Verb comes second

One of the major issues with learning Swedish, especially for English speakers, is word order in sentences. People nearly fluent still sometimes make word order mistakes in Swedish, and for beginners this is really difficult to get your head around. These kinds of mistakes sound pretty ugly to Swedes: no native Swede would do this, so it is a very obvious clue that someone is not Swedish.

Compare these two sentences in English:

1. I eat breakfast at 8 o’clock.

2. At 8 o’clock I eat breakfast.

In number 1, the time (at 8 o’clock) is placed in the end. In number 2, the time is placed in the beginning. Regardless of if you place it in the beginning or the end, the “core sentence” (I eat breakfast / subject-verb-object) remains the same in terms of word order.

Now look at the same sentence in Swedish:

1. Jag äter frukost klockan 8.

2. Klockan 8 äter jag frukost.

From an English perspective, this looks odd. In number 1, the time is placed in the end, just like in the English version. But in number 2, something happens when the time is placed in the beginning. The word order of the “core sentence” has changed (äter jag frukost / verb-subject-object).

Instead of trying to remember to speak the core sentence backwards, many find it easier to think about the positioning of the verb: the verb comes second. Look at these sentences again:

1. Jag äter frukost klockan 8. (subject-verb-object-time)

2. Klockan 8 äter jag frukost. (time-verb-subject-object)

In both sentences, the verb comes in the second position. And when I say second position, I do not mean that the verb is the second word. Time expressions, like klockan 8 in the example above, can be short one-word expressions (först, sedan, nu, ibland), two word combinations (på kvällen, i går, nästa vecka) or even longer (klockan fem i halv nio på måndag morgon). However long or short they are, they are all time expressions. And if you start a sentence with them, then the verb must come in second position after the time expression.

The same also happens with place expressions. They can be short (här, där, hemma), longer (i Sverige, hemma hos oss, på jobbet) or really long (på soffan i vardagsrummet hemma hos oss i Nottingham). Regardless, if you start a sentence with a place expression, verb must come in second position, just like with time expressions.

A good way to practice this, is to actually alter the rhythm in which you speak. I have noticed that many English speakers have a natural rhythm when they speak these kind of sentences in English. It goes something like this:

“Yesterday I………. stayed up late.”

“This weekend we……..’re going away.”

“Tomorrow I…………. finish work early.”

The time/place and subject are said in one breath, followed by a natural pause while finding the verb, and then the sentence continues. If you apply the same rhythm while speaking Swedish, you end up in trouble. And once you’ve got to the verb, the damage has already been done – the word order is incorrect.

Instead, practice making the pause immediately after the time or place expression, and look for the verb. Then add the subject, and then continue. Like this:

“I morgon……(look for the verb)……….. jobbar jag… hela dagen.”

“I helgen……..(look for the verb)………. ska vi… åka till London.”

“I köket……….(look for the verb)………. finns det… en extra stol.”

If you practice this slightly different flow and rhythm in your speaking, you’ll get into a new way of constructing your sentences, and it will become easier to do it correctly.

Lycka till!

The Plate Spinner

When I talk about the process of language learning with my learners, I often refer to the concept of a plate spinner. I use this metaphor because I think it captures very well the process of language learning.

Some think of the process as building a house (laying a solid foundation, adding brick upon brick, adding new floors on top of each other). The problem with this notion, is that it assumes that you need a solid and sturdy foundation before you can add any more on to it (to prevent it from coming crashing down). And what this usually means, in practical terms for language learners, is a sense that they must remember everything they have learnt so far, in order to move onto something new. “I don’t dare to start a new chapter, because I cannot immediately recall everything I learnt in the previous chapter.” This, I believe, is not a useful language learning strategy, as the learner will develop unnecessary anxieties relating to short-term memory failure, and an impossible ambition to be able to recall every single word in the new language vocabulary (often without any context). A bit like a computer.

Instead, a much more constructive analogy is that of a plate spinner. The plates can represent the different language skills (speaking, reading, listening, writing, grammatical knowledge), and the spinner is the learner. The goal is to spin all the plates as evenly as possible, at the same time. Of course, sometimes a plate spinner may focus on one or two particular plates, which results in another plate beginning to slow down and wobble. But the plate spinner turns their attention to that plate, gives it a little bit of a spin to stabilise it, and things are ok again. And it is ok for plates to be a bit wobbly sometimes. It may just be because you have focused hard on something else for a while. All you have to do is to identify the plate (speaking, listening, or whatever it may be), give it a bit of a spin, and just keep on going. As long as all the plates are spinning in some shape or form, then things are going just fine.

Andrew Van Buren, a famous plate spinner

Språkkänsla: var eller vart?

One thing that can be a bit confusing with Swedish adverbs, is that they can imply location, direction as well as origin. Most may recognise that there are two words for where – var eller vart – but it can be tricky to remember how to use them. Here is a table where you can compare the words, according to location, direction and origin.

One way of remembering these, is to attach them to certain verbs. For example, only use the direction or origin (movement) ones with verbs that indicate movement: åker, går, kommer (actually), kör – as well as of course any two verb constructions with these verbs (ska/måste/kan åka etc).

It is worth noticing that we can sometimes completely skip the movement related verb, in what would normally be a two verb construction. The help verb + the movement indicating adverb is enough!

