75: var

English used to have three words for where: where (location), whither (motion towards), and whence (motion from). Now we rely on context: Where are you going? clearly denotes motion towards, for example.

Swedish retains this three-way distinction for adverbs of motion, so that:

var = where (place)
vart = where (motion towards)
varifrån = where (motion from)

There’s a group of adverbs of motion that this applies to, here’s a partial list:

English location motion towards motion from
where var vart varifrån
here här hit härifrån
up uppe upp uppifrån
home hemma hem hemifrån

There are several more, you can look them up, but I’ll have some fun in showing you how they are used.

As you enter Uppsala, you are greeted by the saying

Välkommen hit; Välkommen hem:


So now you know this means

Welcome to here; Welcome to home.

The rest of the sign is also lovely:

Besök Fyrishov / Sveriges 4:e största besöksmål
Visit Fyrishov / Sweden’s 4th most popular place to visit

I’m sure my translation is rather loose, but here’s a good trivia question for you: what are the top 3?

I really like the Iranian-Swedish singer Laleh. Bjurö Klubb is a wonderful song, and if you understand the lyrics, the following video makes sense also. She’s having a conversation with a Blue Whale (blåval). The whale says:

Varje kväll du tänker högt och viftar armar
Every evening you’re thinking aloud and waving your arms

The cameraman zooms in on her hand to make sure we get the point?!? But what’s not to like about the way she pronounces viftar armar.

And then:

jag kan ta dig härifrån
I can take you away from here

Here’s the video:

Here’s an interesting way to learn some Swedish. This is Veronica Maggio singing Välkommen in. The line I’m interested in is:

Jag bor fyra trappor upp
I live four floors up

That makes sense now, I hope: this is definitely an example of motion towards.

Välkommen in!

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 13:11  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. First a small correction (since I often do proofreading): in the table “harifrån” should be “härifrån”.

    It is great to learn more Swedish from a non-Swede! 😉 I knew many Swedes have a problem with var/vart (and the distinction might even disappear in the future), but I had never thought about other adverbs having the same difference. One question remains for me though, where do vartåt/hitåt/uppåt/hemåt fit in? An example: “Vart ska du gå? – Hemåt.” (This answer for me means “towards home” while the answer “hem” would mean a more defined destination “home”.)

  2. Your blog is very helpful for me since I am learning Swedish. I never thought of comparing the var, vart, and varifran to where, whence, and whither. Being an English major I should have made that connection! Thanks!

  3. This blog is fabulous! Just a thought could the sign mean that Uppsala is the fourth largest place to visit? As it is the fourth largest city in Sweden that might have something to do with it. In any case it is a beautiful little city, just as your blog is a gem in my quest to learn Swedish. Tack så mycket!

  4. I am sorry you are no longer writing this blog. It is great fun, and interesting. I am an English teacher learning Swedish, and am very interested in words. I’m greatly enjoying your thoughts on some of them.

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