v33: gärna

One small phrase I can’t quite come to terms with is Betala gärna med mynt. It appears on the little boxes at supermarket checkouts where you are supposed to insert coins. In general, gärna = willingly, gladly, with pleasure. So it’s like the coin machine is asking you to be happy. My colleagues suggest that please is an appropriate translation for gärna in this instance, so Please pay with coins is the literal translation, whereas I would prefer Please insert coins here. But here are a couple more examples of gärna in use:


Both of these examples seem to be saying that you can do this (borrow an IKEA catalogue or pay by credit card) if you want to, whereas the supermarket staff aren’t giving you a choice: you’re obliged to put coins in the little box.

Of course, gärna is related to the English yearn, and the original (Germanic) meaning seems to derive from wanting to do something.

Apart from its translation, gärna is interesting because it’s a sentential adverb (it modifies the whole sentence), and because it has irregular comparative and superlative forms:

gärna; hellre; helst
willingly; more willingly; most willingly

In case you’re wondering, the usage is something like this:

Han dricker hellre öl än vin
He prefers (drinking) beer to wine

Finally, here is a useful phrase for you, using gärna and kunna, to be able (which has present tense kan and preterite kunde) :

kan/kunde lika gärna…
might/could just as well…

Here are some examples:

Kan lika gärna sälja ringmuren
Might just as well sell the city walls

Jag kan lika gärna gå och dö
I might just as well go and die

Vi kunde lika gärna aldrig nånsin mötts
We could just as easily have never ever met

(The last being lyrics from the Lisa Ekdahl song, Vem Vet)

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 16:08  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t remember how I ended up here, but I would like to thank you for the interesting things you post! I learn a lot of Swedish from them!


  2. hi! I would really like to get in touch, but I can’t find any contact info 😦

    Would be great if you could get in touch!

    • No problem: if you leave your contact details I will get in touch with you!

  3. In my opinion (native speaker), there is no difference in usage between “Betala gärna med kort” and “Betala gärna med mynt”. That is to say, the later does not in fact mean “Please insert coins here”, but rather “If you want to get rid of coins, please pay with them; this automatic box makes it easy for you (as well as for us) so there’s no reason to avoid it.”

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