Swedish Language Blog

‘Big’ and ‘small’ in Swedish Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 in Culture, Grammar, Swedish Language

Compared to most countries, Sweden is very small, at least in terms of population. Despite that, from the greatly dominant forests of this land have come numerous inventions and developments: from dynamite and the pacemaker to ABBA and IKEA. Several famous scientists that have contributed immensely to the world of science also come from Sweden; for example, Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus), Anders Celsius, and Anders Ångström.

So now the question is this: Is Sweden really such a small country? I guess that’s for everyone to decided for her-/himself. But whether it is or not, if you’re going to live in this outstandingly progressive country, you need to know how to say ‘large’ and ‘small’ in Swedish, and how to use these words properly.

The Swedish word for ‘large’ is stor. It is an adjective that is conjugated as follows:

En stor hund – A large dog
Ett stort hus – A large house
Flera stora hundar – Several large dogs
Flera stora hus – Several large houses
Den stora hunden – The large dog
Det stora huset – The large house
De stora hundarna – The large dogs
De stora husen – The large houses

As you can see, in singular (one large dog or one large house),  stor can be conjugated in three ways: stor, stort, and stora. Which conjugation you choose depends on these factors:

Gender (utrum [en words] and neutrum [ett words])
Number (one or more than one)

Adjectives that describe utrum nouns and ones that describe neutrum nouns are conjugated differently in singular indefinite:

En stor hund – A large dog (utrum, singular, indefinite)
Ett stort hus – A large house (neutrum, singular, indefinite)

but the same in plural indefinite:

Flera stora hundar – Several large dogs (utrum, plural, indefinite)
Flera stora hus – Several large houses (neutrum, plural, indefinite)

They are also conjugated the same in both singular and plural definite form in 99.∞% of cases:

Den stora hunden – The large dog (utrum, singular, definite)
Det stora huset – The large house (neutrum, singular, definite)
De stora hundarna
– The large dogs (utrum, plural, definite)
De stora husen – The large houses (neutrum, plural, definite)

As you can see, the only time that adjectives are conjugated differently depending on the gender of the noun they describe is in singular indefinite form. Otherwise, stor is always conjugated stora.

In the case of liten (‘small’), however, things are different. It is the only common adjective that has truly special conjugations. I will use the same examples, in the same order, to show why liten is so special:

En liten hund – A small dog (utrum, singular, indefinite)
Ett litet hus – A small house (neutrum, singular, indefinite)
Flera små hundar – Several small dogs (utrum, plural, indefinite)
Flera små hus – Several small houses (neutrum, plural, indefinite)
Den lilla hunden – The small dog (utrum, singular, definite)
Det lilla huset – The small house (neutrum, singular, definite)
De små hundarna – The small dogs (utrum, plural, definite)
De små husen – The small houses (neutrum, plural, definite)

Unlike the remaining 99.∞% of adjectives, liten has a special conjugation for the singular definite form that differs from the plural definite and indefinite forms, namely lilla. This is a very important for people who are learning Swedish as a second or foreign language; first, you think that the plural definite form should take on the conjugation of the singular definite form, but then it feels weird not using the plural små. Then you feel that små doesn’t sound definite and the correct conjugation is lilla. Or at least that’s how it was for me. But now it’s clear to everyone that all plural conjugations of liten are små.

This may seem complicated, but don’t let it discourage you! This kind of thing is easy to master with just a little practice. As I’ve suggested before, try keeping a journal or blog and practice writing sentences and phrases, keeping an eye on your grammar. The more you do it, the less you’ll have to think about it, and suddenly it’s very easy. Good luck! 😀

Keep learning Swedish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.


  1. Angelica:

    Wow, that’s difficult. I wonder If I ever will be able to learn Swedish =(

    • Steve:

      @Angelica You will 🙂 Don’t let this scare you; this kind of thing is easy to get used to. It looks complicated, but once you’ve got it down, it’s down for good!

  2. Angelica:

    Thank you Steve, I will keep trying. Thanks for all the info on your blog, I dont comment often, but I read all your posts. Cheers!

  3. Faiz Alshaji:

    I am always amazed by people’s different tongues and how they speak and express themselves.

  4. MichiganLady:

    another great, useful topic! and yes, don’t worry, Angelica–4/5 of it sinks in as you read or listen to how adjectives are used in Swedish, and the rest you tend to learn AFTERwards, once you know a little, and you go back to check the grammar because you’re curious!

  5. Caroline G.:

    Who can forget “Sma grodorna, sma grodorna, ar lustiga att se, ej svansar, ef svansar, er oron hava de” ?

  6. Hauke:

  7. Jerry Nelson:

    It is a little complicated, but if you mistakenly use the wrong form or word (En små hund, for example) more than likely you will a) sound like who you are, a non-Swede trying to learn the language, b)be understood, and c) if lucky, be talking with someone who will gently correct you. I made a lot of strides when I stopped worrying about not sounding like a native!