Swedish/Nouns

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Like English nouns, the Swedish nouns are declined according to number: they're either singular or plural. Unlike English, however, Swedish nouns are also declined according to article ("the car" versus "a car"). Instead of a definite article - "the" in the case of English - Swedish uses suffixes. We will see how this works later on.

Gender[edit]

The North Germanic languages, to which Swedish belongs, originally had three genders: masculine (maskulinum), feminine (femininum) and neuter (neutrum). However, as the language evolved, the first two were merged into a "real gender" (realgenus) or common (utrum). In practice, this means Swedish has what we might call two flavours of "it", which can complicate matters.


Common - gender neutral[edit]

  • en stol - a chair
  • stolen - the chair
  • en ny stol - a new chair
  • den nya stolen - the new chair
  • stolar - chairs
  • stolarna - the chairs
  • nya stolar - new chairs
  • de nya stolarna - the new chairs

Neuter[edit]

  • ett bord - a table
  • bordet - the table
  • ett nytt bord - a new table
  • det nya bordet - the new table
  • två bord - two tables
  • borden - the tables
  • nya bord - new tables
  • de nya borden - the new tables


The gender of a noun does not only affect the noun itself but also adjectives describing the noun, definite articles and singular indefinite articles.

As a rule, the gender of a noun cannot be figured out just by looking at spelling. Some nouns, however, like barn (child) and djur (animal) are understandably neuters because they refer to both masculine and feminine things.

There are two generalizations that might be helpful to know: almost all nouns that end with an "-a" belong to the common gender, and most words that remain unchanged in the plural form (for example: "a tire, several tires" becomes "ett däck, flera däck") are neuter nouns; the only clear "-a"-ending exceptions to the common form are the words "ett öga" ("an eye"), "ett öra" ("an ear") and "ett hjärta" ("a heart").

Definiteness[edit]

A definite noun in English takes the definite article the, and an indefinite noun takes the indefinite articles a or an. As far as indefinite nouns are concerned, things are very similar in Swedish.

The indefinite articles are en and ett. A neuter noun takes ett and a common noun takes en.

  • ett bord - a table
  • en stol - a chair

The definite articles in Swedish are attached to the end of the noun as a suffix. The neuter suffix is -et and the common suffix is -en.

  • bordet - the table
  • stolen - the chair

In addition to these two suffixes, Swedish also has two further definite articles which are much more similar to English the. The articles are used when you want to use an adjective (a word which describes a noun like green, big, old, etc) with the definite noun. The common article is den and the neuter is det.

  • det nya bordet - the new table
  • den nya stolen - the new chair

Notice that the nouns still have the definite suffix attached, which might appear slightly awkward in English. For example, the example det nya bordet mentioned above literally translates as The new the table, which is nonsencial in English but fully correct in Swedish. Note that some fixed expresssions tend to drop the first the, as for example svenska folket (the Swedish people). Adjectives decline for number and gender, but that will be looked at in greater detail elsewhere.

Number[edit]

Swedish boasts no less than six different pluralization suffixes, two of which are used in both genders. In the common gender, it's often hard to know which one to use together with a certain noun. The -s plural suffix is never used in Swedish.

Though it is important to remember that there are always exceptions, and there are words with complete irregularity, like "gås" (goose) and "gäss" (geese).

Common:

-er[edit]

  • bild > bilder (picture > pictures)

-ar[edit]

  • båt > båtar (boat > boats)
  • stege > stegar (ladder > ladders)

-or[edit]

  • flicka > flickor (girl > girls)

-r[edit]

  • sko > skor (shoe > shoes)

-0 (no suffix)[edit]

  • bagare > bagare (baker > bakers)

[only used with titles, occupations etc. ending in unstressed -are]

Neuter:

-0 (no suffix)[edit]

  • hus > hus (house > houses)

-n[edit]

  • äpple > äpplen (apple > apples)

-er[edit]

  • bageri > bagerier (bakery > bakeries)

[only used with words ending in stressed -eri]

The plural definite[edit]

In Swedish the plural definite articles are -en and -na.

  • borden - the tables
  • stolarna - the chairs
  • husen - the houses

As you can see, -en was also used as one of the definite articles. This can produce confusion as a person might want to say the table and think that he should use the -en as definite article: borden. That would however lead to saying the tables.

composite nouns[edit]