Learn and practice grammar the fun and easy way!
Tense means 'time' and in Swedish (just as in English) the verbs indicate when in time they take place. This section is about the formation and usage of the different tenses in Swedish.
There are six different tenses in Swedish: presens, preteritum, futurum, perfekt, pluskvamperfekt and futurum preteritum. Two of these, presens and preteritum, are also verb forms, as we have seen in the previous section. These two verb forms are also the most common tenses.
The six tenses form two 'tense systems' centring on NOW (presens) and THEN (preteritum) respectively.
The uses and formation of each tense is treated below, but here is an initial summary schematic of the two tense systems:
|before NOW||NOW||after NOW|
|har sovit||vaknar||ska äta|
Example: Jag vaknar (NOW). Jag har sovit (before NOW). Jag ska äta frukost (after NOW).
Example: I wake up (NOW). I have slept (before NOW). I will eat breakfast (after NOW).
|before THEN||THEN||after THEN|
|hade sovit||vaknade||skulle äta|
Example: Jag vaknade (THEN). Jag hade sovit (before THEN). Jag skulle äta frukost (after THEN).
Example: I woke up (THEN). I had slept (before THEN). I was going to eat breakfast (after THEN).
Presens is used in four different ways in Swedish, just as in English: 1) present time, 2) habitual action, 3) future and 4) vivid past.
Present time is the default use of the tense presens. This means that if context does not tell us otherwise, the action is located in the present time.
Jag sitter i en soffa.
I am sitting in a sofa.
Han går på gatan.
He is walking in the street.
Note: While Swedish uses a single verb form sitter to express present tense, the English equivalent is the compound am sitting. The English simple present sit is not the form to express present time in English.
Swedish does not have the compound present progressive tense. There are other ways of expressing progressive aspect in Swedish, but this is separate from the present tense in Swedish.
If presens is accompanied by some circumstantial information that does not place the action in a specific time frame (past, present or future), then the meaning is habitual action.
Han spelar tennis på tisdagar.
He plays tennis on Tuesdays.
Hon dricker te till frukost.
She drinks tea for breakfast.
Note: In this example of habitual action the English simple present corresponds to the Swedish presens.
There is an alternative way of expressing habitual action in Swedish with the auxiliary verb brukar+infinitiv. This is introduced in the section "Auxiliary Verbs".
If presens is accompanied by an expression of future time, the meaning is future:
Vi kommer på lördag.
We are coming on Saturday.
De åker ikväll.
They are going to night.
Note: There has to be an expression of time (or context) indicating future for presens to have future meaning.
There are several ways of expressing future time in Swedish. These are introduced in the section "Future".
If an event is told in the past tense presens can be employed to recount vivid episodes.
Då krockar bilen plötsligt med trädet.
Then the car suddenly crashes with the tree.
Han faller fem meter till marken.
He falls five meters to the ground.
Note: The examples are here out of context but should be contained within a narrative in the past tense. The English simple present is also employed in this way.
This use of presens is uncommon in written language, except possibly newspaper articles, but it is very common in oral communication.
Preteritum is used for completed action in the past. Since preteritum always refers back to specific point in time in the past, it is always either explicitly marked or inferred implicitly from context.
Jag åkte till Stockholm .
I went to Stockholm .
Han åt frukost .
He ate breakfast .
Note: As Swedish does not have the compound progressive tense, Swedish preteritum would be the equivalent to both "he ate" and "he was eating".
Futurum is made by combining the verb ska with the verb form 'infinitiv' and used for future events that are within human control and decision.
Jag ska flytta till Paris.
I will move to Paris.
Han ska studera engelska.
He will study English.
Note: As in English there are several ways to express future time in Swedish. These are presented in the separate section: "Future".
Perfekt is formed by taking the verb 'har' and combining it with the verb form 'supinum'. While preteritum is anchored in the past, perfekt relates to the present and is used in the following two instances:
Jag har varit i Tyskland.
I have been to Germany.
Han har bott i Sverige i tre år nu.
He has lived in Sweden for three years now.
Note: In the first example the point in time is irrelevant. Perfekt only indicates that the event is in the past, before now. This is contrasted with preteritum which always refers to a specific point in time in the past.
In the second example the action is ongoing. If it were not for the "now" at the end, the meaning would be ambiguous (as in English).
Pluskvamperfekt is formed by hade combined with the verb form 'supinum' and expresses past in the past. That is to say, while preteritum expresses the past, the pluskvamperfekt expresses events prior to preteritum.
Jag hade sovit i 8 timmar när jag vaknade.
I had slept 8 hours when I woke up.
Han hade arbetet en timme när drack kaffe.
He had worked for one hour when he drank coffee.
Note: The pluskvamperfekt expresses events that occur before pretritum. In the examples above the pretertum is underlined. Preteritum is thus always explicit or implicit from context when pluskvamperfekt is used.
Futurum Preteritum is formed by skulle combined with the verb form 'infinitiv' and is used for future in the past. Whereas "ska+infinitv" refers to the future (after now), futurum preteritum takes preteritum as point of departure and refers to future in the past:
Jag skulle äta när han ringde.
I was going to eat when he called.
Han skulle sova när någon knackade på dörren.
He was going to sleep when someone knocked on the door.
Note: As with the pluskvamperfekt above, the futurum preteritum always relates to preteritum. The preteritum verb from is underlined in the Swedish examples above.
Choose between perfekt and pluskvamperfekt in the sentences below.