Swedish Language Blog

Infinitives in Swedish Posted by on Sep 6, 2011 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

When learning Swedish vocabulary, you will come across many different types of words, and naturally, many of these words are verbs – action words. For example, springa – to run – is a verb.

Verbs can be shown to students of Swedish in many different forms, but for memorization, the most common form is the infinitive form, otherwise known as the ‘to’-form:

to run – att springa

For instance:

I like to run. – Jag gillar att springa.

As you can see here, att is the same as ‘to’ in English in this context. That is why you might think that the following is also a logical, correct sentence:

I want to run. – Jag vill att springa.

Unfortunately, Swedish has a tendency to drift from its own patterns. Jag vill att springa is not a correct sentence. What happens is something that simply does not make sense in English:

I want to run. – Jag vill springa.

One does not say ‘I want run’. No, you say ‘I want to run’, right? Well, springa, without the att, can mean ‘to run’ just as well as with it, as you can see in this example. This rule – or lack thereof – does not only apply to springa, but applies to all other verbs as well. One difference that may help you to understand, though, is that att springa can also be interpreted as ‘running’. So, if the ‘-ing’ form of the verb (in other words, ‘running’ instead of ‘to run’) works in the sentence, you will most likely need att in front of the infinitive. For example, ‘I want running’ does not make sense – therefore, you leave out the att, so the Swedish sentence becomes Jag vill springa, not Jag vill att springa.

Here are some common situations in which you should and should not use att, for reference:

(The bus driver)
vill (wants)
behöver (needs)
ska (will/intends)
kan (can)
måste (must/has)
köra bussen.
(to drive the bus.)
(The bus driver)
gillar (likes)
hatar (hates)
försöker (tries)
är bra på *(is good at)
är van vid *(is used to)
att köra bussen.
(to drive the bus.)
*(driving the bus.)

I hope this helped all of you who are trying to learn Swedish. It looks very complicated but if you practice with these examples, you’ll get used to the concept and have an internal understanding of it in no time!

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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.


  1. Holden:

    Interesting post. Let’s say I want to tell someone that I’m used to drink coffee in the morning, will I have to say : “På morgonen, jag är van vid att dricka ett kaffe” ? Tell me if I made mistakes, I really want to know where and why. ^^

  2. Steve:

    Hi Holden!

    The correct grammatical structure of your example is: Jag är van vid att dricka kaffe på morgonen. However, ‘att vara van vid (något)’ (to be used to (something)) implies something that is out of the speaker’s control. For example, ‘Jag är van vid långa bussturer’ means ‘I am used to long bus rides’, but it implies that the speaker is required to take long bus rides often.

    Instead, you should say ‘Jag _brukar_ dricka kaffe på morgonen’, implying that you usually drink coffee in the morning (at your own will), not that you are used to drinking coffee in the morning (because you have to).

    Hope that helps!

  3. kimspindel:

    Interesting, since I see the “vill” usage and “att” placement in a different way which I find easier to understand:
    Instead of translating “vill” to “want” such as in “Jag vill springa”, I translate it to “want to”. And then I feel this translates well to “I want to run”.
    It also makes me less likely to make a mistake I used to do often – say something like “Jag vill kaffe” (which I would translate to “I want to coffee” in my head which sounds wrong), instead of “Jag vill _ha_ kaffe”.
    The same goes for “behöver”, I would translate that to “needs to” rather than just “needs” on its own.
    So yeah, I pair up the English “to” with the auxiliary verb rather than the infinitive. Maybe this is incorrect technically, but I find it simpler =)

  4. Gabor:

    It works the same as in German, do I see it well?

  5. soraya:

    Aren’t the verbs in the first group simply helping verbs? If yes, why should we go round the bush?