Literary Swedish: Lesson 1

Written by Dyami Millarson

I am going to teach literary Swedish with a few simple lessons. I do not know yet how many lessons this course will contain.

The lessons will have the following structure:

  1. a synopsis of the lesson at the beginning of the article in which the lesson is published;
  2. a vocabulary list so that one can familiarise oneself with the vocabulary immediately;
  3. an explanation of Swedish structure from a morphological and syntactic point of view;
  4. a list of sentences that one should understand in Swedish and translate to English, and
  5. a list of sentences that one should translate from Swedish to English.

Since I am making a literary course here, I am not going to deal with Swedish pronunciation. I have already explained extensively in a blog article last year how one may learn Swedish pronunciation. I try to make the vocabulary lists no longer than 12 words. I have already explained the general structure of Swedish in this article from last year. I try not to include more than 12 sentences for each of the translation exercises at the end of each lesson.


Drabbadeswas killed
(Att) drabba(to) kill
Bror(en)(the) brother
K(on)ung(en)(the) king
Sin/hanshis (own), his


Drabbade and drabbades are both preterites (past tenses). When one reads literary Swedish, one is very likely to encounter the past tense. The regular past tense in Swedish is built by adding the suffix -de to the infinitive of the verb. Conversely, the infinitive of regular preterite verbs is found by removing the suffix -de from the preterite form. So when we remove -de from drabbade, we find the infinitive form drabba. One may wonder, what is the difference between drabbade and drabbades because they are both preterites? In literary Swedish, the passive voice is expressed by adding the suffix -s to the verb. The passive -s may be added to any form of the verb, whether it be an infinitive or predicates, except supines or particles. I have already treated this Swedish suffix more extensively in this article and this article from last year.

Lykades is an example of a mediopassive verb. The mediopassive stands in the middle between the passive and active voices, because it contains characteristics of both. On the one hand, the meaning of the verb may semantically be understood as active. On the other hand, the behaviour of the verb may grammatically or morphologically be understood as passive.

When a passive voice is used in the Swedish language, the agent is marked by a preposition as in the other European languages. The preposition that is used in Swedish for this purpose is av. I consider this one of the first things one ought to learn in any European language and in fact, too little attention is paid in grammar books to which preposition is used for the aforementioned purpose. When one is cracking a European language, it always takes a bit of effort to detect passive voices and get used to recognising which preposition is used for marking the agent. The importance of knowing which preposition marks the agent is right up there with knowing how one should distinguish weak and strong adjectives in Germanic languages, because one cannot properly construct a basic sentence when one does not possess this vital information.

The definite and indefinite are expressed in English by the articles “the” and “a(n)” respectively. Rather than using an article, Swedish expresses the definite by marking a noun with a suffix -en. The indefinite is expressed by leaving the noun unmarked. So when one sees the forms broren and kungen, one should note these are definite forms, and one may find the indefinite forms by removing the suffix -en, which produces the basic forms bror and kung; the indefinite forms of nouns are usually given in dictionaries and vocabulary lists as the basic forms of the nouns.

A semantic distinction is made between sin and hans. The former is used when it refers to the subject one the sentence. However, the latter is used when the antecedent is not the same as the subject of the sentence. This allows one to know more accurately what is meant by “his” in Swedish.

Dessutom is a filler used to liven up literary texts and may be be rendered as in addition, additionally, furthermore, moreover, and the like. If the adverb dessutom stands at the beginning of the sentence, it is usually immediately followed by the verb. This syntactic phenomenon is common among non-English Germanic languages, and is called inversion, because the normal expected order of Subject – Verb is inverted to Verb – Subject. Dessutom may, however, also be used after the verb, and if it is not used in a position preceding the verb, it has no effect on the normal syntax, i.e., it does not change the order of Verb – Subject that one would normally expect in Swedish.


  1. Han drabbade sin bror.
  2. Kungen drabbades av sin bror.
  3. Konungen föll, ty han drabbades av sin bror.
  4. Kungen drabbade sin bror.
  5. Kung drabbades av sin bror.
  6. Broren drabbade sin konungen.
  7. Hans bror drabbades.
  8. Han drabbade sin bror.
  9. Han drabbade hans bror.
  10. Han lykades att drabba sin bror.
  11. Dessutom drabbades broren av kungen.
  12. Han drabbade dessutom sin bror.


  1. The king killed his own brother.
  2. The king killed his (i.e., another male person’s) brother.
  3. The brother was killed by his own king.
  4. The brother was killed by his (i.e., another male person’s) king.

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