Quick guide to Swedish weddings

One of my students, who has been to numerous Swedish weddings, have written this useful quick guide to Swedish weddings, which she has kindly agreed for me to share. Pictures by 

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Swedish Wedding Traditions

  • Swedish weddings can be quite different to British weddings. So here’s your quick guide to Swedish traditions!

    1. The bride and groom walk up the aisle together at the beginning of the ceremony. A bride walking in with her father is considered very old-fashioned. Some do have bridesmaids, though.

    2. At the reception, if lots of people tap their glasses, it doesn’t mean they want to make speeches. It means they want the bride and groom to kiss.

    3. You’ll often receive a booklet at the reception with details about each guest, plus some fun bits about the couple, and song lyrics.

    4. Toastmasters will introduce each speech at the reception. All ten or twelve of them…

    5. What happens on tour may not stay on tour. Because the hens and the stags will be giving a speech about each trip, and photos can (should?) be involved!

    6. There will be songs. But don’t worry, there will be alcohol too.

    7. There will be games. Mostly poking fun at the bride and groom. Audience participation (if only in the form of cheering) is mandatory.

    8. If the bride leaves the room during the reception meal, all the women in the room must run up to the groom and kiss him on the cheek (just the cheek, please!). Ditto if the groom leaves the room, all the men must kiss the bride. Not sure what the origins are of this tradition…

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Swedish vs. British weddings

One of my students, who has been to numerous Swedish weddings, has written this brilliant (and, of course, subjective) reflection on Swedish vs British weddings, which she has kindly agreed for me to share. Pictures (apart from last one) by 

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Swedish vs. British Weddings

  • The Ceremony

    In the UK: A church ceremony typically lasts up to an hour and includes several hymns, the vows, the exchange of rings, signing the register, a sermon from the priest, several readings from the bible (or perhaps a poem or two), and procession from the church. The bride walks down the aisle with her Dad, with a few bridesmaids following after. Only once they’re married do the bride and groom walk back out of the church together.

    Best bit: when the priest says “you may now kiss the bride”, everyone claps and cheers

    In Sweden: A church ceremony is usually only 25-30 minutes and includes songs, a soloist singing a song to the couple, the vows, exchange of rings, and procession from the church. Unlike in the UK, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together at both the beginning and end of the ceremony, and there aren’t usually any bridesmaids.

    Best bit: the soloist, particularly if they sing anything by Beyonce

    Who wins?  The UK

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  • After the ceremony

    In the UK: Everyone congregates outside the church and throws confetti over the happy couple! OK, it’s more likely that we huddle inside the church because it’s raining outside. But this does give us an opportunity to talk about the ceremony and (hopefully) give a hug to the bride and groom.

    Best bit: whenever it’s not raining

    In Sweden: Everyone congregates outside the church and throws confetti over the happy couple. Then we get into a long queue to hug and say a few words to the bride and groom (this is compulsory).

    Best bit: hugging and kissing!

    Who wins? Both traditions are essentially the same, so it’s a tie.

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  • The Reception

    In the UK: We sit down for a civilized three-course meal. At some point (usually during or just after dessert), we have three speeches: the father of the bride, the best man and the groom. Although it’s not forbidden for other people to make speeches, in reality, no one else ever does. The meal is usually over in around 1.5 hours, but that’s only if the speeches don’t drag on for an hour…

    Best bit: you can eat your food uninterrupted (this will make sense shortly)

    In Sweden: Wow… where to start. First of all, you can forget sitting down to a meal for a mere 1.5 hours. Oh no. We have 10 or 12 speeches to get through! So plan to sit down for at least four hours and probably five. Those speeches will include the three in the British tradition, but also friends, other relatives, the men’s stags, the bride’s hens… (yes, women can make speeches too!). However, the good news is that all these speeches are relatively short and (usually) very funny. Especially the stags. But why stop there? We also sing songs and sometimes we play games, too.

    Best bit: when the bride leaves the room (a toilet break is essential during a marathon reception meal), all the women in the room usually run up to the groom and kiss him on the cheek. Ditto for the men who must kiss the bride when the groom leaves the room.

    Who wins? Let’s face it, Sweden wins this one hands down.

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  • Party Time

    In the UK: After the reception meal, we start the real purpose of the night: drinking. Having a certain amount of alcohol in us is essential for us to be able to dance. And then we rock the dancefloor until… ooh, maybe 11pm or midnight. Yeah!

    Best bit: The drinking. Obviously.

    In Sweden: Now, this would be near-identical, were it not for the fact that we’ve just been sitting down eating and drinking for FIVE HOURS. So we are pretty drunk already. Yes, we hit the bar, but we get on the dancefloor pretty quickly. And then we dance to a combination of euro-pop, swedish pop (ABBA, the song that won Eurovision a few years ago, etc), Swedish folk songs, and a few global chart-toppers until 2 or 3am.

    Best bit: ABBA. Obviously.

    Who wins? The UK for the music, Sweden for the late-night finish.

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This weekend and the next, there will be kosläpp on many farms in Sweden. This is a rather lovely event, where the farms let the cows out for the summer. Not surprisingly, the cows are very happy about it – and they show it too! They turn into playful little puppies!

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The event has become a real attraction, and many farms are already fully booked in terms of audience capacity.

Here are some of the Arla farms schedules for this weekend and the next: