Swedish Language Blog

Direct vs. Indirect Speech in Swedish Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Grammar, Swedish Language

Just recently, we received a comment on Facebook (you should really check out our Facebook page. You get new vocab words every day, as well as great discussion and some beautiful pictures of Sweden!) about indirect vs. direct speech asking for a quick explanation. Tibor is working on some really great posts about Swedish syntax (you can read the first one here, titled Syntax in (Main and bi-clause) part 1.), but in the meantime I thought I’d add a quick post about indirect and direct speech for everyone trying to learn Swedish out there.

Direct speech, or direkt tal, are your direct quotes really. Marcus says “I want to eat dinner!” Marcus säger, “jag vill äta middag! You are quoting someone directly and using the exact same words and thus it is important to include quotation marks. Indirect speech, or indirek tal, will be a sort of reported speech. Here you are explaining that someone has said something: Marcus says that he wants to eat dinner. Marcus säger att han vill äta middag.

A few more examples:
I like hippopotamuses. Jag tycker om flodhästar.
He says that he likes hippopotamuses. Han säger att han tycker om flodhästar.
I want to travel to Sweden. Jag vill resa till Sverige.
She said that she wants to travel to Sweden. Hon sade att hon vill resa till Sverige.

Keep in mind, we can do this with questions as well:
Are you hungry? Är du hungrig?
I want to know if you are hungry. Jag vill veta om du är hungrig.
When do you wake up in the morning? När vaknar du på morgonen?
She wants to know when you wake up in the morning. Hon vill veta när du vaknar på morgonen.

So what happens with our word order? In direct speech, we follow the classic subject-verb-object word order. In indirect speech with statements, we actually don’t need to change the word orer at all. You’ll notice that Jag tycker om flodhästar has the same word order as Han säger att han tycker om flodhästar, except of course that we have changed our pronoun from jag to han.

When we have a question though, we need to make a quick change. Instead of using the verb-subject order, we change it to subject-verb. So Är du hungrig? becomes Jag vill veta om du är hungrig. Notice that the är and du have switched spots. One more example: VILL DU köpa lite lösgodis? Hon undrar om DU VILL köpa lite lösgodis.

Note that with the questions, depending on what kind of question it is, we have to make a few changes. A yes/no question that starts with a verb, är du hungrig? for example, will take om as a bisatsinledare after your indirect phrase (Jag vill veta OM du är hungrig). A question word question (one that starts with a question word like när) will just reuse that question word immediately following your indirect phrase (Hon vill veta NÄR du vaknar på morgonen.). If your question word is your subject like vem, who, you need to add som in your indirect question (Jag undrar VEM SOM ska äta maten.)

Some of the more common phrases when using an indirect question are vill veta [want to know], undrar [wonder], or frågar [asks].

Good luck, and be sure to watch for part 2 of Tibor’s syntax series.

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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. muntazir:

    Tack så mycket för bra informationen.

  2. Marcus Cederström:

    Hoppas det hjälpte

  3. Mona Kealah:

    One of the examples I read for indirekt tal was:

    Mamma undrar om vi inte vill komma ut till dem på landet.

    I noticed that “inte” comes before the verb unlike in regular sentences, does that happen always with indirekt tal?