think!

Posted on 06. Feb, 2015 by in Culture, Grammar, Swedish Language

A shopping street in Nyköping, Södermanland, Sweden.

A shopping street in Nyköping, Södermanland, Sweden.

If you’ve lived in Sweden for any extended period of time, you may have noticed that there are plenty of dialects and plenty of personal, individual variants (so-called “ideolects”) of Swedish. One particular variation you might happen to notice is the use of han rather than honom as the third-person male object pronoun of a sentence.

In plain English, that’s the word “him”. In Standard Swedish, the subject form “he” is han, while the object form “him” is honom.

But some people use han for both forms “he” and “him”.

Ja, jag såg han igår. – “Yeah, I saw him yesterday.” (Standard Swedish: Ja, jag såg honom igår.) ←object, “him”

Men han såg inte mig. – “But he didn’t see me.” ←subject form, “he”

Why do some people talk like this? How can that be a correct use of Swedish?

The truth is, Standard Swedish is just like Standard English in that “correctness” rules primarily in the domain of written language, not spoken language. I may write rather formally in some of my blog posts, but when I talk to friends (in Swedish or English), I don’t speak as though I’m a book! I use slang, I swear, I don’t articulate every word precisely. And my guess is that you don’t, either, whether it’s in your native language or in English (or Swedish!). Human beings express themselves through the way they speak, and if everyone spoke “correctly”, i.e. the same, then there would be no color to people’s language.

But there’s a reason why some people use han as an object form as well as a subject form. And that reason is historical.

In Old Swedish, there were several object forms. Which form was to be used was decided by either the object’s function in the sentence, the structure of the sentence, or the verb itself. This is a simplified way of saying that Swedish had what is known as a “case system”. German, Icelandic, and most Slavic languages are examples of modern languages that still have a case system.

In Old Swedish, han was one of these object forms and honom was another. The remaining object form is hans, a much rarer form in today’s Swedish dialects. Han was what is known as the accusative form and honom was what is known as the dative form. (Compare Modern Icelandic hann and honum and German ihn and ihm, respectively.)

In other words, the reason why some people might say jag såg han is because a fragment of the Old Swedish case system still survives in the her or his dialect. Han as an object form did not survive in Mälardalen Swedish – the regional dialect which subsequently became Standard Swedish – and that’s why it is not considered “correct” in Standard Swedish. But there are still millions of Swedes who use this form, and most will likely pass it on to their own posterity.

So you decide – can a form used by a large portion of Sweden’s population really be considered “incorrect”? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Ha det bra!