Inverted sentences in Swedish Posted by Stephen Maconi on Feb 19, 2016 in Grammar, Swedish Language
I’m sure you’ve heard it. I’m sure it’s confused you. Some pesky Swedish speaker saying things like Idag ska jag träffa honom and Det tror jag inte. Sentences where the subject comes after the verb.
“Blasphemy!”, you might be thinking. Truth be told, inverted sentences are, in fact, used in abundance in Swedish. But how? And when?
First of all, let’s look at the grammar. It’s not all that tough. Basically, when a sentence starts with something that isn’t a subject, the subject moves after the first verb. And that’s how you get an inverted sentence. Here’s how you convert a basic sentence into an inverted sentence in two ways:
Jag ska besöka min farmor ikväll.
I’m going to visit my grandmother tonight.
Ikväll ska jag besöka min farmor.
Tonight, I’m going to visit my grandmother.
Min farmor ska jag besöka ikväll.
My grandmother, I’m going to visit tonight.
As you can see, when I chose to start the sentence with something other than the subject, the subject was moved after the verb. (In negative sentences with inte “not”, the subject generally still comes immediately after the verb, and inte follows. This varies, however. More on this in another post.)
And that’s it! But when do we use the inverted structure?
In cases such as Inverted 1 above, where an adverbial (e.g. a phrase of time or place) starts the sentence, inverted structure is obligatory. Any time you want to start a sentence with such an adverbial, the inverted structure must follow.
In cases such as Inverted 2, there isn’t a perfect English direct translation. Basically, when you put the object first in the sentence like this, you are providing emphasis to whatever you’re putting first. In this example, you’re trying to say “I’m going to visit my grandmother (i.e. not your aunt, whom I mistakenly thought you were going to visit).” Also in these cases, inverted sentence structure is obligatory.
So, to reiterate, inverted sentence structure is required whenever a sentence does not start with the subject. This is the same word order as in questions, where the verb always comes before the subject.
Finally, there are small, frequent structures like the following:
Det tror jag inte.
I don’t think/believe so.
Det gör jag.
Det vet jag.
I know that.
Det tror jag inte is just another way of saying Jag tror inte det. Both are equally common. If you put intonational stress on det in the inverted sentence, then you are emphasizing “That, I don’t believe”. If you don’t, it has the same meaning as Jag tror inte det and is just another way of saying it.
Det gör jag is used as a simple answer to a question. Gillar du den? (Do you like it?) Ja, det gör jag. (Yes, I do.) Det gör jag could also be said Jag gör det in certain cases, but Det gör jag is used much more often. *Jag gör is never used.
Lastly, Det vet jag is slightly different from Jag vet. The difference is that Det vet jag sounds more assertive, while Jag vet sounds lighter. In other words, Det vet jag sounds like “I know that (already)” and Jag vet just sounds like “I know”:
Det är så varmt ute! – It’s so hot out!
Jag vet! – I know!
Det är så varmt ute! – It’s so hot out!
Det vet jag! – I know that! (Why are you mentioning it?)
Det vet jag doesn’t have to sound rude, but it is definitely more assertive; it’s used to say that you, in fact, are already aware of something – not that you are agreeing with something.
And now you know the grammar and usage of inverted Swedish sentences! Enjoy!
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I am happy most Swedes are patient and understanding, I have probably sounded insulting on more than one occasion by telling them “I know that! (already, so why are you telling me again!)
It’s very simple: put the first verb always in the second position in the main clause.