Som – A Swedish Relative Pronoun

Posted on 16. Nov, 2012 by in Grammar

I have a brother. He lives in Sweden. I have another brother. He lives in the US.

These are four acceptable English sentences. If I was describing my family to you, you would know exactly what I was talking about. I would have conveyed meaning. You may also have found this manner of speaking to be very stilted. Instead of starting a new sentence each time I wanted to give you new information about my brother and continuing this somewhat stilted manner of speech, I might instead use a relative pronoun. Like “who”:
I have a brother WHO lives in Sweden. I have another brother WHO lives in the US.

That one simple word cut four sentences down to two and gave it a much better flow. We can do the exact same thing in Swedish. And we will.

When we first start learning Swedish, we are using these simple sentences. And it’s something that is necessary and useful. But as we continue to learn the language, frustration often sets in as we are limited by what we can and can’t say. Our language feels stilted. And it probably is. Let’s describe someone else’s family then in that classic (yet choppy) way:
Jag har en bror. Han bor i Sverige. Jag har en syster. Hon är lärare.

In Swedish, we can use som as a relative pronoun. It takes the place of “who” in English (and “that” and “which” for that matter) and refers back to the noun in the first sentence. So let’s take those choppy sentences and use a relative pronoun to make it flow just a little bit better:
Jag har en bror SOM bor i Sverige. Jag har en syster SOM är lärare.

Ta da! It’s that easy. What we’ve done from a grammatical standpoint is take two main clauses (Jag har en bror. Han bor i Sverige) and instead created one main clause and one relative or sub clause. Som doesn’t change. It is going to be som regardless of the gender or plurality of the noun we are referring back to. For example:
Han bor i ett hus SOM är stort. – Hus is of course an ett word, but you’ll notice som doesn’t change.
Hon har en hund SOM är stor. – Hund is an en word, but, again, som doesn’t change.
Han bakar kakor SOM är stora. – Kakor is plural, but, no surprise here, som doesn’t change.

Let’s take a look at a few more examples:
Han skriver med en penna SOM han fick från läraren.
Hon rider en häst SOM heter Jolly Jumper.
Hon är gift med en kvinna SOM är 26 år gammal.

You’ll notice that in each of these sentences, som refers back to the noun in the main clause (en penna, en hast, en kvinna) and helps to give us more information about the noun.

Now it’s your turn. Write a sentence or two using som in the comments below. Lycka till!

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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.

13 Responses to “Som – A Swedish Relative Pronoun”

  1. Katusa 17 November 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Jag har en svensk kompis som bor i Stockholm.

  2. praveen 18 November 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Hej Marcus,

    Your posts are very informative and useful. A small request from me can you please post how to use “MAN”. Because this word is the tricky word and meaning vary depending upon the sentence and i always get confused.


  3. umaro 18 November 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Did I have a diccionary svenkas and english? I’m interested to have that of possible.

  4. Kim 8 January 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Can you help me explain why it is incorrect to say “Min bröd heyer Jake som är 26 år gammal.” I know it is wrong but can’t quite clarify in grammatical terms.

  5. Xiomena 12 September 2013 at 4:25 am #

    So I have a question about this example:

    Lev som en gris dö som en hund (song by Markus Krunegård)

    It seems “som” is being used a bit differently almost like the English equivalent of “as” not as a pronoun.

  6. elfi werner 5 February 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Jag älskar ett band Mando Diao, som kommer från Sverige

  7. Regiane Ferreira 13 June 2014 at 12:16 am #

    Jag älskar svenska 🙂 <3

  8. Selin 8 August 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    Jag älskar en man som är från Uppsala men bor i Oslo. 😛

  9. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    Great examples here!

  10. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    “som” can be used in many different ways, including as conjunctions or adverbs. It is often translated as “as” or “like”

  11. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    There are a lot of online dictionaries or print dictionaries that are available.

  12. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    Forgot to link back to this:

  13. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    It’s going to be the difference between using it as a relative pronoun or as a conjunction. You’ll want to say: Min bror som är 26 år gammal heter Jake.

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