How to want in Swedish

Posted on 22. Jan, 2015 by in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Hejsan hejsan!

Human beings need and want all over the place. Consequently, one of the most basic and, frankly, most important things you can learn to say in a foreign language is “I want”. It’s simply something you want to know how to say! (ho ho)

In Swedish, there are two easy ways to say “want”: att vilja and att vilja ha. The catch is this: there’s a difference! Let me explain.

Vilja is used when you “want to [do something]”. In other words, vilja can only be followed by a verb in infinitive form. For example:

Lotta vill springa ett maraton. – “Lotta wants to run in a marathon.”

As you can see, the present tense of vilja is vill. It is followed directly by a verb springa in its infinitive form. Note that with vilja, the following verb never takes the infinitive marker att. In other words, it would be incorrect to say *Lotta vill att springa ett maraton. The equivalent negative construction is as follows:

Kalle vill inte bädda sin säng. – “Kalle does not want to make his bed.”

Here, you see that inte comes after vilja and before the following verb bädda. Inte is a clausal adverb, and clausal adverbs almost always come after the finite (non-infinitive) verb in main clauses.

What about vilja ha, then? Vilja ha is used when you “want [something]”. In other words, vilja ha can only be followed by a noun phrase. For example:

Lillebror vill ha en cykel i julklapp. – “Little brother wants a bicycle for Christmas.”

The rule remains: vilja must always be followed by a verb, and when you “want” a noun, that verb is ha. So naturally, a negative vill ha sentence would look like this, with inte following vill:

Farmor vill inte ha mjölk i sitt te. – “Grandma doesn’t want milk in her tea.”

See? Even though there are two ways of wanting in Swedish, as long as you follow the rule that vilja must always be followed by a verb in infinitive form, you will have no trouble mastering it.

For reference, here are the conjugations of vilja:

vilja - infinitive “to want”
vill – present tense “want(s)”
ville – past tense “wanted”
har velat – perfect “have wanted”
hade velat – past perfect “had wanted”

Lastly, if you want to be a little less assertive with your wanting, replace vill with skulle vilja and replace vill ha with skulle vilja ha in present tense. This is the Swedish equivalent of “would like [to]”, rather than the blunter “want [to]”.

Good luck!

Swedish Greetings in the New Year

Posted on 19. Jan, 2015 by in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

January is coming to a close and most everyone is back to work after having taken time off for the holidays here in Sweden. That won’t stop you from hearing people greeting each other using the term god fortsättning. It literally means good continuation as in a continuation of the holidays. It’s a wonderful phrase that really comes in handy during the months of December and January every year.

Swedish has a lot of phrases that get thrown around during the holiday season. There’s god jul (Merry Christmas) and gott nytt år (Happy New Year), for example. But those are generally used for very specific days. Then there is god helg, which is somewhat equivalent to happy holidays. And there’s even gott slut, which is basically a way to wish someone a happy end of the year. Although, I have to admit that I hear gott slut so rarely that I considered not even including it in this post.

When should you use all these terms? Gott slut is a way to wish someone a happy end of the year and should be used, you guessed it, at the end of the year. Usually in the days leading up to New Years. God helg is a catchall that gets used a lot in the fall and winter as people celebrate all kinds of things. But the more common ways of greeting someone during this time of year is with God jul and gott nytt år, which are, of course, used at Christmas and New Years. You can combine the two and say god jul och gott nytt år in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year, especially if you don’t think you’ll see that person until after the holidays. It’s like wishing them a happy everything, but in advance. And then there’s god fortsättning.

Stockholm in the late afternoon. Photo Credit: Marcus Cederström

Stockholm in the late afternoon. Photo Credit: Marcus Cederström

There is no hard and fast rule for when you should say god fortsättning, but know that it is quite common. In fact, depending on who you ask, you might get different explanations as to how and when and why it should be used. Generally, you’ll hear people say it in the days between Christmas and New Years. There it’s being used as if to say, enjoy the rest of your holidays! And then in the days (and sometimes weeks) after New Years, you’ll hear it again. There it’s being used as if to say, enjoy the year to come! Now there might be some people who disagree with what I just wrote, because there is also a line of though that says that god fortsättning should only be used up until the epiphany—January 6—because that’s the official end of Christmas.

To confuse things even more, Institutet för språk och folkminnen (The Institute for Language and Folklore) says that you can use the term at any time of the year. There reasoning is that whoever says it, determines the meaning. God fortsättning could be used to wish someone a happy holidays or a happy rest of their life. It really does it all. But they admit that it is most common in the days after Christmas and the beginning of January.

As you’re learning Swedish, it’s best to play it safe—use god fortsättning starting December 25 and keep it going in January until you start to notice that the Christmas decorations are coming down around town.

And since there are still plenty of lights up, I’ll follow my own advice… god fortsättning!

Awesomely easy Swedish grammar: Singular articles

Posted on 14. Jan, 2015 by in Grammar, Swedish Language

Articles are words that are used to show whether a noun (person, place, or thing) is a specific one (previously metioned in conversation with a particular person) or an unspecific one.

In English, we have three articles: a, an, and the. A and an have the same function: to show that the dog in the phrase “a dog” is not a specific dog. A and an are known as indefinite articles. The is used to show that the dog in the phrase “the dog” is a specific dog. The is known as the definite article in English.

The Swedish article system is much more interesting. Check it out:

a dog” – en hund
the dog” – hunden

Whoa! The “the” got tacked onto the end of the noun! That’s cray.

And it all makes sense: the preceding standalone en is the common gender indefinite article and the suffix -en is the common gender definite article! They look the same; they just show up in different spots in relation to the noun.

Now check out “house”, a noun of neuter gender:

a house” – ett hus
the house” – huset

Whoa! Same pattern! The only difference is that there’s only one t at the end of the definite suffix -et. But that’s easy enough to remember, right?

Then something else cool happens when a common gender noun ends in a vowel:

a person” – en människa
the person” – människan

Ok, so we have the same indefinite article, but the definite article is slightly different. More specifically, it loses its E! How could that be? The basic answer is that it would be totally weird to pronounce *människaen.

The same happens for nouns of neuter gender that end in a vowel:

a theme” – ett tema
the theme” – temat

And that’s how the most basic Swedish noun phrase is built (in singular). Have fun! ♫♪