Swedish Language Blog

Boxes and hedgehogs: Expressing “there is/are” in Swedish Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Tjena! Let me present to you the next installment in the Swedish with Steve series: “Boxes and hedgehogs: Expressing ‘there is/are’ in Swedish”.

In a previous post, I told you about the Swedish verb vara and its different forms. This time, I’m going to teach you how to say “there is” or “there are”.

For this expression, you generally actually don’t use the verb vara. Instead, you use the verb finnas, which, directly translated, means “to exist”. The Swedish equivalent of “there is” or “there are” is det finns. Here are some example sentences:

Det finns en burk med tomatsås i skåpet. – There is a can of tomato sauce in the cupboard.

Det finns många igelkottar i Sverige. – There are many hedgehogs in Sweden.

Easy enough, right? Det finns means “there is” or “there are”. Putting det finns in past tense is easy. To say “there was” or “there were”, you say det fanns. Here are some examples of how one might use det fanns in a sentence.

Det fanns en tung låda i trappan. – There was a heavy box on the staircase.

Det fanns några ord på skärmen när jag gick in i rummet. – There were some words on the screen when I walked into the room.

So, det finns is present tense and det fanns is past tense. What’s left are the so-called “perfect” forms, the equivalents of “there has been” or “there have been”, and “there had been”. To express “there has been” or “there have been”, the construction is det har funnits.

Det har funnits en fågelbo i trädet. − There has been a bird’s nest in the tree.

Det har funnits fler militärläger i Sverige tidigare. − There have been more military camps in Sweden previously.

And finally, “there had been”: det hade funnits. It’s used like this:

Det hade funnits ett hus på tomten, men när vi kom tillbaka var det borta. − There had been a house on the lot, but when we came back, it was gone.

And that’s how you use the verb finnas to express “there is” or “there are” in all tenses.

Conjugation summary: finnas

det finns – there is, there are
det fanns – there was, there were
det har funnits – there has been, there have been
det hade funnits – there had been

Thanks as always for reading, and don’t hesitate to comment! 😉 Vi ses!

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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. cerne:

    Tack , det finns video was very helpfull Steve.

  2. Judy:

    You made that so easy!

  3. Mattias:

    Var det tomten som försvann? 😉

  4. Pilar:

    Thank you so much!

  5. Steve:

    Jag tycker om dina lektioner. De är goda.
    Vi ses.

  6. Jerry Olson:

    Thank-you, Steve. I appreciate these Short helpful Lessons. Tak

  7. Linn:

    Just a small comment to an otherwise excellent post;
    Det har funnits *ett fågelbo i trädet.

    Mvh, Linn

  8. Masseman:

    I would say that it is more complicated than this. Sometimes you have to use “det är” instead of “det finns”, but I can’t give you any easy rules for it. Maybe “det finns” expresses something more general, and not just a temporary state. For example, the sentence “Det fanns några ord på skärmen när jag gick in i rummet” sounds strange to me. I would rather say/write “Det var några ord på skärmen” in that context.

    Colloquially, I would also say “där är” (just like in English), but that’s maybe for a different post.

  9. Joanna:

    Lovely video. Really helps to see the Swedish while hearing it pronounced.

    I just want to point out that the English Present Perfect (there has been/have been) doesn’t want to be used with a time marker like “previously.”

    The Present Perfect is unique to English but, increasingly, it is used like the Perfect tense in other languages, as you have done here. I believe its special flavour, the nuances it allows, indeed the efficiency of its communication, are worth preserving, so here goes.

    Unlike in other Indo-European languages, the use of the auxiliary “has/have” in English brings a past action into the present or speaks of the present. So “there has been a bird’s nest in the tree since yesterday” would be fine, but “there has been a bird’s nest in the tree last week” would not. “There was” would make more sense. Because in the first case you are talking about the currrent situation, though the action started in the past; in the second you are talking about an event that was completed in the past. Similarly, “there have been military camps in Sweden for many years” would be fine (the message, conveyed through the Present Perfect, is that they are still there). But, because “previously” implies “not now,” the phrase “there have been military camps in Sweden previously” doesn’t play by the Present Perfect’s rules. That phrase should be “there were military camps in Sweden previously.”

    Thanks again for the video,
    (ESL editor)

  10. Snezana Stefanovic:

    I love it!