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That’s just the worst. In Swedish. Posted by on Jan 27, 2014 in Grammar, Swedish Language

Are you struggling to complain about things in Swedish? Not sure how to say something is worse than something else? Or the worst even? It may be because there are actually two words for the English word, “worse.” Värre and sämre both, technically, mean “worse.” But there are some nuances that will help you learn exactly when to use them.

First, let’s start with the word bad. Dålig. Bad.
Jag såg en dålig film. I saw a bad movie.
Jag läste en dålig bok. I read a bad book.
Det blir dåligt väder. The weather will be bad.

Pretty easy. The ending of the adjective will change depending on the noun. En film. En dålig film. Ett hus. Ett dåligt hus.

But what if we want to start comparing things? And complaining about them?
Dålig can take a couple of different comparative and superlative forms. They are:
Dåligsämresämst
Dåligvärrevärst

The Swedish language differentiates between things that are inherently bad and those that could sometimes be bad (some people also like to think of it as the difference between less good and more bad. Both mean worse, but there is some nuance there.). Inherently bad takes the dåligvärrevärst form. Things that sometimes could be bad take the dåligsämresämst form.

So let’s look at some examples*:
Dålig sämre sämst
The weather (in general) is not inherently bad.
Vädret är sämre idag än det var igår. The weather is worse today than it was yesterday.

I am not inherently bad.
Jag är sämst på matte. I am the worst at math.

Movies are not inherently bad.
Sharknado är årets sämsta filmSharknado is the worst movie of the year.

Dålig värrevärst
Headaches are inherently bad.
Huvudvärken blir värre om jag lägger mig ner. My headache gets worse if I lie down.

Hurricanes are inherently bad.
Sandy var den värsta orkanen jag någonsin har sett. Sandy was the worst hurricane I have ever seen.

Death is inherently bad.
Ett öde värre än döden. A fate worse than death.

Now you can complain to your heart’s content. Good luck!

*A quick disclaimer on things that are inherently bad, there are always exceptions and judgment calls to be made. That’s why some people will use dålig/ondvärrevärst to point out the inherent badness with the word ond, evil. Some people see death as an inherently bad thing for example, others do not. Some people might take a cynical view of relationships and refer to them as inherently bad, others might not.

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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. Linn:

    Good post! I just have one tiny comment. In Swedish you would say “Sandy var den värsta orkanen jag någonsin har sett.”

  2. Entebo:

    Thank you, great explanation.
    But, KTH’s website (lexin) seems to have different info.
    For adj. “dålig” it shows:
    Böjningar: dåligt, dåliga, sämre, sämst
    http://folkets-lexikon.csc.kth.se/folkets/#lookup&d%C3%A5lig&0

    For adv. “illa”, it shows:
    Böjningar: värre, värst
    http://folkets-lexikon.csc.kth.se/folkets/#lookup&illa

    Do you think it might be wrong there? It makes me think like värre, värst can be used only as adverbs.

  3. rusti:

    Thanks for this! Had no idea I’d been using these like a dope.

  4. Marcus Cederström:

    Entebo, värre and värst can actually act as both adverb and adjective.

    Both Norstedts and Wiktionary show how both decline: https://sv.wiktionary.org/wiki/d%C3%A5lig
    http://www.ord.se/oversattning/engelska/?s=d%C3%A5lig&l=SVEENG

    https://sv.wiktionary.org/wiki/v%C3%A4rre
    https://sv.wiktionary.org/wiki/v%C3%A4rst

    And for some grammar books, see “Swedish: A Comprehensive Grammar” by Philip Holmes and Ian Hinchliffe
    or
    “Deskriptiv Svensk Grammatik” by Britta Holm and Elizabeth Nylund

  5. A&E:

    What about dålig – dåligare – dåligast?

    • Marcus Cederström:

      @A&E That’s a tricky one—depends on who you ask. It’s becoming more and more common, but some people will argue that it is not correct. Use it carefully if you do use it and be prepared to be corrected.

  6. Mary Jane Schmidt:

    My grandfather’s parents came to America in 1881 and according to my research my gr grandfather (born Sweden) was named Carl Johan Varre Danielson. My grandfather was born in Worcester and his name was Albin Werre (they changed Varre to Werre upon arrival in America). I wish I knew why his last name was Varre (Werre) and not Danielson? I am 76 and all who can answer this question have been “gone” for years. Thank you for any help.