Swedish Nouns

Substantiv

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

Part of Speech

Noun / Substantiv

Singularis / Singular

Pluralis / Plural

Indefinite form (of noun)

Definite form (of noun)

Article (grammatical)

Gender (grammatical)

Common Gender – Utrum

Neuter Gender – Neutrum

Agreement (grammatical) / Kongruens

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, or as it is also called, “Parts of Speech”.

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. When you have gained a certain amount of vocabulary, then it will be easier for you to see the patterns, and then it will be easier for you to remember those rules, or “suggested rules”. 

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”, Common Gender, and the “ett-words” are called “neutrum”, Neuter Gender

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

Why do you need to know the article "en" or "ett" when you learn a Swedish noun?

What is the point of learning the articles? You need to know whether a Swedish noun is “en-word” or “ett-word” to “describe” that noun by adding an adjective.  If I want to say a “little child” and a “little car” the adjective (little) is going to be affected based on the article of the noun. It is called “agreement” in grammatical terms. We know that a “child” is an ett-word “ett barn” and a “car” is an en-word, “en bil“. So in Swedish a “little child” and a “little car” will be:

  • ett litet barn
  • en liten bil

 

The four forms of Swedish Nouns

What is important to know when you are learning Swedish nouns?

When you learn a new noun and you find that word in the dictionary, make sure that word belongs to the “part of speech” you are looking for.  In this case, it is a noun, so we need explicitly to see that it is written “SUBSTANTIV” or “subst”.  If you write down the noun on the paper or memorize it for yourself, make sure that you get the singular indefinite form. That is the main form you want to learn. You can memorize or write it as the Swedish dictionaries usually do:

bil
(~en, ~ar)

In this case “bil” is a “car”,  ( ~en ) indicates that this noun is en-word ( utrum ), and (~ar) indicates the plural ending of this noun. Keep in mind that “bil” and “bilar” are indefinite forms. “bil” is singular indefinite and “bilar” is plural indefinite.

Another example is with an ett-word (neutrum):

barn 
(~et, =)
 

In this case “barn” is a “child”,  ( ~et ) indicates that this noun is an ett-word (neutrum), and (=) indicates the plural ending is the same is the singular form.  You can compare: “one child” is “ett barn” and “two children” is  “två barn”.

In some rare cases, a Swedish noun can belong to both utrum and neutrum. In other words, it can be both en-word and ett-word. For example:

test 
(~et, =, el. ~en, ~er)
(testet eller testen, plural test eller tester)
 

The abbreviation “el.” stands for “eller” which means in English conjunction “or“.

 

Swedish noun groups/declensions

Swedish nouns consist of five declensions, 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).

Here are five Swedish declensions that in a simplified way can be summarized as following:

  1. utrum (en-word) ending with “a” 
  2. utrum (en-word) ending with a consonant
  3. utrum (en-word) ending with consonant, so-called “borrowed words“.  
  4. neutrum (ett-word) ending with a vowel
  5. neutrum (ett-word) ending with a consonant
However some nouns are irregular and belong to other declensions than described above, as well as some utrum (en-words) are ending to “e”, that can be both declension 2 and 3. 

Why to learn Swedish noun groups?

Of course, you might ask yourself, what benefit do you get when you learn the Swedish noun declension? 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 declension, 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. 

Plural endings of Swedish nouns

Plural endings of En-words

En-words (Common Gender)Plural RuleExample SingularExample Plural
-orWords ending in -aen väskatvå väskor
en klockatvå klockor
-arWords ending in -ing or -ningen tidningtvå tidningar
Words ending in a vowel (drop -e and add -ar)en pojketvå pojkar
Words ending in unstressed -el, -er, -en (drop -e)en cykeltvå cyklar
en vintertvå vintrar
en ökentvå öknar
-erForeign wordsen restaurangtvå restauranger
en texttvå texter
Words ending in -areen läraretvå lärare
en läkaretvå läkare
IrregularIrregular nounsen boktvå böcker
en stadtvå städer
-arShort wordsen båttvå båtar

Plural endings of Ett-words

Ett-words (Neuter Gender)Plural RuleExample SingularExample Plural
-erForeign wordsett bageritvå bagerier
-nWords ending in a vowel (a, o, u, å, e, i, y, ä, ö)ett äppletvå äpplen
ett kvittotvå kvitton
UnchangedWords ending in a consonantett äggtvå ägg
ett bordtvå bord
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