En or Ett

Posted on 23. Jun, 2008 by in Grammar, Vocabulary

It’s time for a little bit of grammar today, don’t you agree? And this particular bit of grammar is always confusing for English speakers.

People, Swedish people naturally, will tell you that Swedish nouns are classed according to gender. And it’s all good, except when you try to find out exactly what gender those Swedish nouns have. In most languages, when talking about gender, you come up with the usual of masculine, feminine, and neuter. But not so in Swedish. Here, there are only two choices, and they are defined by these two indefinite articles: en and ett.

Every noun is either an “en” or an “ett” noun, and which is which you have to learn the hard way by memorizing the appropriate article together with the noun. Why? That pesky indefinite article will show you how make the correct form of the definite article. It also comes up in other grammatical issues, involving adjectives, for example.

But for now, let’s stick to nouns. Why this is called “gender” I’m not really sure, because while some Swedish nouns do have both masculine and feminine forms, the article in front of such nouns is the same in both cases.

So how does it look in practice? Like this for example:
en stol – a chair
en katt – a cat
en skola – a school
en pojke – a boy
en banan – a banana

And now let’s try some “ett” words:
ett hus – a house
ett bord – a table
ett kvitto – a receipt
ett äpple – an apple
ett barn – a child

When the article comes in front of the word, it’s more or less equivalent to the English “a” or “an”.
So how do you make a “the” in Swedish? Simple! Stick that “en” or “ett” at the end of the word. Take a look:

stolen – the chair
katten – the cat
bananen – the banana

It gets a bit funky when the word ends in a vowel. Then instead of “en” you only stick “n” at the end of the noun, like this:
skolan – the school
pojken – the boy

Of course, it wouldn’t be grammar if there weren’t exceptions to the above rule, but we will discuss those exceptions in a separate post.

And how does it work for “ett” words? Pretty much the same, you attach the article at the end of your nouns, except you drop one “t” and “ett” becomes “et”:
huset – the house
bordet – the table
barnet – the child

And when the word ends in a vowel? Then you simply attach only “t”, like this:
kvittot – the receipt
äpplet – the apple

See? It’s not that complicated, is it? One important thing to remember is that words denoting people are always “en” words. Except for that pesky exception, which you already saw above, which is “barn”:
ett barn – a child
barnet – the child

Other than that, there are no rules regarding which indefinite article comes with which noun, and it’s best to learn both the article and the noun at the same time.

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24 Responses to “En or Ett”

  1. chris 9 July 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    I’ve been having trouble with learning these but this helps a lot sa tack!

    Love your blog!

  2. Anna 9 July 2008 at 1:55 pm #

    Hej hej!
    Glad I could help! if you have any particular issues with grammar, just leave a comment and I’ll take a look at it, ok?

  3. Merril Burns 12 July 2008 at 6:02 am #

    Where can I get a book containing nouns and their gender?

  4. Anna 14 July 2008 at 4:39 am #

    Hi Merril,
    I am working on a post recommending a few resources, because I know that English-Swedish dictionaries are no help.

  5. bashir fadin 19 July 2008 at 6:02 pm #

    i love the swedish language very much.i need some one ore some website to help me learn it.thank you very much.

    bashir fadin.

  6. ce 14 August 2008 at 8:10 am #

    well, ok! so clear explanation, thank you! i love similarities between english and swedish! bye anna , have a nice day, ceci

  7. Mitch 1 October 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    heh, the “the” thing is a bit weird, but simple enough, it’s seems like a step down from german, which is great!

  8. Mo 1 November 2008 at 4:06 pm #

    TACK SA freaking mycket ! I’ve been trying and trying so hard to understand that… 🙂

  9. Nathan 4 October 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    This blog is awesome. Why don’t dictionaries define whether nouns are ett or en is beyond me 🙁

  10. beth 11 November 2010 at 1:06 am #

    does anyone know of a good english to swedish dictionary that contains the ett and en and is good for a new beginner learning the laguage?

  11. Gabriela 11 January 2011 at 2:59 am #

    I’m little bit confused. Because what if I made a mistake with ett and en. It’ll make me look bad.

  12. jon 13 January 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Gabriela: Making mistakes is a part of language learning. Assuming that you get your mistakes corrected.

    What’s really going to frustrate you is when you notice that the plural form of “The + noun” is even more annoying.

    stolen (the chair)
    stolarna (the chairs)
    katten (the cat)
    katterna (the cats)
    skolan (the school)
    skolorna (the schools)
    pojken (the boy)
    pojkarna (the boys)

    husen (the houses)
    borden (the tables)
    barnen (the children)
    kvittona (the receipts)
    äpplena (the apples)

    Also, in english “the boys” is both plural and possessive. In Swedish, it’s not possessive, so you have to add an s to make it possessive.

    The boys(singular possessive) ball = Pojkens boll
    The boys(plural possessive) ball = Pojkarnas boll

    Another thing is that it’s not really consistent, so it’s easy to get confused 😛

    handENS = Singular definitive
    äpplENS = Plural indefinitive
    bordENS = Plural definitive

  13. Madalina 3 October 2011 at 6:32 am #

    have you found any site/dictionary with the en/ett added to the words?

  14. Jodie 12 July 2012 at 2:48 am #

    Much appreciated thank you! I had not got a clue why it was changing… the yahoo answers only gave mention to ett and en, so i looked it up and got this… which was lucky, i actually understood this! so thanks!

  15. Miss Chen 24 August 2013 at 1:51 am #

    Tack så mycket! A very helpful article 🙂

  16. lerzan 15 August 2014 at 8:34 am #

    oh thank you. now it is so clear 🙂

  17. Bobby Clark 12 May 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    “Why this is called “gender” I’m not really sure, because while some Swedish nouns do have both masculine and feminine forms, the article in front of such nouns is the same in both cases.”

    Actually, Swedish used to have three genders: ei – feminine, en – masculine, ett – neuter. Language reforms led to the first two being merged into the “en” gender, which is known as common gender. In Norwegian these three still exist seperately, but in Swedish and Danish, they do not.

    There are still some remnants of this masculine-feminine gender system in Swedish today. For example, adjectives which directly refer a male person have an “e” ending: En store man … or when asking “Vad är klockan?” (how Swedes ask what time it is … “What is the clock”) a typical response is “Hon är tre” (“She is three”) … the clock is feminine.

  18. Kevin Blomqvist 15 May 2015 at 6:31 am #

    Ett/en, which one flows more smooth? That’s the word you’re supposed to use.

    Ett banan *quick pause*
    en banan *flows smoothly*

    en äpple *Quick pause and really weird*
    Ett äpple *again flows smoothly*

  19. Reza 1 November 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    Nice post bro! Thanks!

  20. Tomas Gradin 22 December 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    Det finns fler:

    ett barn
    ett biträde
    ett hjon

    Men åtminstone det sista är ju i det närmaste utdött. T.ex. vårdbiträden finns däremot, så helt unikt är “barn” inte.

  21. Elliott S 15 March 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    A good dictionary that includes the definite form of nouns is tyda.se, which gives words in three forms. Helpful for when I’ve forgotten a noun’s form or for when I need it used in a sentence.

  22. Dylan C 23 March 2016 at 6:58 pm #

    Tack så mycket!

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