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Swedish Supines and Past Participles and More Grammar Posted by on May 22, 2009 in Grammar

You know how I always tell you that Swedish is so similar to English that learning it should be a cake-walk really?

Well, today, I will break with this long-standing tradition and instead I’m going to tell you that Swedish is not like English at all and that it can be quite hard to get it right.

I’ve never even thought about this issue, because well, frankly, it’s never even crossed my mind. Until I had to help someone deal with supines and past participles. And the trouble began.

“Wait!” I hear you say, “isn’t it, like, pretty much basic and easy in English?”
Yes it is. But it’s not so easy in Swedish. Especially for an English speaker (hence I kindly ask all native Swedes reading this blog post to please consider this fact while commenting, thank you).

You see, the English supine is the bare naked infinitive form, the kind we stick “to” in front of.
But in Swedish, the supine is the stuff we use to construct perfect tenses – as in “jag har/hade + Swedish supine.

So, it looks like the Swedish supine is what in English we’d call a past participle.

So, what’s a past participle in Swedish? Hmmm… It’s also a verb form, but it’s used as an adjective. And it also follows the same rules as all normal adjectives do.

So, let’s take a look at this:

  • skriva – to write

and in all the tenses:

  • skriver – write (present tense)
  • skrev – wrote (past tense)
  • skrivit – written (used in perfect tenses – this “skrivit” is the Swedish supine)

and

  • skriven – “written” as an adjective – this is the Swedish past participle, this form is used with “en” nouns
  • skrivet – “written” as an adjective – this form is used with “ett” nouns

and

  • skrivna – “written” as an adjective – this form is used with plural nouns.

“Ouch!” I hear you say and I don’t blame you. Maybe these very simple examples will make it clearer:

  • Någon har skrivit ett brev. – Someone has written a letter. – That’s our garden variety present perfect tense. Nothing complicated here. “Skrivit” is the Swedish supine.
  • Detta brev var skrivet på engelska. – This letter was written in English. – “Brev” is an “ett” noun and the past participle form we need to use here is “skrivet”.
  • Denna text var skriven i december 2008. – This text was written in December 2008. – “Text” is an “en” noun and the past participle form that matches it is “skriven”.
  • Alla gamla böcker var skrivna på latin. – All old books were written in Latin. – “Böcker” is a plural noun, and so we need to use the plural form of past participle, which in this case is “skrivna”.

Of course I made it difficult for you by choosing an irregular verb for these examples, so next time I’ll show you how this Swedish past participle stuff works with normal, boring, regular verbs, OK?

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Comments:

  1. Kenia:

    Hello Anna!
    I haven’t commented the latest posts, but I must say it was a terrific idea to blog the Eurovision semifinal and final live =). You’re the best.
    Oh this thing of the swedish supine is certainly not as easy as it is in english, but believe me, it’s a lot easier than it is in romance languages, those make you wanna cry!
    Kenia

  2. BM:

    Those examples you gave, while no doubt correct, don’t read naturally to me. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate (or usual) to use the passive form of the verb (that is, the -s form)?

    If not, what is the difference between the past participle construction and the passive?

  3. Anna:

    BM,
    that’s one of the many pitfalls when talking about grammar – NONE of the examples EVER sound natural, even in books for teachers where they show how to teach grammar. And when it comes to passive voice, it’s a great idea for a blog post – I’ll get one ready for next week, ok?

    Kenia,
    Glad you liked the Eurovision posts. I was afraid that they actually scared off a lot of people. 🙂

  4. Christiane:

    This explanation is very helpful! I have a Swedish test today and I have been beating my head against the wall about “perfekt particip”.
    However, my grammar book speaks about an “attributivt” and “predikativt” which have different constructions (e.g. Teresas nytvättade hår glänste i solskenet.) In this example, -ade is the plural construction, but “hår” is an ett word and I thought it should have been “nytvättat hår”, but my key said “nej, nej, nej”.

    In a future post could you address the various verb groups and how their past participle is formed and the differences between the attributive and the predicative??

    Tusen tack!

    Christiane

  5. Sherry:

    Just landed on this page and noticed how this distinction resembles the English examples: burnt/burned. This must be supine/past participle in English….Or…? Noticeably, Australian/British English has favoured the -t form for past participle in some instances, but I’d always learned it (American English) as being the adjective form. Example:
    The house was burnt.–describes condition of house. (adjective)
    The house was burned.–describes the action that the house was subjected to. (verb)

    Very interesting and informative blog. Thanks!
    Sherry

  6. Diana:

    Thanks for this! I don’t see how this is too hard, I definitely get it. Your posts have the most helpful and interesting content if you want to learn Swedish. I shall recommend this to all the learners of Swedish I know!

  7. Anna Sokol:

    Hey! thanks for the article! Special passiv form article would be great but also many questions about exactly the difference between the passive and the past participle. Would be really useful!..

  8. Hertz:

    Steve man… you´re being of a great help.

    As hard as swedish might be, my language (brazilian portuguese) is even harder, so I’m used to difficulties.

    I’m learning swedish at home and I can’t thank you enough, so I guess i´ll keep reading your stuff even more.

  9. Ezra Stolz:

    Ok, so this totally cleared EVERYTHING up with me… I guess i’m lucky by being able to speak russian because the supine in russian is called the perfective case (if im understanding this correctly)! In short, the supine in just a completed action or one time action?

  10. Derek Simons:

    Hey do you know where i could contact a swedish teacher? i want to be able to fulfill my dream of visiting Sweden

  11. JaneDoesy:

    As someone who studied Latin and Greek, this way of explaining it is so much easier to understand.

  12. Thomas:

    Why no ‘ha’ in these sentences?

    Jag glömmer aldrig bort vad du gjort.
    Jag blev en av dom som aldrig kommit hem.
    Du fått ge vika nu för asfalt och för makadam.

    Why is it not “vad du gjorde” or “vad du HAR gjort”?