74: rädd

The adjective rädd = afraid, scared, and is inflected as follows:

common: rädd
neuter: rätt
plural: rädda

However, according to Språkrådet, the neuter form, rätt, is rarely used.

Rädd is used in the following constructions:

rädd för = scared of something
rädd att
+infinitive = scared of doing something
rädd för att +infinitive = scared to do something:

rädd för kärleken
afraid of love
rädd att flyga
fear of flying
rädd för att misslyckas
scared to fail

The inflections of rädd are also words in themselves. Rätt means both right (the adjective correct, and the noun, a legal right), and a dish or course at a meal.

The Swedish charity Rädda Barnen has nothing to do with scared children, but is Save the Children, where rädda = save, rescue, and räddare = rescuer.

One last word for you: nöd = need, distress; so:

en hjälpare i nöden
a friend in need

So, how do you translate the following?

Räddaren i nöden

Would you believe:

The Catcher in the Rye

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 02:16  Comments (2)  
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v42: blinka

Swedish doesn’t appear to have separate words for blink (closing both eyes for a short time) and wink (closing just one eye): blinka covers both meanings. However, Swedish does have a word, blunda, meaning to shut one’s eyes. Blinka and blunda belong to separate word groupings, both of which are interesting:

Blinka words (root meaning: to shine):

blinka (verb) blink, wink
blank (adj) bright, shining / blanka (verb) polish
blek (adj) pale / bleka (verb) bleach
blick (noun) glance

A very common word is ögonblick (moment), not an eye-blink as I originally thought, but an eye-glance.

Blunda words (root meaning: unclear):

blunda (verb) shut one’s eyes
blind (adj) blind
blända (verb) blind, dazzle

Note also the particle verb blända av: in theory meaning darken or dim, but used particularly to mean dip one’s headlights (example here).

Blinka also means twinkle, as in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, the nursery rhyme written in 1806 by Jane Taylor, and a great one for students of Swedish: you can learn vocabulary, pronounciation and grammar, all in a few short lines (I’ll leave the translation up to you):

Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är
Fjärran lockar du min syn
lik en diamant i skyn
Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 14:46  Comments (1)  
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v41: fingo

An odd one this week. Do you even think fingo is a real Swedish word? It doesn’t look Swedish, and you can test this by searching for *ingo in Norstedts. The results are bingo, dingo, and flamingo, all clearly loan words. A search for fingo in online resources finds no hits, except for Norstedts, which returns the entry for the auxiliary verb , with no mention of fingo. What’s going on here?

Fingo is an old Swedish word, apparently too old to appear in online dictionaries. Back in those old days, Swedish had a plural form of the verb in its various tenses. Remember that I said Modern Swedish dates from 1526, and Late Modern Swedish from 1732, so how old is too old? Surprisingly, only the early 1900s, according to Holmes and Hinchliffe, and even as late as 1945 in more formal writing. That doesn’t seem so long ago to me. See the reference for a more complete discussion, but here are a couple of examples you might want to look out for, particularly if reading religious texts (which fit into the more formal category). The first person plural imperative ends in -om, and the second person plural imperative in -en/n:

Låtom oss bedja.
Let us pray.

Bedjen och eder varda givet.
Ask and it shall be given to you.

As for fingo, it is the irregular plural form of fick, the past tense of the already irregular verb . Similarly, the even-harder-to-find gingo is the plural of gick, the past tense of .

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 09:05  Comments (1)  
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v40: vore

I’d like to finish off talking about verbs with a couple of strange verbs that you might come across. The first relates to my earlier discussion about modality. Specifically, I want to talk about the subjunctive mood, which is about possibility. It’s related to the optative mood, which is about expressing a wish. As I mentioned earlier, in English and Swedish, grammatical mood is usually expressed with modal verbs. In other languages however (for example, Romance languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portugese and French) there are specific subjunctive forms of the main verb. This is much less common in Germanic languages, but there is at least one good example of the subjunctive in both English and Swedish.

In English, I find the following acceptable (although it may not be in all dialects):

If I were you, I’d keep quiet.

In this example, were is the subjunctive form of the verb, expressing a hypothetical situation; “I were” is otherwise ungrammatical. I think the above construction is pretty widely acceptable, but what do you think of the following alternatives:

If I were rich, I’d buy a new car.
If I was rich, I’d buy a new car.

Even if you prefer was, it’s still subjunctive, since it’s not referring to an event in the past, the normal use of was.

In Swedish, the common example is the verb vore, the subjunctive of vara, to be, which has a somewhat broader range of use than the English equivalent, expressing hypotheticals and also politeness forms. Note that alternative expressions exist also in Swedish:

Om jag vore (var) rik…
If I were (was) rich…

Jag vore glad om du kom.
I would be happy if you came.

Det vore (skulle vara) trevligt.
That would be nice.

Other Swedish examples are genarally so-called fixed expressions, such as Leve konungen! (Long live the King!).

