Swedish Language Blog

Step up your Swedish with helping verbs Posted by on Nov 12, 2019 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Gamla Stan / Simon Paulin

Simon Paulin “Friends in Old Town.” Image Bank Sweden


Mastering Swedish hjälpverb, or helping verbs, is a stellar skill.  Once my Swedish students have good command over basic sentence structure and present tense verbs, it’s go-time for this concept in class! Helping verbs are sprinkled everywhere into everyday Swedish, and are important in building conversation skills. 

Swedish helping verb construction

A helping verb modifies the main verb, embellishing the sentence and allowing the speaker to provide more detail. Instead of just, vi äter lunch, “we eat lunch,” helping verbs allow us to say, vi måste äta lunch, “we must eat lunch” or, vi vill äta lunch, “we want to eat lunch.”

Let’s use the verb talar as an example:

Jag talar.                 I speak. 

               Now let’s play with helping verbs + tala 

Jag kan tala.              I can speak.

Hon ska tala.             She will speak.

Han vill inte tala.      He does not want to speak. 

Vi behöver tala.        We need to speak. 


…those last sentences are a lot more dynamic than just Jag talar, eller hur/right?!  You’ll notice that the main verb tala is in the infinitive form, not the present tense form, talar.  Every time we use a helping verb, we must put the main verb in its infinitive form. 

To find the infinitiv form of the verb, be sure to consult a good dictionary. The infinitiv form of verbs in Swedish is often paired with att. For example, att spela, “to play.” Using a website like www.tyda.se, is a great way to ensure you’ve got the tenses right. See here that the infinitiv form spela is listed first:

“Att spela” from www.tyda.se









Take note of the infinitive form of these common verbs. Again, our main verb needs to be in infinitive form when paired with a helping verb.


att jobba jobbar to work
att komma kommer to come
att köpa köper to buy
att åka åker to go (transport)
att göra gör to do / to make
att köra kör to drive
att studera studerar to study
att lyssna på lyssnar på to listen to
att vara är to be
att läsa läser to read / study


Have some infinitive verbs ready to use?  Let’s breakdown 8 common helping verbs with example sentences:

SKA  – will or shall. To be used to describe the future tense

Jag ska jobba imorgon.      Han ska lyssna på radio.      Ska vi gå nu?
I will work tomorrow.          He will listen to the radio.     Shall we go now?

KAN – can, to be able to

Jag kan tala lite franska.       Barnen kan inte komma till skolan idag.
I can speak a little French     The kids cannot come to school today.

Kan vi åka tåg till Göteborg?
Can we take the train to Göteborg?

MÅSTE – must, have to 

Vi måste studera efter matchen.      Ni måste vara på konferensen klockan 8.
We must study after the game.       You (plural) must be at the conference by 8. 

Varför måste du köpa så mycket kläder? 
Why must you buy so much clothing?

VILL – to want to 

Hanna vill titta på Netflix ikväll.                            De vill lyssna på konserten.            
Hanna wants to watch Netflix this evening.       They want to listen to the concert.

Vad vill du göra idag?
What do you want to do today?

BEHÖVER – need to 

De behöver fika.         Min mamma behöver köpa en cykel.
They need to fika.       My mom needs to buy a bike.

Du behöver läsa den här boken!
You need to read this book!

BORDE – ought to, should 

Hon borde dricka mer vatten.          Vi borde inte tala om Benny.             
She should drink more water.           We ought not to talk about Benny.

Det borde sluta regna.
It should stop raining.

HINNER – to have time to 

Jag hinner inte köra dig idag.                       Hinner vi promenera hem?
I don’t have time to drive you today.         Do we have time to walk home?

*some helping verbs can be used without a main verb, for example:

     -Hinner vi?                      -Do we have time?
     -Nej, vi hinner inte.       -No, we don’t have time. 

FÅR – to be allowed to / to get to

Får jag sitta här?      Man får inte skicka SMS i skolan.
May I sit here?         One is not allowed to send texts in school. 

Now it’s your turn to write your own sentences with each helping verb!  Don’t forget to put your main verb in the infinitive form. The next grammar post from me will be about another helping verb brukar, meaning usually, paired with frequency adverbs, like often, sometimes, always, never, in Swedish. Happy studying!

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.



    It was a very good and useful post

  2. Nada Bariche:

    Great post! Always helpful to look back and reference this page.. I have saved it in my “helpful links” folder. Tack så mycket!!

    • Chelsea B:

      @Nada Bariche Vad bra, Nada! Glad you found it hjälpsamt 🙂

  3. Tatiyo:

    Jag gillar läsa din blogg och jag tar det språkmässiga med glädje, tack.