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 (3)  
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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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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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