Swedish Language Blog

The help verb “bruka” Posted by on Dec 4, 2012 in Grammar, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

Hej allihopa! I am happy to publish the first post of December 2012 on the Transparent Swedish Blog. Hopefully you will find it useful in your study of the Swedish language!

Today felt like a good day to tell you all about the help verb bruka and its very handy usages. For those of you who don’t know what help verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs) are, they are verbs that don’t have any true meaning of their own but instead help the following verb in its quest to provide specific information. An example of a help verb in English is will, which doesn’t mean anything in itself but marks that the sentence is in future tense.

Bruka is a help verb in Swedish. It is used in both present and past tense to mark habitual action. In English, the equivalent way of expressing this in present tense is typically with the word usually, which, contrary to bruka, is an adverb. See the following example:

Joakim brukar äta mat när han kommer hem. – Joakim usually eats food when he comes home.

As you can see, bruka is conjugated in the present tense (brukar) and is followed by the verb äta (to eat) in the infinitive. This is a clear sign that it is a help verb. Usually, on the other hand, is followed by eat in present tense (eats), showing that it is not a help verb in English but an adverb. Despite that bruka and usually are of different parts-of-speech, they have the same function in the sentence.

In past tense, the connection might make more sense to you:

Joakim brukade äta mat när han kom hem. – Joakim used to eat food when he came home.

Here, the English equivalent also uses a verb, namely used, which functions as a help verb in this situation. So, seen from this point of view, the Swedish way of expressing habitual action is just as logical (or illogical) as the English. Actually, you might even think that the English is less logical, since the Swedish remains a verb in both past and present while the English requires an adverb form in present and a verb form in past. After all, you can’t say:

Joakim *uses to eat food when he comes home.

in English. Weird, right?

Another interesting fact is that bruka actually means to use in the other Nordic languages of Scandinavia (bruke in Norwegian, bruge in Danish) and in certain contexts in Swedish. (Generally, though, you use the verb använda for this meaning in Swedish.)

For those of you who are familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), I have transcribed the pronunciation of bruka and its finite forms as well as använda just for you:

bruka – [ˈbrʉːˌka]
brukar – [ˈbrʉːˌkar]
brukade – [ˈbrʉːˌkadɛ]
använda – [ˈanːˌvɛnda]

Now you know a new daily expression in Swedish. Hope it turns out useful! Have fun! 🙂

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About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.


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