What is the difference between lång and länge in Swedish language?

People may get confused with “lång” and “länge” because we deal with adjectives and adverbs.

You really have to know what adjective and adverb is in order to understand the difference between “långt” vs “länge”. You have to know the agreement rules of adjectives in Swedish.

If we start with the adjective “lång” which means in Swedish as a general term, long and tall. It can also mean prolonged and lengthy. In other words, the adjective lång is a dimensional adjective, which we use for spatial and temporal dimensions to describe extension, time and space. We use it to describe a physical extension, like size or length, duration, position, direction and distance. Both adjectives and adverbs have spatial and temporal dimensions.    

The formal requirement for adjectives is that they can be compared, like long, longer and longest.

  • Jakob är lång     “Jacob is tall
  • David är längre  “David is taller” (in comparison to Jakob)
  • Peter är längst   “Peter is tallest” (in comparison to David and Jakob)

Here we have “lång” as an adjective as you describe a person or an item.  If we describe neutrums in Swedish, or we can call them “ett-words”, so to say the words that have “ett” as an indefinite article, then we also add an extra “t” at the end of the indefinite adjective, but also, we add an extra “a” at the plural adjective. In other words, here we speak about adjectival agreement in Swedish:

  • En lång film       “A long movie”        Singular utrum, (en-word)
  • Ett långt bord    ”A long table”         Singular neutrum (ett-word)
  • Två långa år.      ”Two long years”     Plural

Remember that we always have “a” at the end of the definite adjective.

  • Den långa filmen        “The long movie”
  • Det långa bordet        “The long table”
  • De långa åren              “The long years”

There are two overlapping rules that we face when we deal with adjectives and adverbs. One of the is mentioned above, “a” at the end of plural adjective ( both definite and indefinite ), but also “a” at the end of all definite adjectives ( both singular and plural ). Another overlapping rule is when we have “t” at the end of neutrum, ett-words, and we have “t” and the end of adverbs, and this is the main cause of the confusion.

  • Han fick ett snabbt svar  ”He received a quick response ”. 

Here we have a “t” and the end of the adjective because we describe it as an ett-word.

  • Han svarade snabbt  ”He replied quickly”.

Here we have an adverb that describes a verb, the way “how” he “replied”.

We have to understand that, the most of adverbs in the Swedish language, which probably applies to other languages as well, derive from adjectives. There are pure adverbs, yet most of them have the adjective form, and here is the confusion for the Swedish language.

We have looked at “långt” as an adjective describing neutrum, ett-words, but “långt” is also an adverb, which means “far” in terms of distance.

Besides, that adverb has a “cousin”,  which is “länge” and means “long” in terms of time, “for a long time”.

The reason why we call these adverbs as cousins is because they have a similar comparison, and both adverbs “länge” and “långt” derive from the adjective “lång”.

  • långt-längre-längst
  • länge-längre-längst

Let’s look at these different adverbs, starting with långt, as a spatial dimension, which means “far” in English. The place adverb (spatial adverb) describes position, direction and distance in relation to the action (verb)

  • Jakob sprang långt  ”Jakob ran a long (distance)”
  • David sprang längre ”David ran longer (distance)”
  • Peter sprang längst  ”Peter ran the longest (distance)”

Jacob ran far, David run further and Peter run furthest.

Now, let’s look at länge, as a temporal dimension which means “long” in terms of time duration, like “for a long time”.

  • Jakob har väntat länge  “Jakob has been waiting a long time”
  • David har väntat längre “David has waited longer (time) ”
  • Peter har väntat längst ” Peter has waited the longest (time)”

In these two examples, with “running and “waiting” the cousin adverbs can be distinguished because of the verbs that they refer to. “Springa längre” and “vänta längre”, “run longer” and “wait longer”

The big confusion appears when we have a verb which matches with both these adverbs.

Now if we compare:

  • Jakob sprang långt   ”Jacob ran a long distance”  
  • Jakob sprang länge   “Jakob ran for a long time”.

And here comes the biggest confusion.

  • David sprang längre 

This can be interpreted as:

  • “David ran a longer distance (than somebody else)” or 
  • “David has been running longer time (than somebody else)”. 

So, in this case, you need context, the text where the sentence appears.

If we take the superlative, längst;

  • Peter har sprungit längst 

which can also be interpreted as:  

  • “Peter ran the longest distance (than anybody else)” as well as 
  • “Peter has been running the longest time (than anybody else)”.

As mentioned before, “länge” is a temporal adverb

  • David har rökt länge

This means “David has smoked for a long time” in terms that David is a long-time smoker. But the interesting part is when we have negation “inte” with “länge” and comparative form “längre”

  1. David röker länge
  2. David röker inte länge
  3. David röker längre
  4. David röker inte längre
  • The (1) we interpret as David on one occasion smoking for a long time or it is his habit to take a long time with a cigarette each time he smokes, like a regular habit.
  • The (2) we interpret as David on one occasion does not smoke for a long time or it is a regular habit to smoke fast by not taking a long time each time he smokes.
  • The (3) we interpret as if David smokes on one occasion or in general longer time than someone (in comparison).  
  • The (4) we interpret as David doesn’t smoke anymore, he has stopped smoking.

The different forms of “lång” in Swedish

Swedish adjective “lång” , which appears as , lång, långt, långa, as adjectival agreement,  and as comparative forms lång, längre, längst.

On other side we have an adverb, “långt”, which appears as långt, längre, längst  as comparative and another adverb “länge” which appears as länge, längre, längst as comparative.

The thing that people confuse in Swedish language is –t at the end of adjectives and adverbs, like in this case långt, which is both adjective and adverb. Another thing that confuses people is the same comparative forms of adverb långt and länge which is längre and längst.

For the adjective “lång” there is also a natural gender (masculine) form in the Swedish language,”långe“. In other words, the adjective that refers to substantive must semantically refer to someone of masculine gender. 

  • Den långe svensken “The tall Swede”
  • Den gamle kungen   “The old king”
You can read here more about Swedish semantic gender adjective.

I hope you can understand now the difference in lång, långe and länge.
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