Swedish Language Blog

Building Compound Words in Swedish Posted by on Jul 18, 2016 in Grammar

Compound words, known as sammansatta ord in Swedish, can be incredibly difficult for new learners of a language. The words can get long (like the longest word in the Swedish language) or they can just look confusing. What does örngott mean?

Making it even more difficult is that there aren’t too many rules to guide us. We know that the last word in the compound word will determine if it is an en or ett word (en skola + en byggnad = en skolbyggnad; ett barn + ett bidrag = ett barnbidrag; en frukt + ett kött = fruktkött). That helps. We know that the first part of the compound word can be just about anything (adjective, noun, preposition, pronoun, verb, etc.), but that usually the second part of the compound word is an adjective, noun, or verb. We know that if we break down the compound word we can more easily understand what the word actually means. All of that helps. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Sometimes, for example, Swedish compound have an “s” suddenly appear (en fotboll + en match = fotbollSmatch; en parkering + ett garage = ett parkeringSgarage). Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule for when a compound word will add an “s.” There are some general rules though that we can use to help us along the way. There are exceptions to these rules left and right, but these should make your life just a little easier.

To start, if the first part of a word is already a compound word, you’ll usually add an “s” after that first compound word: en fotboll + en match = fotbollSmatch. Fotboll is of course a compound word in and of itself: en fot + en boll = fotboll. Some people prefer to think of these sorts of compound words as three words: fot + boll + match. If that works for you, just remember to add the “s” after the second of the three words.

Second, if the first part of the compound word ends in dom, -(n)ing, –ling, –an, –nad, -(i)tet, -(a)tion, or –het, there’s a good chance you’ll add an “s.” For example:
en barndom + ett hem = ett barndomshem (childhood home)
en parkering + ett garage = ett parkeringsgarage (parking garage)
en kostnad + fri (adjective) = kostnadsfri (free of cost)

And finally, if you have a compound word that begins with the prefix an-, av-, be-, bi-, för-, or o-, you’ll often add an “s.” For example:
en avgång + en tid = en avgångstid (departure time)
ett besvär + en rätt = en besvärsrätt (right of appeal)
en olycka + en händelse = en olyckshändelse (accident)

Again, these guidelines are not a guarantee. In fact, you’ll be able to find plenty of exceptions to these guidelines and even compound words that add an “s” that don’t follow any of them. That’s ok. These three guidelines are not rules, but hopefully they help you a little bit as you add more compound words to your vocabulary.

Good luck!

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About the Author: 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 a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Steven:

    Helpful article. Any guidelines as to when to drop letter(s) from the first word? E.g. dropping the A from skola in skolbyggnad.

    Also any rule of thumb for when it should be a compound word at all?