Swedish Language Blog

Thanksgiving and Word Order Posted by on Nov 27, 2008 in Grammar

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

I don’t. I did it twice in the past, because my dearly beloved demanded turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Turkeys are easy to come by here, our local Ica MAXI carries them. And during November you can even spot frozen cranberries, so if you’re really dedicated you can make your own sauce. And recently I’ve even seen imported cornbread mix.

But, but, but… We were going to talk about grammar today, not about cornbread mixes. However, in order to talk about today’s topic, we need an example, and since it IS Thanksgiving, let’s pick a suitably festive sentence to play with. How about:

  • I USA är Thanksgiving en av de viktigaste helgerna.

And now let’s talk about subjects, objects and word order in Swedish. But first things first. Do you remember how it works in English? Sure you do!
In English we make sentences like this:

  • Subject + Verb + Object + Other Goofy Parts

At least theoretically, because what we write and what we say may be two very different things. Anyway, the same word order applies in Swedish, too. But if that’s the case then what’s up with our sample sentence? It sure does not start with a subject.

It doesn’t. If it started with a subject, it would look like this:

  • Thanksgiving är en av de viktigaste helgerna i USA.

So, here “Thanksgiving” is our subject, and “är” is our verb. And a whole bunch of little things following the verb completes the sentence. Then why doesn’t our original sentence start with a subject? Well, because Swedish is a lot more flexible in this respect than English.
I USA” is an adverbial and you can begin a sentence with an adverbial as long as it is followed by a verb. This process is called “fronting the adverbial” and is perfectly correct and legitimate.

You can also front an object but because it’s not really that common, it should be done with care. For example:

  • Vi äter kalkon och paj idag. (normal word order: subject + verb + object + adverbial)

Now let’s front an object – which in this case is our “turkey and pie”:

  • Kalkon och paj äter vi idag. (object + verb + subject + adverbial)

See how “kalkon och paj(turkey and pie) is followed by a verb? Remember, no matter what you stick at the front of a sentence, it must be followed by a verb. I know in the beginning it will feel like you need to put a subject there too, and that is one of the most common mistakes that people who are learning Swedish tend to make.

So now, let’s front the adverbial, shall we?

  • Idag äter vi kalkon och paj. (adverbial + verb + subject + object)

See, it’s not all that complicated. Different grammar books make it sound so hard and use all those fancy big words when explaining word order. Yet all you need to remember is this:

  • The verb (even if it’s just an auxiliary verb such as “kan” or “ska”) always comes SECOND.
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  1. Justyna:

    Are you saying all of these examples (Vi äter kalkon och paj idag; Kalkon och paj äter vi idag; Idag äter vi kalkon och paj) are correct?

  2. Anna:

    Hi Justyna,
    yes, they are all correct. You just need to remember that the verb always comes second – after either the subject or object or adverbial.

  3. Megan Smith:

    Thanks this is a very helpful blog…have just moved to sweden and started language classes (they are taught in Swedish mostly), so have been looking for the grammar rules spelt out in english! Tack så mycket!

  4. Diana:

    You have no idea how much this helps me. YOU’RE A LIFESAVER!