The difficulty of Swedish (as any language) depends a lot on your mother tongue. For instance, Swedish is believed to be fairly easy for English speakers to learn as these are both Germanic languages that share some similarities. However, no matter what your native language is, you still need to study Swedish grammar carefully to truly master it.
This article will give you an overview over the key aspects of Swedish grammar to give you the idea of what you should focus on learning.
Swedish nouns are declined in genders as well as number. Nouns have one of two grammatical genders: common (utrum) and neuter (neutrum), which determine their definite forms as well as the form of any adjectives and articles used to describe them.
Noun gender is largely arbitrary and must be memorized; however, around three quarters of all Swedish nouns are common gender. Living beings are often common nouns, like in en katt “a cat”, en häst “a horse”, en fluga “a fly”, etc.
Nouns form the plural in a variety of ways. It is customary to classify Swedish nouns into five declensions based on their plural indefinite endings: -or, -ar, -(e)r, -n, and no ending.
The definite article in Swedish is mostly expressed by a suffix on the head noun, while the indefinite article is a separate word preceding the noun. This structure of the articles is shared by the Scandinavian languages. Articles differ in form depending on the gender and number of the noun.
The indefinite article, which is only used in the singular, is en for common nouns, and ett for neuter nouns.
en flaska – a bottle
ett brev – a letter
The definite article in the singular is generally the suffixes -en or -n for common nouns (e.g. flaskan “the bottle”), and -et or -t for neuter nouns (e.g. brevet “the letter”).
Swedish adjectives are declined according to gender, number, and definiteness of the noun. The indefinite neuter and plural forms of an adjective are usually created by adding a suffix (-t or -a) to the common form of the adjective.
en grön stol – a green chair
ett grönt hus – a green house
gröna stolar – green chairs
The definite form of an adjective is identical to the indefinite plural form.
den gröna stolen – the green chair
det gröna huset – the green house
de gröna stolarna – the green chairs
Adjectives with comparative and superlative forms ending in -are and -ast, which is a majority, also, and so by rule, use the -e suffix for all persons on definite superlatives:
den billigaste bilen – the cheapest car
Adjectival adverbs in Swedish are formed by putting the adjective in the neuter singular form. Adjectives ending in -lig may take either the neuter singular ending or the suffix -en, and occasionally -ligen is added to an adjective not already ending in -lig.
tjock – thick (common); tjockt – thick (neuter), thickly
stor – great, large (common); stort – great, large (neuter); storligen – greatly
Swedish pronouns are similar to those of English. Besides the two natural genders han and hon (“he” and “she”), there are also the two grammatical genders den and det, usually termed common and neuter. In recent years, a gender-neutral pronoun hen has been introduced, particularly in literary Swedish. Unlike nouns, pronouns have an additional object form, derived from the old dative form.
Pronouns in Swedish inflect for person, for number, and, in the third person singular, for gender.
Swedish also uses third-person possessive reflexive pronouns that refer to the subject in a clause, a trait which is restricted to North Germanic languages:
Anna gav Maria sin bok. – Anna gave Maria her [Anna’s] book. (reflexive)
Anna gav Maria hennes bok. – Anna gave Maria her [Maria’s] book. (not reflexive)
Verbs do not inflect for person or number in modern standard Swedish. They inflect for the present and past tense and the imperative, subjunctive, and indicative mood.
Other tenses are formed by combinations of auxiliary verbs with infinitives or a special form of the participle called the supine. In total there are six spoken active-voice forms for each verb: infinitive, imperative, present, preterite/past, supine, and past participle.
The only subjunctive form widely used in everyday speech is vore, the past subjunctive of vara (“to be”). It is used as one way of expressing the conditional (“would be”, “were”), but is optional. Except for this form, subjunctive forms are considered archaic or dialectal.
Verbs may also take the passive voice. It is formed for any verb tense by appending -s to the tense. For verbs ending in -r, the -r is actually replaced by the -s altogether.
Swedish verbs are divided into four conjugation groups: regular -ar verbs, regular -er verbs, short verbs ending in -r, and strong and irregular verbs ending in -er or -r.
About 80% of all verbs in Swedish are group 1 verbs, which is the only productive verb group. Swenglish variants of English verbs can be made by adding -a to the end of an English verb, sometimes with minor spelling changes; the verb is then treated as a group 1 verb. Examples of modern loan words within the field are chatta and surfa.
As Swedish is a Germanic language, the syntax shows similarities to both English and German. Like English, Swedish has a subject-verb-object basic word order, but like German it utilizes verb-second word order in main clauses, for instance after adverbs and adverbial phrases, and dependent clauses.
Unlike in more conservative Germanic languages (e.g. German), putting a noun into a prepositional phrase doesn’t alter its inflection, case, number or definiteness in any way, except in a very small number of set phrases.
The general rule is that prepositions are placed before the word they are referring to. However, there are a few so-called ambipositions that may appear on either side of the head:
riket runt / runt riket – around the kingdom
natten igenom / igenom natten – through the night
This is a very brief overview of Swedish grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail. However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Swedish grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.