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Subjects vs. Objects Posted by on Oct 20, 2010 in Grammar

Sometimes Swedish pronunciation can be a bit tricky.  Är sounds like e, dagen sounds like dawn, sedan sounds like sen.  Plenty of letter are ignored.  Then of course, there is de.  Which sounds like dom.  And dem, which also sounds like dom.  Both are pronouns, one however, de is a subject, while dem is an object.  No problem right?

When speaking, there isn’t a problem.  No one hears the difference between de and dem.  When writing though, there can be a problem.

There are ways around all of this, the first being just knowing what part of the sentence is your subject, what part of your sentence is the object.

In English subject pronouns are our common, I, you, he, she, it, we, you guys, and they.

Subject pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, you guys, and them.

Subjekt Objekt
Jag Mig
Du Dig
Han Honom
Hon Henne
Den Den
Det Det
Vi Oss
Ni Er
De Dem

So, if you were to say I love you in Swedish. We get to use both our subject, I, and our object you, giving us: Jag älskar dig.

Then comes the tricky one: de vs. dem.

First, a sentence using dem as an object:

Jag vill prata med dem. (I want to talk with them.)

And now, a sentence using de as a subject:

De vill prata med mig. (They want to talk with me.)

It’s important to keep your subjects and objects in line, especially when writing de vs. dem.  Of course when all else fails, if you find yourself using de when you should be using dem, just blame it on a typo.  It wouldn’t be the first time a letter was left of of a word.  (See what I did there?)

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


Comments:

  1. rod:

    This is very clear.
    But noticed the lists menu and had a look. Started through the flash cards for ‘bo’ and came to ‘har botgt’ which, according to the card means ‘has lived’.
    I believe I can without the lists.

  2. Jeff:

    Who is doing what to/with/from whom?

    It’s as simple as that. Any English speaker immediately recognizes the -m in whom (and him, them accordingly), and thus should have NO problem whatsoever being able to use the object form in Swedish.

    Now, that native speakers of Swedish fail to distinguish between subject and object (in Swedish!) is another thing…

  3. Jacob_M:

    “When speaking, there isn’t a problem. No one hears the difference between de and dem. When writing though, there can be a problem.”

    Of course we hear the difference. But you’re right that it’s not generally a problem. The reason for this is that in spoken language, de and dem is generally replaced with dom. It is also perfectly acceptable to use dom in written language, if you’re uncertain which form to use. I find few things more annoying than people using dem when they should be using de. And believe me, this is not an “immigrant problem”. Many MANY native Swedes confuse these when using written Swedish. I guess the cause is that the natural form in spoken Swedish is dom and these people want to fancy their language up when they write. These people seem to believe that dem is simply a fancier way of writing de/dom.

  4. Rastik:

    Jacob_M: “Of course we hear the difference.” How do you hear the difference? I thought they are pronounced the same.

  5. Marcus Cederström:

    good comments, and in terms of the pronunciation, that they are both pronounced the same “dom” is exactly what I meant.

  6. David:

    A mistake which many people make is to confuse the use of “de” as a personal pronoun with its use as a definite article in an attribute+noun phrase. An example: “Där är de långa männen. Jag ser dem.” (‘There are the tall men. I see them.’) But: “Jag ser de långa männen.” (‘I see the tall men.’) One does not write: “Jag ser *dem långa männen.” Here one could make an easy substitution test: what word does “de(m)” represent? If it’s English ‘them’, it’s Swedish “dem”. If it’s English “the” (as in ‘the tall men’), then it’s always “de”.

    Finally, “de(m)” can also be equivalent to English “those”; “Jag tillhör de(m) som bor i Stockholm.” (‘I am among those who live in Stockholm.’) Here, it’s now considered fully optional whether you want to write “de” or “dem”, as long as “de(m)” is in the object position. But we always write “De som bor i Stockholm är glada” (‘Those who live in Stockholm are happy.’) because there “de” is the subject.

  7. Marcus Cederström:

    very good point.