The Swedish Language

The Swedish language is a North Germanic language spoken by approximately 10 million speakers, mainly in Sweden and also some parts of Finland where Swedish minorities reside. Swedish is a descendant of the Indo-European language family. Swedish is also a member of the North Germanic branch of Germanic languages.

All Germanic languages are directly related to their ancestor, the Proto-Germanic language family, which was spoken around 500BCE.

How Swedish and other Scandinavian languages got its roots

Proto-Germanic possibly originated in Scandinavia, and different variety of Germanic began to emerge with migration. Runic inscriptions in the 2nd century CE, revealed that Proto-Germanic had, by this time, separated into northern, western, and eastern dialect. The northern dialect is spoken mainly in Scandinavia from the 2nd to the 8th century, and it was referred to as the Proto-Norse language, a direct ancestor of all the North Germanic languages spoken today.

The 8th century marked the beginning of the viking era. By this time, Proto-Norse had evolved into Old Norse. In the next few centuries, vikings began sailing across different parts of Europe, raiding, pillaging, and conquering lands. Apart from their fearsome warlike mannerisms, the vikings also trade with some neighboring European kingdoms at that time, bringing their culture and languages with them.

During this time, Old Norse was further divided into three different dialects — Old West Norse, Old East Norse, and Old Gutnish. Old West Norse was spoken mainly in Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, as well as parts of Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and a Norwegian settlement in Normandy. Old East Norse was spoken mainly in Sweden and Denmark, as well parts of Russia, England and Normandy. Old Gutnish was spoken mainly in the island of Gotland as well as a few small settlements in the east.

The West, East, and Gutnish varieties of the Old Norse eventually evolved into the modern North Germanic languages around the 14th century.

Old Swedish

Old Swedish, or some may call it fornsvenska, is believed to have evolved as a distinct language in the 1200s. Old fragments of the earliest manuscripts written in Old Swedish were found to be dated as back into the year 1225CE. These manuscripts are believed to be the compilation of the Västgöta Law, which was written around the same year. It was considered on of the most important documents of the period. Old Swedish is divided into Earlier Old Swedish, also known as äldre fornsvenska (1225–1375), and Late Old Swedish, also known as yngre fornsvenska (1375–1526).

The Earlier Old Swedish was distinctly different from the modern language as it has more complex case structure and it also retained the original Germanic three-gender system — masculine, feminine, and neuter. There are also inflections in four cases across every noun, adjective, pronoun and certain numerals. In addition, there are verb conjugations according to person as well as numbers, and the language also has subjunctive and imperative moods.

Modern Swedish

By the 16th century, Old Swedish developed into modern Swedish and the grammatical cases were largely reduced to just two cases, and the three genders were then reduced to only two genders. In 1526, the translation of the Bible to Swedish marked the beginning of modern Swedish, thus establishing for itself a consistent orthography. Swedish spelling rules were created by Carl Gustaf af Leopold, and his proposal was published in 1801. The Swedish Academy finally adopted the spelling rules in 1874. The spelling rules went through another round of reformation in 1906 before they were finally and fully supported by The Swedish Academy in 1950.

Swedish Alphabets and Writing System

Swedish Alphabets, Vowels, Consonants, and Pronunciation

Swedish Nouns

All nouns in Modern Swedish are either common or neuter in gender. While in English, the indefinite article “a” or “an” has two forms, the indefinite article corresponding to the common gender is “en”, and the neuter gender is “ett”. Almost three-quarter of Swedish nouns are common in gender.

However, some nouns that might be expected to be common in gender since they refer to living things may actually be neuter (i.e. ett barn, a child).

Swedish Common Nouns and Neuter Nouns

There are five noun declensions in Swedish. These declensions are basically ways to form the indefinite and definite plural of nouns.

For the first declension, almost 10% of all Swedish nouns belong to this category of declension. They are all common nouns, and the majority end in “-a” in the singular, which is dropped before the plural ending “-or”. For definite common singular suffixes, some ends in “-en” or “-an”, while for definite common plural suffixes, some ends in “-na” because in Swedish, there are two forms of definite article in the Singular as well as special forms in the Plural.

Swedish First Declension Nouns

Second declension nouns account for almost 40% of all Swedish nouns and they are all common in gender, with exception to the word “finger”. They all have the plural ending in “-ar”. For definite singular nouns, their suffix usually end in “-en”, while for definite plural nouns, their suffix end in “-arna”.

Swedish Second Declension Nouns

Third declension nouns usually consist of both common and neuter nouns that account for about 20% of all Swedish nouns. The plural ending for this declension is “-er”, or “-r”. For definite singular nouns, their suffix usually end in “-n”, while for definite plural nouns, their suffix end in “-rna” or “-na”.

Swedish Third Declension Nouns

Fourth declension nouns are very few in number, and only about 5% of all Swedish nouns belong to this category. They consist of neuter nouns ending in a vowel in the singular. The plural ending for fourth declension is “-n”. For definite singular nouns, their suffix usually end in “-t ”, while for definite plural nouns, their suffix end in “-a”.

Swedish Fourth Declension Nouns

Fifth declension nouns have no plural ending as both singular and plural forms are identical for most times. About 25% of all Swedish nouns belong to this declension category. For definite singular nouns, some of their suffixes end in “-et”, while for definite plural nouns, some of their suffixes end in “-en”, and some end in “-n”.

Swedish Fifth Declension Nouns

Swedish Personal Pronouns

Swedish personal pronouns system is almost similar to that of English. They have different forms according to their use and position in a sentence. The objective form of a personal pronoun is used for both direct and indirect objects, and usually comes after prepositions.

Swedish Personal Pronouns

Swedish Verb Conjugations

Swedish verbs appear remarkably simple in construction to many English speakers. In Swedish, there is generally only one verbal form for the active indicative of each tense, regardless of person or number. For example, "jag har" means "I have", "han har" means "he has", and "de har" means "they have". There are also four conjugations in Swedish, distinguished by the four supine endings, namely, "-at ", "-t ", "-tt ", and "-it ".

Majority of Swedish verbs fall under the first conjugation, including verbs of foreign derivation ending in "-era". The regular present tense ending for this conjugation is "-ar", the past is "-ade", the supine is "-at", and the past participle is "-ad".

Supine endings for all Swedish second verb conjugation is "-t ". The regular present tense ending for this conjugation is "-er", the past is "-de", and the past participle is "-d".

For the third verb conjugation, they are few in number, and the verb infinitives do not end in "-a". The regular present tense for this conjugation is "-r", the past is "-dde", the supine is "-tt ", and the past participle is "-dd".

Supine endings for all Swedish fourth verb conjugation is "-it ", the regular present tense ending is either "-er" or "-r", and the past participle ending is "-en". However, for the regular past tense in this conjugation, instead of adding on to the ending of the word, there is an alteration of the stem vowel. These verbs are called strong verbs as they undergo changes in the stem vowels. They are further divided into four sub-classes according to the type of vowel change that occurs, and this would be covered another time.

For now, these are the four examples of the Swedish verb conjugations.

Swedish Verb Conjugations (Regular Forms)

There is so much more to cover for this language but the above are the essentials and hopefully, they will kick start your interest in the Swedish language.