Something Swedish

Language Lesson


One of the most interesting things about being in Sweden is learning the language. My school has been closed and I go to New York the day after it opens, which means no Swedish classes for me for 6 weeks. I will have to study more and use the language on my own. Since this is a big concern of mine and is on my mind, I decided to go through my notes and see what I can share about what I’ve learned so far.

Something people should know about Swedish is that it a very particular and specific language, there are a lot of details, rules, and reasons that really make learning the language difficult but interesting. A lot of things cannot simply be translated. Many phrases or words are just said differently. There are words in both languages that simply don’t exist in the other. Letting go of needing to “translate” instead of just learning is the first step.


When I tried to say “We will see” in Swedish as “Vi ska se” My husband corrected me: “vi får se.” Which technically means: “We receive sight.”

And when I tried to tell me friend that “I’ll find out” as “Ja ska hitta ut” She corrected me: “Jag ska ta reda” Which word for word translates to  “I will take clarity

Despite the words being different and seeming odd to an English speaker- the meanings are the same.


“He is kissing his wife” Sounds like  a straight forward sentence in English – in Swedish they add a question, ‘Whose wife?”

His OWN wife, or his wife (that guy over there). Suddenly the sentence is scandalous!

Swedish clears this up by using more possessive language than  English.

“Han kysser sin fru” =  He is kissing his own wife.

“Han kysser hans fru” = He is kissing the wife of that other guy.

This applies everywhere – if an action is being done to someone, you have to be careful to be specific. Usually the confusion is more humorous than scandalous like accidentally saying your friend is brushing someone else’s teeth instead of her own, or your husband is shaving someone else’s beard instead of his own.


When translating “Grandfather” and “Grandmother” to Swedish, you would need more information.

Nothing can be lost or confused when you talk about your grandparents in Swedish- your grandfather is either your mothers father or your fathers father. Your grandmother is either your mothers mother or your fathers mother.

“Morfar, Farfar, Mormor, Farmor.”

The language leaves no questions, which sometimes come up in English – “On your mothers side or your fathers side?” It’s already in the name.


To think, to think. or to THINK?

In English we would say the following sentences:

“I think we should go on vacation” (Opinion)

“I think it will rain tomorrow” (Belief)

“I was thinking of you” (Thought)

In Swedish you specify the intent of the word “think,” instead of it being implied.

“Jag tycker att vi ska åka på semester” (It is my opinion that we should go on vacation)

“Jag tror att det kommer regna i morgon” (I believe it will rain tomorrow)

“Jag tänker på dig” (I was thinking of you)

These three different terms were confusing and easy to mix up at first, but it is now easy to make the connections and understand the why and when. It fills in gaps I didn’t know were there.


“I will miss you!”  and “You will be fine!” are perfectly normal sentiments in English, but in Swedish you must  keep in mind that you don’t actually know if you will miss someone or if they will be fine. It is a feeling or state of being in the future that you can not control.

“Will” in Swedish = Ska. But that word is not used in this context as myself and the rest of my class assumed.

Instead “kommer att” is used to portray the future: “I am going to miss you” “You are going to be better”

“Jag kommer att sakna dig!” “Du kommer att bli bra”


“I live with my husband” “I am shopping with her” “I have an appointment with the doctor”

While in English the word “with” can be used for all of these situations, in Swedish these sentences would be treated differently.

Most commonly “with” = med. But not always. If the situation is “there” and not “here” and/or “now” then the word used is “hos.” (I haven’t much experience with this, does anyone have a better explanation?)

“Jag bor med min man” “Jag handlar med henne” “Jag har en tid hos läkaren”


“I am here” “I drove here” “He is there” “We are walking there”

Location, location, location. NOT. Its not only where you are but where you are GOING. “Here” and “there” are not so simple in Swedish.  If mode of travel is involved, the word changes from “här” and “där” to “hit” and “dit.”

“Jag är här” “Jag körde hit” “Han är där” “Vi går dit


“He plays the piano” “She plays soccer” “The kids are playing in the sandbox”

In Swedish toddlers/young children do not “play” the same way one plays an instrument or a sport.

The common word for play in Swedish is “Spelar” but when you talk about young children playing, they specifically “Leker.” It’s a different type of playing.

“Han spelar piano” “Hon spelar fotboll”, “Barnen leker i sandlådan”


Every language has its nuances, it doesn’t make a language better or worse- just more complex to learn. When I point these things out to a native Swedish speaker the response is often a shrug, “I don’t know,” or “I never noticed or thought about it” We don’t reflect upon our own language, it is what it is. Learning Swedish makes me see how specific it is compared to English, but perhaps English is unspecific compared to many languages.

Any other examples of a language being very specific? Any corrections or further explanations to the ones I listed?


22 thoughts on “Language Lesson

  1. Amazing post, you have made so much progress with the swedish language!

  2. I enjoy your blog a lot. I am also a Swedish wife but we returned to the States 13 yrs ago and now ony summer in Skane. That said, we’re on our way back here so it’s time for me to properly learn Swedish. You’re spot on with your explanation of the “ska” issue…certainty/probability and the question of the future are so important with the language. Actually, your post is really helpful.

    One of my favorite words or language twists is around “gift”. I used to tell my husband I poisoned him because I could not figure out how to say “jag ar gift med dej”. I always found it odd that married (verb) and poison (noun) used “gift”. He never found it quite as interesting or confusing. I’m not sure I explained this well as I peck out this comment on an iPad but I hope so! Thanks again for your blog- it keeps me connected to the place I still call home.

