v15: ibland

There are a number of Swedish time-related words which are derived from a two-word construction involving the preposition i (in). Examples are idag (today), igår (yesterday), ikväll (tonight), imorgon (tomorrow), and imorse (this morning). The adverb ibland (sometimes) is related: it is derived from i + bland (among).

Adverbs are tricky parts of speech; you were probably told that adverbs modify verbs, and that the typical adverb in English is derived from an adjective by adding -ly. In Swedish, the corresponding rule is that the adverb is formed from the adjective by adding -t, making it identical to the neuter form of the adjective:

He walks slowly.
Han går långsamt.

But there are also adverbs (“sentential adverbs”), both in English and Swedish, that modify the sentence as a whole:

He never walks.
Han går aldrig.

I’m interested in the adverbs which describe frequency of occurrence, such as: alltid (always), ofta (often), ibland (sometimes), sällan (seldom), and aldrig (never). In Swedish, sentential adverbs follow the main verb in main clauses, but precede the verb in subordinate clauses. Note how träffas (meet) and aldrig swap positions in these examples:

Vi träffas aldrig.
We never meet.

Hon säger att de aldrig träffas.
She says that they never meet.

For some reason, ibland doesn’t fit this pattern (alltid, ofta, and sällan behave like aldrig):

Jag går aldrig på bio.
I never go to the cinema.
Jag går på bio ibland.

Han säger att han aldrig går på bio.
Han säger att han går på bio ibland.

Which made me think “crazy Swedish language”; but then I thought about how it works in English:

I always/never/sometimes cycle to work.
*Always/*Never/Sometimes I cycle to work.
I cycle to work ?always/*never/sometimes.

(Where the * means it’s ungrammatical for me, and the ? means it sounds odd; you may have a different opinion. You could also consider how often would fit into this pattern.) So, “crazy English language” also.

On a lighter note, I just learned that the Swedish for the @ symbol is snabel-a, where snabel is trunk (of an elephant) or proboscis. Cute or what?

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 14:42  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] case an adverb modifying an adjective, rather than a verb (or even a whole sentence, as I described earlier). But the word jätte is also commonly used as an intensifier, in which case, unlike mycket, it is […]

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