Next time, some odd Swedish verbs you may never have known existed.

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 17:13  Comments (3)  
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v39: flyttas

Here’s a test for you. Is each of the s-forms in the examples and photos below, passive or deponent?

1. Cyklar flyttas
2. Se och synas
3. …Firefox startas



1. Cyklar flyttas = Bicycles are being moved. Passive. You might think it is a deponent, and translate as Bicycles are moving, but flyttar means move as in move location. Inanimate objects don’t move of their own accord, they get moved. People, however, can both move and be moved:

Vi flyttas = We are being moved
Vi flyttar = We are moving


2. Se och synas = See and appear. Deponent. Optician. Just remember the list of deponent verbs.

3. …Firefox startas = …Firefox is started. Passive. This is a bit trickier, because …Firefox starts is an equally good translation. However, it seems that in Swedish, computer programs (for example) don’t start, they get started.

Enough of s-forms (for now). I hope they’re starting to make a little more sense to you!

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 10:05  Comments (3)  
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v38: minnas

Wikipedia says that a deponent verb is active in meaning, but passive in form. The University of Surrey describes deponency more generally as a mismatch between morphology and morphosyntax. That is, a mismatch between form and function. There is a fairly accessible paper by Matthew Baerman which goes into more details.

The active/passive verb contrast is the archetypal example of deponency thanks to Latin, but it is alive and well in, of all languages, modern Swedish. And perhaps even more interestingly, not in Danish and Norwegian. Let me show you what I mean:

Jag minns att jag gjorde det.
I remember that I did it.

In the above sentence, minns is clearly functioning as an active verb (subject = agent), but is an s-form; the normal active form would be minnar, which doesn’t exist. Note, however, that minnas (the s-form infinitive) covers only part of the meaning of English remember: to remember something in the past, or to reminisce. To remember a specific thing in the present, use komma ihåg or glömma inte (don’t forget).

Deponent verbs take a bit of getting used to. Fortunately, the list of deponent verbs is quite short, but unfortunately, some of them are rather common, so you’re just going to have to do some learning. Here’s a partial list:

andas = to breathe
hoppas = to hope
kräkas = to vomit
låtsas = to pretend
minnas = to remember
synas = to appear
trivas = to like it
trängas = to crowd

It’s hard to generalise about the deponent verbs, these examples give an idea of the diversity of ways in which they are used:

Minnas can behave just like a normal active verb:

Jag minns min gamla cykel.
I remember my old bicycle.

Hoppas and låtsas are modal equivalents (followed by the bare infinitive, remember?):

Pilot låtsas svimma
Pilot pretends to faint

Trängas has an active pair, tränga:

Vi fick trängas i bussen.
We were crowded together in the bus.
Försökte tränga bil av vägen
Attempted to push car off the road

Got all that? Well, then, next post we’d better have a little test…

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 11:33  Leave a Comment  
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v37: kyssas

Following on from the previous post, what do you think of the following:

Ida met Lars.

It’s clear that Ida is the subject and Lars the object, but what about the semantic roles? If Ida and Lars are meeting each other, it’s difficult to assign agent and patient roles to one or the other:

Ida and Lars met (each other).

Verbs such as this are reciprocal verbs, and it’s simple enough (because of what we know about grammatical voice) to see the connection with passives. And in fact, Swedish does use the s-form of the verb for reciprocal constructions:

Ida and Lars meet every Monday.
Ida och Lars träffas varje måndag.

But compare this very similar expression, which uses the plain form of the verb:

Ida and Lars meet each other every Monday.
Ida och Lars träffar varandra varje måndag.

Reciprocal verbs include träffas (meet), enas (agree), kramas (hug), höras (be in touch), kyssas (kiss), brottas (wrestle), and slåss (fight). A particularly common expression involves ses:

Vi ses (senare / på måndag)!
See you (later / on Monday)!

There are s-forms for the infinitive, present, past, and supine. In most but not all cases they are formed by adding -s to the corresponding plain form of the verb. For example, here is the conjugation paradigm for kyssa/kyssas, a type IIb verb:

plain s-form
infinitive kyssa kyssas
present kysser kysses
past kysste kysstes
supine kysst kyssts

I hope you’re getting to understand (and maybe even like) s-forms, because there’s more to come. Vi ses!

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 16:36  Leave a Comment  
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v36: slopas

Grammar is the set of rules that govern the structure of sentences, whereas semantics refers to the meaning of the sentence. In grammatical terms, verbs have subjects and objects, whereas in semantic terms, verbs have agents and patients (and more). The relationship between the grammar and the semantics of verbs is called voice. With me so far? Here are some examples:

1. I am opening the door.
2. Ida is opening the door.
3. Ida is opening the doors.

4. The door is opened by me.
5. The door is opened by Ida.
6. The doors are opened by Ida.

In 1., I is the subject, door is the object. In 2. and 3., Ida is the subject, door/doors is the object. You can see this because English has (limited) subject-verb agreement, so am/is changes when the subject changes, but not when the object changes. By similar reasoning, one can see that in 4., 5. and 6., door/doors is the subject and me/Ida is the object. But all these sentences describe the same action: a person opens a door. Semantically, the person is the agent of the verb, and the door is the patient. In 1., 2. and 3., agent = subject, so the verb is in the active voice, while in 4., 5. and 6., patient = subject, so the verb is in the passive voice.

