Swedish Language Blog

Plural Ett Words Posted by on Jul 26, 2008 in Grammar

I have a foreign neighbor who reads this blog (hi neighbor!), and I think it’s very convenient that she does. She’s right under my nose, she’s learning Swedish, speaks passable English and is not afraid to ask questions. So I wasn’t surprised when she spied me out while I was taking my cats out for a walk (yes, you can put your cat in a special harness with a leash and take it for a stroll outside, it’s quite common in Sweden) and came over to ask questions. And since she’s allergic to cats, I knew this had to be serious.

Our conversation went more or less like this:
Neighbor: “You wrote that “blåbär” is an “ett” word, so then where does “blåbären” come from? Huh?”
And she looked at me expectantly.
Anna: “Uhmm… It’s like with “barnet” and “barnen”, one is definite singular and the other – definite plural.”
Neighbor: “Elucidate, please.”

I started to explain that some plural forms, indefinite plural forms that is, look exactly like singular indefinite forms, and that those plural forms can also be made definite by attaching different endings, but she abruptly interrupted me by saying:
“On your blog.” And disappeared.

So here it is. We’ll be talking about grammar today, and all complaints about the topic can be directed to my neighbor.

I think I should begin by explaining how you can turn a singular noun into a plural noun, but that is such a mind-numbingly boring topic that you’d be snoring five words into it. So instead, why don’t we limit ourselves to “ett” words only? For now, of course.

Ett” words in their plural forms can look somewhat confusing to people who are learning Swedish, but in reality the rules are very simple.

1. “Ett” words that end in a vowel in their singular form, take the ending “n” in the plural (indefinite), like this:

  • ett äpple (an apple) → äpplen (apples)
  • ett konto (an account) → konton (accounts)
  • ett frimärke (a postage stamp) → frimärken (stamps)

So you see all these supposedly “ett” words and think: “hmmm… they end with an “n” now, they must be plural.” And you’re right.

2. “Ett” words that end in a consonant don’t take any ending in the plural (indefinite) at all.

  • ett barn (a child) → barn (children)
  • ett år (a year) → år (years)

Or like the poor blueberry from the last post:

  • ett blåbär (a blueberry) → blåbär (blueberries)

So that’s how you make the plural of “ett” words. We’ll talk about “en” words some other time.

Where things can get funky is when you attempt to make definite forms of those “ett” plural nouns. And you do it by attaching an appropriate ending at the end.

1. For the “ett” words in the first category above, you do it by tacking an “a” at the end, like this:

  • äpplen (apples) → äpplena (the apples)
  • konton (accounts) → kontona (the accounts)
  • frimärken (stamps) → frimärkena (the stamps)

2. And for the “ett” words in the second category, to make the definite plural form you attach an “en” at the end. (Yes, I know it’s kind of dumb, but I didn’t come up with this rule, trust me, if I had a chance, I’d make it MUCH simpler and less confusing):

  • barn (children) → barnen (the children)
  • åråren (the years)

And our favorite fruit:

  • blåbär (blueberries) → blåbären (the blueberries)

So now when you’ll see an “ett” word with an “en” ending, you will know it means something in plural in its definite form.

Now, somebody asked for a Swedish grammar book in English, and I polled my resident foreigners, and “Mål : svenska som främmande språk. A concise Swedish grammar = Svensk grammatik på engelska” was voted as the best choice. It’s published by Natur och Kultur and it’s been translated into every possible language, from Somali to Russian.

The English language version has a red cover (other languages have different colors) and it’s been recently re-issued. When purchasing it in Sweden expect to pay anywhere from 219 to 280 SEK. And of course I can’t find even one cover shot on the internet (other than this microscopic one) to show you what it looks like. I did find it at my local bookstore, but they wouldn’t let me take a picture. Apparently, when compared to other grammar books, this one is superior due to its simple language and straightforward explanations. I found two ISBNs for it:
ISBN10: 912750252X
ISBN13: 9789127502529

Of course if anyone has other suggestions, please let us know!

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  1. Annika:

    Thank you so much for your blog, I so enjoy it. I look forward to reading it and learning something new everyday.
    Annika 🙂

  2. ceci:

    ja! yesterday i did a resume, about plurals!!! that helped me…and this too

  3. Akhlaq:

    God morgon! Tack very much. I m learning very much words from your nice belog.

    God di


  4. Anna:

    Hi guys!

    Thank you so much for your comments! If there’s anything specific you want to know when it comes to grammar, just let me know! 🙂

  5. Naim:


    THank you very much for this blog.Very interesting topic in it. I really appreciate.

    Kind Regards,

  6. Andrew Waddington:

    Tittar på den här mycket bra lärobokena

    Learn Swedish Läre svensk
    Swedish Reader for beginners edited by Nils-Gustav Hildeman Ann -mari Beite with the assitance
    of Siv Higelin

    Humoristiskt Illustrationer vid Per Silfverhjelm

    Almqviist och Wiksells Boktryckeri AB Uppsala 1960 ! !En Mycket fyllig och stimulerande lärobok

    Två Hildeman Hildeman Olsson Practise Swedish Almqviist och Wiksells Boktryckeri AB 1957

    Tre läre Svensk lika Svensk barn på Skolan

    John Digerfeldt . Ossian Åhström Modersmålet Årskurs Tre Skrivning och Språklära

    Almqviist och Wiksells Boktryckeri AB

    Jag har roligt att läre sig med dessa boken

    Er måste till att börja med utnyttjä alla tillfällen att höra svenska talas och blir bombarderad med svenska
    dagen lång.

  7. Mo:

    ooo that’s a terrible rule for people who don’t know which are ett and which are en !! cause if I see äpplen I might think it’s an EN word instead and that it’s just the definite form….no?…ok.

    but thank you for explaining all this so well 🙂

  8. Antonia:

    I was wondering: Have you now added an article about plural and en rules? Because I couldnt find it.
    Im new to this – discovered it just now – and this blog is the best grammar guide I can find. Ive got many books, too, but you just outdo them all 🙂

  9. Brandon Gustafson:

    Great blog, I love it! Helps out a ton, you really have a knack for turning something that takes up 5 pages in a grammar book into a few concise paragraphs.

    I was wondering if in a future blog post you might think about an entry about the 5 Swedish declensions? I’ve been trying to figure them out for quite some time, but it’s just… not clicking.

  10. Ãmir:

    Sooooo…! That’s why they call it kulturen hus here in Luleå! i’ve been always thinking about it but had no idea!!

  11. dr.faisal:

    it was nice way of teaching but i still donot understand with which letters i should use“ en“ and “ett“

  12. Zeli:

    Learning Swedish grammar is possible only by remembering “de facto”. “It is as it is, take it or leave it! ” No any logic to learn, just random rules which you have to memorize.

  13. Faisal peyman:

    I still do not understand with witch letters I should use en and ett and here is a thing that it makes me confuse , how should I add ar , er and N in the End of a singular noun to make it plural. Thanks