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How to express “unless” in Swedish Posted by on Apr 18, 2018 in Grammar, Swedish Language

There is an infinite number of grammatical concepts in any language. Swedish is no exception.

Although Swedish, in general, has a relatively simple grammatical structure compared to many other European languages (sorry English readers – it’s the truth!), there are still grammatical concepts that are relatively complicated – or so simple that they seem complicated in the sense that they might seem hard to distinguish. One example of this is the Swedish equivalent of English “unless” – om inte.

Here is an example of om inte used in a sentence:

Matchen kommer fortsätta till klockan fem – om inte det börjar regna. – The game will continue until five o’clock – unless it starts raining.

Om inte can be literally translated as “if not”. In English, you of course wouldn’t say “if not it starts raining”. “Unless” obviously has a different meaning from “if not” in English.

In Swedish om inte is read exactly as if it meant “if not”. In fact, you can use it to say just that:

Jag tror att din bror är hemma. Om inte kan jag ringa honom. – I think that your brother is home. If not, I can call him.

However, in the sense of “unless”, the grammar is different. As a simple comparison, take a look at the grammatical difference between these two phrases:

A: om inte batteriet har döttunless the battery has died
B: om inte har batteriet döttif not, the battery has died

When using om inte to mean “unless”, what follows it should be in regular sentence order (i.e. not question order). When using om inte to mean “if not”, the following sentence should be in reverse order (i.e. question order). This is because om inte “unless” is a subordinating conjunction which introduces the clause that follows it, whereas om inte “if not” is a dependent clause that is separate from the clause that follows it. Here’s a great post that explains the grammar in more detail.

No worries – this will be easy as pie once you’ve heard om inte used enough times. Lycka till!

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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.