v11: bli

Swedish, like English, has irregular verbs. However, in Swedish there is no person/number distinction for verbs, so it does seem as though life should be easier. As an example, consider that notoriously irregular verb, to be:

to be: I am; you are; she is
att vara: jag är; du är; hon är

However, there is a catch. In their fine book Swedish: An Essential Grammar (SAEG; 1st ed, p94), Holmes and Hinchliffe rather breathlessly state “No less than six Swedish verbs are used to translate different senses of the English verb ‘to be'” (I say ‘breathlessly because a number a English verbs can subsitute for ‘to be’). In addition to vara (present tense är; past tense var) they are referring to three verbs of location (sitta = sit; ligga = lie; stå = stand), as well as finnas and bli. Finnas (present tense finns) is typically used as equivalent to the English there is/are, as this example from SAEG shows:

I Uppsala finns det en domkyrka.
In Uppsala there is a cathedral.

Bli (present tense blir; past tense blev) is a bit more tricky – it refers to a change in state of some sort. Sometimes become could be substituted. This is easy enough to see when referring to a future event:

Hon blir tio år imorgon.
She will be/turn ten tomorrow.

But not so simple when talking about past events:

Vad blev resultatet?
What was the result?

Contrast:

Hur var vädret?
What was the weather?

Norstedts has the following usage examples for bli:

bli avrättad = be executed
bli överkörd = get run over
bli civiliserad = become civilized

Which, as a list of alternatives, is either someone making a deliberate joke or an insight into the mind of a lexicographer.

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Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 14:58  Comments (2)  
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