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“Myself”, “yourself”, etc. in Swedish Posted by on Jun 13, 2016 in Grammar, Swedish Language

Many of you already know that Swedish employs reflexive verbs, just like in German or Spanish. For example,

 

Albert rakar sig. – Albert is shaving.

In the example, att raka sig means “to shave (oneself)”. It differs from att raka (i.e., without sig), in that it refers specifically to the subject shaving her/himself. Without the reflexive pronoun (in this case, sig), there would have to be some other object:

Albert rakar Erik. – Albert is shaving Erik.

Att raka is a verb that always requires an object. In the first example, that object is sig, and in the second, it’s Erik. *Albert rakar. is an incorrect sentence because att raka cannot lack an object.

 

But Swedish allows us to be even more specific than that. To really emphasize that Albert is shaving his own face, rather than someone else’s, you can attach själv “self” to the object. See here:

Katja:  Rakar Albert Erik?Is Albert shaving Erik?
Carolina:  Nej, Albert rakar sig själv.
– No, Albert is shaving himself.

When you add själv, it makes it extra clear that Albert is shaving his own face (and not Erik. In case you’re wondering, Erik is a cat who doesn’t want to be shaven).

Själv is not only used with sig; it is also used with mig, dig, oss and er when used reflexively.

Själv must be declined based on the subject in the sentence. It follows the same pattern as every other normal adjective – -t for neuter subjects and -a for plural subjects (regardless of grammatical gender).

Trädet välte sig självt. – The tree tipped itself over. (It wasn’t the wind.)

Vi tar hand om oss själva. – We take care of ourselves. (No one else does.)

As a side note, själv can also be used in other ways. More on this in another post.

One final thing to remember: Själv is used after the relfexive form of a pronoun, not the genitive/possessive form. Unlike in English, “outselves” is not translated as *våra själva in Swedish! The correct form is oss själva. The same goes for mig själv, dig själv, sig själv/självt; er själva, sig själva.

 

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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. S. MacLennan:

    Excellent pointer there! Thank you. And I hope Erik the cat is comfortable with his new look.

    Simon