Swedish Language Blog

One of the most important Swedish verbs: vara, “to be” Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Hey guys!

There are important verbs in every language. One of them is almost always some sort of copula verb, as in the case of Swedish. Vara is a verb you simply cannot go without!

In this video I explain how to express “to be” in Swedish.

The verb vara, “to be”, has many uses. For example, it can be used to give a subject an identity or a property.

Rolf är lärare. – Rolf is a teacher.
Äpplena är röda. – The apples are red.

As you can see in the examples, the present tense of vara is är. While English has three present tense forms of “to be” – “am”, “are”, and “is” – the Swedish language only has one: är. In other words, whether it’s jag, du, hon, vi, ni or de, the present tense conjugation is always är.

Vara can be used to indicate when something is to occur or has occurred.

Proven var igår. – The tests were yesterday.
Hans födelsedag var tre månader senare. – His birthday was three months later.

The aforementioned rule also applies here: the simple past tense of vara is always var.

Vara can also indicate the location of someone or something.

Vi har varit hos min syster. – We have been at my sister’s.
Din papegoja har varit i sin bur. – Your parrot has been in its cage.

Vara can also be used to indicate that something is equal to something else.

En meter är hundra centimeter. – A meter is 100 centimeters. → (I made a mistake in the video: a meter is not 1000 centimeters! Thanks to those who pointed out the mistake!)
Låda är ”box” på engelska. – Låda is ”box” in English.

Finally, vara can be used to tell time.

Vad är klockan? – What time is it?
Hon är kvart i fem. – It’s a quarter to five (4:45/16:45).

As you can see, the Swedish verb vara, “to be”, has many uses, just as in English. Though several of them are mentioned here, you will likely come across even more ways to use the word as you study Swedish.

Lycka till! – 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.


  1. Raissa:

    Thanks for the lesson and video! Really simple and informative! Cheers from Brazil!

  2. Eric Swanson:

    Excellent Steve! Vara is one of the most important verbs and you did superbly in presenting it 🙂

  3. Brian:

    Enjoying the blog and great as a helpful tool in being better in everyday Swedish.

    Swedes have a low tolerance with pronounciation as in if one does not pronounce correctly they will find it hard to understand. Unlike English speakers we for give accents.

    The telephone and when they give their name so quickly and ask them to repeat and they do it with the same speed.

  4. Matthew Howard-Jones:

    Just discovered this blog and it is fantastic. It covers so many areas other resources either don’t or gloss over with no depth.
    I am hoping that a similar article to the one above could be done for bli/bliva as well. Especially with reference to using bli to give a ‘sort of’ future meaning eg. Blir det regn? = is it going to rain/will it rain? or Blir det dyrt? seems to mean ‘will it be expensive?

    Many thanks. Matt