I have a foreign neighbor who reads this blog (hi neighbor!), and I think it’s very convenient that she does. She’s right under my nose, she’s learning Swedish, speaks passable English and is not afraid to ask questions. So I wasn’t surprised when she spied me out while I was taking my cats out for a walk (yes, you can put your cat in a special harness with a leash and take it for a stroll outside, it’s quite common in Sweden) and came over to ask questions. And since she’s allergic to cats, I knew this had to be serious.
Our conversation went more or less like this:
Neighbor: “You wrote that “blåbär” is an “ett” word, so then where does “blåbären” come from? Huh?”
And she looked at me expectantly.
Anna: “Uhmm… It’s like with “barnet” and “barnen”, one is definite singular and the other – definite plural.”
Neighbor: “Elucidate, please.”
I started to explain that some plural forms, indefinite plural forms that is, look exactly like singular indefinite forms, and that those plural forms can also be made definite by attaching different endings, but she abruptly interrupted me by saying:
“On your blog.” And disappeared.
So here it is. We’ll be talking about grammar today, and all complaints about the topic can be directed to my neighbor.
I think I should begin by explaining how you can turn a singular noun into a plural noun, but that is such a mind-numbingly boring topic that you’d be snoring five words into it. So instead, why don’t we limit ourselves to “ett” words only? For now, of course.
“Ett” words in their plural forms can look somewhat confusing to people who are learning Swedish, but in reality the rules are very simple.
1. “Ett” words that end in a vowel in their singular form, take the ending “n” in the plural (indefinite), like this:
- ett äpple (an apple) → äpplen (apples)
- ett konto (an account) → konton (accounts)
- ett frimärke (a postage stamp) → frimärken (stamps)
So you see all these supposedly “ett” words and think: “hmmm… they end with an “n” now, they must be plural.” And you’re right.
2. “Ett” words that end in a consonant don’t take any ending in the plural (indefinite) at all.
- ett barn (a child) → barn (children)
- ett år (a year) → år (years)
Or like the poor blueberry from the last post:
- ett blåbär (a blueberry) → blåbär (blueberries)
So that’s how you make the plural of “ett” words. We’ll talk about “en” words some other time.
Where things can get funky is when you attempt to make definite forms of those “ett” plural nouns. And you do it by attaching an appropriate ending at the end.
1. For the “ett” words in the first category above, you do it by tacking an “a” at the end, like this:
- äpplen (apples) → äpplena (the apples)
- konton (accounts) → kontona (the accounts)
- frimärken (stamps) → frimärkena (the stamps)
2. And for the “ett” words in the second category, to make the definite plural form you attach an “en” at the end. (Yes, I know it’s kind of dumb, but I didn’t come up with this rule, trust me, if I had a chance, I’d make it MUCH simpler and less confusing):
- barn (children) → barnen (the children)
- år → åren (the years)
And our favorite fruit:
- blåbär (blueberries) → blåbären (the blueberries)
So now when you’ll see an “ett” word with an “en” ending, you will know it means something in plural in its definite form.
Now, somebody asked for a Swedish grammar book in English, and I polled my resident foreigners, and “Mål : svenska som främmande språk. A concise Swedish grammar = Svensk grammatik på engelska” was voted as the best choice. It’s published by Natur och Kultur and it’s been translated into every possible language, from Somali to Russian.
The English language version has a red cover (other languages have different colors) and it’s been recently re-issued. When purchasing it in Sweden expect to pay anywhere from 219 to 280 SEK. And of course I can’t find even one cover shot on the internet (other than this microscopic one) to show you what it looks like. I did find it at my local bookstore, but they wouldn’t let me take a picture. Apparently, when compared to other grammar books, this one is superior due to its simple language and straightforward explanations. I found two ISBNs for it:
Of course if anyone has other suggestions, please let us know!