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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v35: skilsmässa

The word mässa in Swedish means either a (religious) mass or a (trade-) fair. The etymologies are connected, markets often being held in connection with important days in the church calendar. However I was a bit puzzled by skilsmässa (divorce), which is derived from skilja (to separate) + mässa.

My sources give the origin of skilsmässa as a mass held at the end of a meeting, that, is some kind of separation ceremony.  However in connection with this etymology Norstedt’s uses the word troligen (probably), whereas SAOB says both omtvistat (disputed) and möjl[igen] (possibly). So you be the judge…

The word brassy in English has a sense of cheap and flashy, which apparently dates from the 1800s, as opposed to the related sense debased, which is cited in the 1500s. Both meanings relate to the contrast between brass and gold. English brass = Swedish mässing, which is quite unrelated to mässa but I’m including it here because in researching mässa I found the expression i bara mässingen (completely naked). Unlike the English use, there is no reference to gold here. Instead, the expression refers to silver-coated brass objects, where the silver has worn off, allowing the brass beneath to be seen.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 12:15  Leave a Comment  
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v34: farlig

You may be surprised to know that Swedish has no word for grandfather. Instead, one must choose between farfar (paternal grandfather) and morfar (maternal grandfather). The same same pattern is true for other kinship terms, such as morbror (uncle; mother’s brother) and systerdotter (niece; sister’s daughter). As far as I can work out from Wiktionary, other languages that have distinct words for maternal and paternal grandfathers are Norwegian (but not Danish?), Thai, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Navajo.

Right next to far (father, shortened form of fader) in the dictionary is fara (danger). By now you should be able to guess that farlig is the adjective derived from fara. The two words, far and fara, have unrelated etymologies, which means they ought to be a good source of puns. And here is one: the forthcoming film Dumma Mej (Swedish version of Despicable Me) has the following line in its advertising:

En del kallar honom farlig. De kallar honom far.
Some call him dangerous. They call him Dad.

So it’s true: making puns in Swedish is just like doing it in English. And in case you’re wondering, fatherly = faderlig.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 13:18  Leave a Comment  
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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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v32: jätte

In Norse mythology, giants feature at both creation (the frost giant Ymir was the first living creature), and at the end of the world, Ragnarök, which features a great battle between the gods and the giants. In Swedish, giant = jätte (old Norse jotunn), and the word is thought to be cognate with äta, to eat, thus meaning a being who eats a lot.

The usual translation of very in Swedish is mycket:

mycket bra = very good

This word is regarded in both English and Swedish as an adverb, in this 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 prefixed onto the word it modifies:

jättebra/jättefin = very good, terrific
jätterolig = very funny
jätteglad = very happy
jättesnygg = gorgeous

I’m sure you’ve noticed the posts have been slowing down a little, sometimes both in frequency and size, but I’m hoping to persist for at least a little longer. To all of you who’ve read thus far:

Tack så jättemycket!

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 17:14  Comments (3)  
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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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