Swedish Language Blog

Åka or Gå? Posted by on Oct 12, 2008 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Today’s topic is one that confuses many Swedish learners – those pesky verbs that are deceptively similar, have pretty much the same meaning in English, yet in Swedish are used in a completely different context. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Actually, Swedish has quite a few such verb combinations. But today we’ll start with the one that causes the most grief when you’re learning Swedish – and åka.

Both of those verbs can be translated as “to go” in English and that’s the beginning of confusion. My dictionary says that:

  • means: to walk, to march, to go, to travel, to depart, to pass, to sail, to run, and that’s just the first few definitions.

But then again, my dictionary says that:

  • Åka means: to go, to travel, to drive.

Not very helpful, wouldn’t you say? Fortunately, the Swedish-Swedish dictionary offers some more constructive suggestions:

  • gå (går, gick, gått) – flytta sig med hjälp av fötterna på vanligt sätt, röra sig åt något håll, lämna en plats.
  • åka (åker, åkte, åkt) – röra sig med hjälp av något, resa.

While on the surface this is a bit more helpful, I think the only way to see how it works in practice is to give you some practical examples. Which may or may not confuse you further.

So, basically åka means to move from place to place with a help of something, like for example, a car, or a bus, or a pair of skis. Take a look:

  • åka bil – to go by car
  • åka cykel – to go by bike
  • åka buss – to go by bus
  • åka skidor – to ski

When you travel someplace, you åker there, for example:

  • åka till fjällen – to go to the mountains
  • åka utomlands – to go abroad

So far so good, seems simple enough. Enter gå and things get a lot more complicated.

  • Går det här tåget till Malmö? – Does this train go to Malmö?
  • Vart går den här vägen? – Where does this road go (lead) to?
  • Hoppas att resan går bra. – Hope the trip goes well.
  • gå i skolan / gå i kyrkan = to go to school / to go to church
  • gå på bio = to go to the movies
  • ha svårt (för) att gå = to have difficulty walking (to walk)
  • Ljus går mycket snabbare än ljud. – Light travels much faster than sound.

So, basically, when it comes to people, if you schlep the old-fashioned way on foot, you går. If you jump on a train, bus or bike, you åker.

I hope this was a tiny wee bit helpful. 🙂

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  1. ceci:

    of course, it was useful, and i think the best way to learn it is by practicing…in a conductivist way! well, that s what help me! thank you anna! good week!

  2. Daniel:

    Hello Anna. Thanks again for keeping up the blog. Still working hard here on the Swedish…

    Have been listening daily to “Klartext, nyheter på lätt svenska” (http://www.sr.se/cgi-bin/p4/klartext/index.asp?programID=493&nyheter=1) on the iPod. It is an excellent resource.

    Only one thing would make it better; the ability to see the words in text. Do you know of anywhere/anyone who transcribes the broadcast? What do you do everyday at klockan 1800???

    Thanks for the help.



  3. Christopher Grant:


    I thought you might like to see this:

    It’s basically Swedish and World news in ‘simple Swedish.’ You can also
    play back the news in audio so you can follow along.


  4. Anna:

    Hi guys!
    I am not a fan of lätt svenska (8 sidor and Klartext), because they give Swedish learners this false illusion that they “know” Swedish. I recommend them as a study tool, but as soon as you gain enough vocabulary to read and listen to “normal” news, you should leave 8 sidor and Klartext in SFI where they belong.

  5. Kenia:

    Hej Anna,

    Oh yes, when you read news in lätt svenska you tend to think you already know swedish, but then if you read news from a site like for example http://www.dn.se, you realize you lack a lot of words =(, I think 8 sidor is a good way to get started though.



  6. Martin M:

    Hej Anna,

    I’m Swedish but found your blog really interesting, mainly because my girlfriend (American) is trying to learn Swedish and about Swedes.

    As a comment to this post about Gå and Åka: I find it somewhat similar with a few English verbs. In fact I experience some difficulties when using the verbs Look and Watch. Sometimes I say that I am looking at a movie, looking at the TV etc. Now, I know this is wrong that it would mean that I am really looking at the actual tape/CD/DVD or the box displaying the image.

    Just a reflection… I think most languages have them.

  7. Alex:

    How about Åka compared with reser, I find that distinction extremely difficult?