Swedish Nouns

Substantiv

What do we need to know about Swedish nouns and How to learn Swedish nouns?

Before speaking further about nouns, we must clarify noun/substantive terminology. The noun in the Swedish language is called substantiv. As the name suggests, substantiv, “substance” refers to a material thing. Everything that we see, touch, and think about, even abstract, immaterial things, belong to the category of the noun word group.

Nouns in Swedish have articles, similar to many other European languages, and English also has articles that are used with a noun. In English, we have indefinite articles “a” and “an” We use “a” with nouns that start with consonants, for example, a book, and the article “an” with nouns that begin with vowels, for example, an apple. English also has the definite article “the” which applies to all nouns regardless of how the word starts, for example, the book and the apple.

Similarly, there are indefinite and definite articles in Swedish. En and ett are indefinite articles, and den, det, and de are definite articles. Yet, there is also a different implementation of these articles.

Unlike the English language, Swedish articles ( en and ett ) have nothing to do with the first letter of the word, and neither there are easy rules to remember. There are indeed rules for which words are going to have an en or ett article, but it is not really for beginners. You have to remember them by heart at your early stage of learning. 

Swedish nouns that have the article “en” are called “en-words”, and nouns that have the article “ett” are “ett-words”. The “en-words” are also called “utrum” and the “ett-words” are called “neutrum”

The vast majority of Swedish nouns are utrum” (en-words),  so you need to mainly remember the “neutrums”( ett-words), and the rest you can assume to be utrum

When to use En and when to use Ett article?

As mentioned earlier, if you are at the early stage of your Swedish learning, it is recommended to learn the articles by heart.  Yet, if you indeed want to have some rules, here below you can see a webinar going through all these rules. But keep in mind, there are no rules without exceptions.

Main confusion with Swedish nouns

One of the main challenges with the Swedish noun is to understand the difference between the indefinite and the definite form of substantive. If you look at the translation for “bil” and “bilen”, you may end up getting the same answer for both, “car”. To be correct, “bil” is “a car” (indefinite form), and “bilen” is “the car” (definite form). 

In addition, we have to understand that, as in any other language, Swedish nouns can refer to just one thing or person, singular or many, plural

Equally, we have a plural of “a car”, which is “cars”, “bilar” and “the cars”, “bilarna”

In other words, when you learn a Swedish noun, you need to know what article it has ( en or ett ) and  you have to know 4 forms of that Swedish noun:

  1. Singular indefinite form
  2. Singular definite form
  3. Plural indefinite form
  4. Plural definite form

The four forms of Swedish Nouns

Swedish noun groups

Swedish nouns consist of 5 declinations, so-called 5  groups. The nature of these groups and criteria upon which the nouns are assigned to a certain group are the articles, “en-word”, utrum, or “ett-words”, neutrum. The first 3 groups / declinations, are utrum (en-words), and the group 4-5 is about neutrum (ett-words). 

Why to learn Swedish noun groups?

Of course, you might ask yourself, what benefit do you get when you learn the Swedish noun declination? Do you really need it? The straight answer is, that by knowing the groups, you will be able to predict the 3 other forms that we mentioned already, i.e. “singular definite“, “plural indefinite” and “plural definite“.

Swedish declensions

SINGULAR     PLURAL
   OBESTÄMD/ INDEFINITEBESTÄMD/DEFINITE OBESTÄMD/INDEFINITEBESTÄMD/DEFINITE
1EN BLOMMABLOMMANBLOMMORBLOMMORNA
2EN TIDNINGTIDNINGENTIDNINGARTIDNINGARNA
3EN FAMILJFAMILJENFAMILJERFAMILJERNA
4ETT ARBETEARBETETARBETENARBETENA
5ETT TÅGTÅGETTÅGTÅGEN

We have already taken “a car” as an example, which in Swedish is “en bil“. If I know that “en bil” belongs to the second declination, so to say the second group, then I can predict that:

  1. en bil” as singular definite will be “bilen
  2. “en bil” as plural indefinite will be “bilar
  3. “en bil” as plural definite will be “bilarna

The reason why we can predict, it is because it follows the same pattern. This pattern we can define as “en-words” ending with a consonant. 

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