How to Use “Man” in Swedish

Posted on 30. Nov, 2012 by in Grammar, Swedish Language

Övergångsställe by The Akermarks

Not the right Swedish man… (Photo credit: The Akermarks)

Man is one of those sometimes confusing words in Swedish. It can be used a couple of different ways and mean a couple of different things. First, and maybe most obvious, it means “man” in English when you’re just using it as your classic noun. It can also be used to create a passive tense when coupled with an active verb (Man talar inte i kyrkan for example). Here, manwould probably be translated as “one” in English (and not the number…).

It’s this usage that you see a lot in Swedish. “One” in English feels awkward. It doesn’t get used all that often, and when it does people notice. Often times, people will use “you” instead of “one.” But in Swedish, man is used quite often as a pronoun and acts as “one” might. It is the subject form (object form is en, possessive is either ens or sin, sitt, sina, and the reflexive is sig. So now you’ve got it all.) of this particular pronoun. Remember, we have plenty of other pronoluns to choose from (jag, du, han, hon, den, det, vi, ni, de). Man though is used a lot in Swedish when someone might instead say “you” or “people” or even “they.” For example:

  • You should always say thank you for dinner. = Man ska alltid tacka för middagen.
  • People often eat ham on Christmas Eve. = Man äter ofta skinka på julafton.
  • They eat a lot of fish in Sweden. = Man äter mycket fisk i Sverige.

The thing with this form is that is is used on a really regular basis, both in everyday speech, but also in writing. It can be a bit confusing if you’re not used to seeing it. Especially when it is used as a form of “I.” Yup, man can even be used to mean jag. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • I’ve waited for several hours now! = Man har ju väntat i flera timmar nu!
  • Can I buy you a drink? = Får man bjuda dig på en drink?

Some people in Swedish have begun to use du instead of man in everyday speech. This is most likely a result of the English influence of using “you” instead of “one” and so it becomes a direct translation. I think it is important to recognize that these other forms are out there, but when learning a new language, it is probably best to stick with the more generally accepted form early on. As you get more advanced and you notice the language developing, do what you need to do. Until then, stick with man.

Good luck!

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About Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently a PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.

7 Responses to “How to Use “Man” in Swedish”

  1. may hansson 1 December 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Thanks for the “man” thing.

    By the way a suggestion for your one your future posts. That using your very example here, could you please explain the use of “ju”

    Man har ju väntat i flera timmar nu!

    I am a beginner Svenska learner I would have never thought of using “ju” in that context.

    (Don’t take me being a real Swedish by looking at my last name. I am married to one and have been proudly marching around with that name!)

  2. Steve Parmenter 2 December 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Decades ago I remember the word ‘man’ used for ‘husband.’ Might this have been a dialect?

  3. Bernyke 12 December 2012 at 4:22 am #

    I got it easily! In spanish “uno” has the same contextual use as “man”.
    Greetings from Mexico City.

  4. praveen 29 December 2012 at 8:27 am #

    Hi Marcus,
    Thank you very much for posting.very helpfull.

  5. Marcus Cederström 11 June 2014 at 2:44 am #

    Man still means husband as well.

    And glad this was helpful for some of you.

  6. Osaid 8 November 2015 at 11:21 am #

    finaly i knew how to use “man” .
    thank you very much.

  7. Marcus Cederström 19 November 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    glad to hear it!

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