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Dust or pond? Posted by on Jan 10, 2012 in Grammar, Vocabulary

There are lots of words in Swedish, just as in English, that have several meanings. One example of this relatively common phenomenon is the Swedish word damm. (Please keep in mind that the double m makes the vowel a short. If you pronounce the a long, you’re saying dam, which means ‘lady’.) Damm can mean two things: ‘dust’ and ‘pond’. Actually, it can also mean ‘dam’, but in this post I will use ‘dust’ and ‘pond’ as examples. (It has the same grammatical conjugation as damm meaning ‘pond’.)

So how do you know which one someone means? Well, just like in most cases, the meaning is relative to the context. Obviously, if someone says Det finns damm över hela mitt rum, he/she doesn’t mean “There’s a pond all over my room”.

Another important difference is the grammatical usage and conjugation of the words. Damm meaning ‘dust’ is not countable, meaning you can’t say Det finns tre damm i det här rummet, or ‘There are three dusts in this room”. However, you can say Det finns tre dammar i den här skogen, meaning “There are three ponds in this forest”.

You’ll notice that in the previous examples, the plural forms for “dust” and “pond” are different. Technically, “dust” can’t be plural at all, but since it’s a neutral-gender word (that ends in -et in definite form), I followed the general conjugation rules and left it as damm. For damm in the meaning of “pond”, however, the definite conjugation is dammar since it is a common-gender word (that ends in -en in definite form). This is what I meant by grammatical differences.

Another example is the word lag – it can mean either “team” (in neutral-gender form) or “law” (in common-gender form). The conjugations go like this:

lag (team) lag (law)
lag (teams) lagar (laws)
laget (the team) lagen (the law)
lagen (the teams) lagarna (the laws)

You may notice that lagen can both mean “the teams” or “the law”. Interpretation of this depends on the context, just like the singular, indefinite forms of lag and lag and damm and damm.

These are far from the only examples of this phenomenon in Swedish. You’re sure to come across plenty of them as you study the language in further depth!

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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.


Comments:

  1. thirzah:

    Weird!
    By strange coincidence I was playing with these words just last week on google translate…
    “din dumma dammsugare är på den dammiga dammen av damens damm.” – “your stupid vacuum cleaner is on the dusty dam by the lady’s pond.”
    – if google has done a bad job, I’d love to see the corrected version 😉

  2. Alex:

    Interesting!

  3. john:

    Yes, thanks for the last two posts. I find Questions of vocabulary, usage, grammar etc. to be of greatest interest. Keep it up please.