Swedish Language Blog

Transforming Words with Swedish Suffix -het Posted by on Sep 24, 2020 in Culture, Swedish Language, Vocabulary

International Women’s Day, 2017, Göteborg. Credits: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se


Ärlighet, öppenhet, verklighet… Honesty, openness, reality. These dynamic words are made possible by the Swedish suffix -het. Its English equivalents are -ty, -ity, and -ness, making it a noun-forming suffix. The three-letter addition of -het transforms simple adjectives into big-concept nouns. Words ending in -het are excellent additions to your intermediate and advanced vocabulary lists.

An Old Swedish suffix, –het was adopted from German’s -heid and English’s -hood. Because -het is a noun-forming suffix, it is able to shift the word’s meaning and part of speech. For example, the adjective vilsen means lost. Adding the suffix -het changes the word to vilsenhet, or forlornness. 

The most common endings associated with -het is -ity or -ty

nödvändig → nödvändighet
necessary → necessity

ärlig → ärlighet
honest → honesty

Once the noun has been created, it takes the Swedish article en and is declined in this way: 

stillhet → stillheten → stillheter → stillheterna
stillness → the stillness → stillnesses → the stillnesses

Overarching vocabulary pertaining to society, systems, politics, and philosophy, sort of “big picture” nouns, use the -het suffix. Many of them are also collective nouns:

allmänhet → general public

jämlikhet → equality

jämställdhet → equality, often refers to gender equality specifically

mänsklighet → humanity

svenskhet → Swedishness

myndighet → authority

medvetenhet → consciousness 

enhet  → unit / entity part of a bigger system, can also be used for “unity” 

helhet → in its entirety, wholeness

Egenskaper (characteristics) can be transformed into virtues or vices using -het. When doing this, the base form of the adjective is used (the form associated with en-category nouns), before adding the suffix. For example, the Swedish adjective independent, självständig, has a form for en, ett, and plural nouns:

en-category       ett-category nouns        plural nouns 
självständig            självständigt                      självständiga

We take the base form självständig, add -het, and pang, we’ve got självständighet (independence). As the Swedes would say, “lätt som en plätt”, “easy as pancakes.” 😉   More examples are as follows: 

dum → dumhet
dumb stupidity

fientlig → fientlighet
hostile → hostility

försiktig → försiktighet
careful → caution

girig → girighet
greedy → greed

ödmjuk → ödmjukhet
humble → humility

god  → godhet
good → benevolence

Are you having fun shifting parts of speech with -het? Oftentimes, -het nouns are associated with both a verb and a noun, like these:

stor → large förstora → to increase size storhet → magnitude
blek → pale blekna → to fade  blekhet → pale/blandness
verklig → real/actual förverkliga → to materialize verklighet → reality
säker → certain försäkra → to assure säkerhet → certainty 

Next week is the first post of the month, none other than the music blog! I won’t tell you which song we’re studying, but I will say that these three -het words are in the first verse:

  1. bitterhet
  2. verklighet 
  3. äftlighet

Hmm… which song will it be?! Stay tuned!

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.