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Five Swedish Phrasal Verbs You Need to Know Posted by on Jun 20, 2016 in Grammar

About 15 years ago, I watched a lot of Comedy Central. And for whatever reason, a song by a guy named Rob Paravonian stuck with me. It’s about life. It’s about growing up. It’s about soul searching. And most important, it’s about particle board.

The chorus begins “Particle board/All the furniture I own is made of particle board.” But none of this matters really, because he wasn’t singing in Swedish and he wasn’t singing about Swedish. That being said, as I began teaching Swedish, I had to start talking about particle verbs. And without fail, every time I replace that one word into the song: “Particle verbs/All the sentences I make are made of particle verbs.”

So let’s talk about particle verbs. Technically, they’re called phrasal verbs and include prepositional verbs and particle verbs. If the phrasal verb uses a particle, it’s called a particle verb; if it uses a preposition, yup, you guessed it, it’s called a prepositional verb.

Phrasal verbs are very handy. They’re also very much a pain when learning a new language. When creating a phrasal verb, you’re combining a verb with a preposition or particle. In doing so, you’ve created something completely different than the expected meaning of the two words. Does that make any sense? Let’s take a look at an English example first:
Samantha looked after my fish while I was away.

Look is our verb here and after is our preposition, which gives us a phrasal verb meaning take care of.

Another example:
We were just hanging out.

Hanging is our verb, out is our particle, and our phrasal verb means to frequent or to spend time with.

Of course, if we separated those words and expected to understand the meaning of the sentence, we might be a bit confused. Hang out? What are we hanging? And where are we hanging it?

In Swedish, these are known as “partikelverb” and the stress is going to be on the particle, not the verb. So now that you know a bit more about phrasal verbs, let’s take a look at one set of phrasal verbs. While you can obviously group phrasal verbs by the particle or preposition, I’ve decided to focus on the verb. Today’s phrasal verb? Att känna. To feel.

Here are five Swedish phrasal verbs that use the verb känna:
känna av: to experience something
känna igen: to recognize
känna på: to try something
känna på sig: to have an intuition/feeling about something
känna till: to know of something

Let’s use a few of those partikelverb in some sentences:

Spegeln ser bara mitt senaste ansikte, jag känner av alla mina tidigare.” “The mirror only sees my latest face, I experience all of my earlier ones.” (That’s a line from Tomas Tranströmer, by the way).

Han kände inte igen mig. He didn’t recognize me.

Vill du känna på hur det är att vara student hos oss? Do you want to try/see what it’s like to be a student with us?

Jag kände på mig att han skulle dumpa mig. I had a feeling he was going to dump me.

Hon känner till många roliga skämt. She knows a lot of funny jokes.

Good luck!

P.S. For all of you wondering, here’s Rob Paravonian singing about particle board.

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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. Badr:

    How do you translate “Han inte känna till namnet på”?