    • Thank you! Your comment means a lot. I’m so happy my blog keeps you connected with Sweden. The “gift” word has always made me laugh as well, the connection between being married and poison is just too funny. Nice to meet you! Enjoy your Skane visit 🙂

  3. gaaahh. you’ve made my head hurt. hehe. i haven’t stopped to think about all the rules lately, i guess i’m just into them now. not that i say them all correctly all the time, or even half the time. i just talk now. but, to see all of those nuances & rules written down gave me a swedish headache. 😉 you’re doing great!!

    hope you have a great trip to the states!

    • haha, sorry to give you a Swedish headache! I think its fun to reflect upon the rules and grammar-but that is how I learn. I’m pretty jealous of people who can just talk without always tripping over the details! Thank you!

  4. I love love love this. Isn’t it fascinating how languages choose to make some distinctions more explicit than others? Fascinating and of course quite a pain in the neck to have to learn 🙂 You seem like your Swedish is getting very good! Thanks for the interesting notes!

  5. That’s an interesting post on an interesting subject! I teach both English and German and can see how much easier the English language is!
    German seems to be similarly difficult as Swedish, and I always fear the question WHY. You cannot explain every rule or every word. One student of mine, though, came up with a perfect explanation: “Because frogs have no hair.” That basically says it all: Why? Because.

  6. This is really cool! I hope I can pick up Swedish sometime, and when I do I’ll have to refer back here. I’m sure I’ll have the same issues as well.

    Right now I’m reteaching myself Latin, and it too is very specific. Each noun has several declensions that indicate which part of speech it functions as (subject, direct object, possessive, etc.). It’s VERY tidy, and it’s helped me with learning French as well because it’s taught me to think in the language I’m studying instead of trying to translate back and forth, which, as you pointed out, doesn’t work very well.

    • I was always a bit jealous that my only language choice available in school was Spanish and no Latin. It’s like.. the key to more languages! Although I don’t think I could handle more than this. If you start on Swedish let me know! Its pretty different than French and Latin though, since its Germanic. Good luck with your Latin!

      • Thanks! Yeah, I did French in high school and throughout college (my high school didn’t offer Latin), but I need to pick up another language for my PhD and since I study Renaissance, I figured Latin was the way to go. I will definitely let you know though- Swedish is pretty much the next one on my list!

  7. Such an interesting post! I’ve always been fascinated with languages and I’ve noticed the same differences between Swedish and English but the other way around since I’m swedish and learned english 😛
    I really enjoy checking in here several times a week to see if you’ve posted anything new 🙂
    Have a nice day in the rain! 😛

  8. What a fascinating post! I’d like to share it with my language teachers at school. American students struggle with Spanish, when they learn there are different verbs to express “to be.” Then, some states of being are expressing as “having” those states, as in “I have hunger.” But none of this is as confusing or specific as Swedish.

  9. Fascinating stuff, I must say.
    I have dabbled in languages for years but am fluent in only one language, English, though I can read the Scandinavian trio without much difficulty. Of course, to speak or write them is another matter.
    It seems to me that Norwegian is probably a little closer to Englishthan the other two but that is debatable.
    I have a Swedish penpal who writes in English and she sometimes sends me clippings from newspapers that keep me familiar with the language. However this has discontinued now we Email each other but she still sends stuff in Swedish via that medium, too.
    I am an Aussie and am bilingual in two dialects (if you can say that). My grandfather was Scottish who retired when I was a boy and came to live with our family. He spoke in Scots English dialect (Lallans) when he was with our family and taught me all the variations and slang. Of course, when he went
    ‘oot doon the toon” , he always spoke to people there in “normal: English with an accent of course.
    I noticed that since Scots as well as Scottish Gaelic are considered minority languages in UK now, there are actually Lallans sites on the net I can read and understand.
    It was also interesting find that there is a big connection between Lallans and the Scandinavian trio.
    I digress. Anyway – I love the blog. Take care.

  10. This is indeed very interesting, I love trying to translate things that doesn’t translate! 😀

    Regarding the “hos” problem – I’d say that “hos” is more like the English “at”. “Med” is used when you’re WITH someone/something.

    So, if I’m with Peter at any given location = “Jag är med Peter”
    If I’m with peter at his house = “Jag är hos peter”

    “Hos” when used with a person can usually be translated as “I’m with Xx [at his/hers place]”. You just don’t have to add that part!

    That’s why you say “at the doctor”, because you are referring to the place he is at, not who you are meeting!

    I think this may be a bit confusing, but I hope it will bring some clarity! 🙂

  11. Yes, “hos” is a tricky one. But well explained above. It means that you’re with that person at the place where that person would normally be. If you went to the movies with your doctor then you would be “med” the doctor, but if you go to the doctor’s surgery for a consultation then you are “hos” the doctor. Does your head in.

  12. One other thing regarding “hos”. I think it’s similar to “chez” in French as in “chez moi” (I am home). hos refers to a place in a similar way

  13. I’m just reading this and I love it! I was an exchange student in Lund for a semester and learning a bit of Swedish, I ran into the same things. For example I always wondered why do people say ‘sta[g]on’ (station) and ‘naT[g]on (nation)? When I asked swedish people they were like: oh.. I never noticed that! And I’m like: how could you not notice that, it’s practically the same word but you pronounce it differently! How!? haha

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