As demonstrated above, English has a periphrastic passive, that is, the passive is formed by the use of additional words. This gives you a clue that something different is going on. Compare different ways of expressing the past in English:

7. Ida opened the door.
8. Ida did open the door.

7. is a grammatical past tense, whereas 8. is a periphrastic past.

As with English, Swedish also has a periphrastic passive:

Dörren blir öppnad (av Ida).
The door was opened (by Ida).

But the commonest way of forming the passive in Swedish is by using the s-form of the verb:

Dörren öppnas.
The door is opened.

Dörren öppnades.
The door was opened.

I find the s-form confusing because it looks just like an English 3rd person singular present tense (as if I am expecting to see an English word in the middle of a Swedish sentence; then again I find the Swedish present tense confusing because it reminds me of a French infinitive). So in the following example, from a letter I received from Transportstyrelsen, I initially thought the kontrollmärke (car registration sticker is a close as I can get) was doing something, whereas it is in fact the semantic patient:

Kontrollmärke slopas
Registration sticker is abolished

You’ll note I’ve called it the s-form rather than the passive form. That’s because the s-form of the verb has a whole lot of other interesting uses, more about which in the very near future.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 12:26  Comments (1)  
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v31: inställd

I received an email last week that football training was inställd. Norstedts wasn’t very helpful:

  • vara inställd beredd på ngt be prepared for sth
  • vara inställd på att (+ inf.) a) be prepared to + inf. b) ämna intend to + inf.
  • vara sympatiskt inställd till ngt be sympathetic towards…
  • vänligt inställd favourably (kindly) disposed; jfr äv. inställa, ställa in

That is, not even a definition for inställd, just a series of set phrases to demonstrate usage.

Swedish has many compound verbs, that is, words formed by prefixing another word (which may be a noun, adjective, verb, or other prefix) onto a verb. To start with, I’m just looking at a group of prefixes called particles. There are inseparable particles, which are always prefixed, for example, tyda = to interpret, as in the online dictionary tyda.se. Add be- and you have betyda = to mean. Inseparable particles include:

an- anklaga to accuse
er- erbjuda to offer
sam- samarbeta to cooperate
van- vansköta to neglect

But there are also separable particles, such as:

sätta på to switch on
om tycka om to like
ihåg komma ihåg to remember

And some particles are used both ways, in which case, apparently, the separated form has the more concrete meaning:

Han strök under ordet.
He underlined the word.

Han underströk ordet.
He emphasised the word.

Lampan lyste upp rummet.
The lamp lit up the room.

Vi upplyste honom.
We enlightened him.

Which brings me back to inställd. It’s the past participle of inställa, a compound verb which is a cognate to the English verb install, but see if you can figure out the connection between inställa and the separated compound ställa in:

ställa in
to put in
ställa in bilen i garaget
put the car in the garage

to cancel
inställa förhandlingarna
discontinue negotiations

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 14:42  Comments (1)  
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v28: häpna

There seem to me to be an awful lot of hairdressers in Sweden. Or rather, hairdressing establishments. An article in Occupational And Environmental Medicine says there are “about 19 000 hairdressers in Sweden, of whom 80–90% are women and most are self-employed, working in small salons”. I don’t know how this compares to other countries, maybe you can help me on this?

Of linguistic concern is that most hairdressers can’t seem to find a better name for their shop than frisör (hairdresser). However, we have a local hairdresser called hår och häpna. Hår (hair) is obvious, but it took me a long time to look up häpna = be amazed. I was! Hair and be amazed? It’s actually a pun on the phrase hör och häpna, literally listen and be amazed, Norstedts says wait for it, I’m sure you get the idea.

But it’s also a chance to talk about inchoative verbs. These are verbs that describe either a transition or the start of a transition. They’re not such a big feature of English, but some examples are to age, and verbs ending in -en, such as to redden, to lighten, to lengthen.

In the June 2008 issue of Språk, Fredrik Lindström (also here) wrote an article about Swedish inchoative verbs. Essentially, these verbs end in -na, are generally derived from adjectives, and often have other verbal counterparts:

blek (adjective) = pale
bleka (transitive verb) = to bleach
blekna (inchoative verb) = to turn pale

Lindström argues that this is somewhat of a productive process, so you can make up new verbs from old adjectives, and know just what they mean:

ful = ugly
fulna = to become ugly

Why not give it a try? Here’s mine: kändna.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 16:02  Leave a Comment  
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