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How to want in Swedish Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Hejsan hejsan!

Human beings need and want all over the place. Consequently, one of the most basic and, frankly, most important things you can learn to say in a foreign language is “I want”. It’s simply something you want to know how to say! (ho ho)

In Swedish, there are two easy ways to say “want”: att vilja and att vilja ha. The catch is this: there’s a difference! Let me explain.

Vilja is used when you “want to [do something]”. In other words, vilja can only be followed by a verb in infinitive form. For example:

Lotta vill springa ett maraton. – “Lotta wants to run in a marathon.”

As you can see, the present tense of vilja is vill. It is followed directly by a verb springa in its infinitive form. Note that with vilja, the following verb never takes the infinitive marker att. In other words, it would be incorrect to say *Lotta vill att springa ett maraton. The equivalent negative construction is as follows:

Kalle vill inte bädda sin säng. – “Kalle does not want to make his bed.”

Here, you see that inte comes after vilja and before the following verb bädda. Inte is a clausal adverb, and clausal adverbs almost always come after the finite (non-infinitive) verb in main clauses.

What about vilja ha, then? Vilja ha is used when you “want [something]”. In other words, vilja ha can only be followed by a noun phrase. For example:

Lillebror vill ha en cykel i julklapp. – “Little brother wants a bicycle for Christmas.”

The rule remains: vilja must always be followed by a verb, and when you “want” a noun, that verb is ha. So naturally, a negative vill ha sentence would look like this, with inte following vill:

Farmor vill inte ha mjölk i sitt te. – “Grandma doesn’t want milk in her tea.”

See? Even though there are two ways of wanting in Swedish, as long as you follow the rule that vilja must always be followed by a verb in infinitive form, you will have no trouble mastering it.

For reference, here are the conjugations of vilja:

vilja – infinitive “to want”
vill – present tense “want(s)”
ville – past tense “wanted”
har velat – perfect “have wanted”
hade velat – past perfect “had wanted”

Lastly, if you want to be a little less assertive with your wanting, replace vill with skulle vilja and replace vill ha with skulle vilja ha in present tense. This is the Swedish equivalent of “would like [to]”, rather than the blunter “want [to]”.

Good luck!

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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. Bonnie:

    Thanks, I think I just had a ‘lightbulb’ moment. Brilliant post.

  2. Areti:

    I love your blog!

  3. Mark Sinus:

    Hi,

    Great article! Thank you very much.

    I have a question: how would be the use of vill in the past tense?
    Lotta ville springa ett maraton

    Is it right?

    Tack så mycket!