Word Order

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The word order in Swedish is one of the harder parts of Swedish grammar. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, word order is at times counter-intuitive compared to other languages. One aspect of this is the word order being different between main and non-main clauses in Swedish. Secondly, the word order in a clause carries meaning and as such the meaning of the clause can change entirely with a change of word order.

Below are two examples of this:

Position of Subject: Peter hjälper Hans ('Peter is helping Hans'). --> Hans hjälper Peter ('Hans is helping Peter'). In the first clause Peter is helping Hans; in the second clause Hans is hlping Peter, just like in English.

Position of Verb: Peter kommer imorgon. ('Peter is coming tomorrow.') --> Kommer Peter imorgon? ('Is Peter coming tomorrow?') The first clause is a statement whereas the second clause is a question. English too has this feature of reversed word order for questions, but it is limited to certain verbs such as 'to be' as in 'It is new.' and 'Is it new?'

The difference between the sentence and the clause is important since all that is said about word order concerns the clause and not the sentence. Below follows definitions of clause and sentence for Swedish:

Definition of CLAUSE: subject and verb (in the form of presens or preteritum). The one exception is verbs in the imperative. These do not require any explicit subject since imperatives always refer to 2nd person singular or plural.

Definition of SENTENCE: Capital letter to full stop or question or exclamation mark.

The consequence of this is that a sentence can be made up of several clauses. If the sentence is made up of only one clause, then the definition of sentence and clause coincide.

Example of sentence with two clauses: 'Han heter Sven och han bor i Stockholm.' ('He is called Sven and he lives in Stockholm'). The two clauses 'Han heter Sven' and 'han bor i Stockholm' is joined together by the conjunction 'och'. The conjunction 'och' is not part of either clause but rather combines the two clauses togerther.

X+ V1+ (S)+ SA+ V2+ O+ Adv

X: This position is called the 'fundament' in Swedish and is a variable. It is most common for the subject to fill this position, but it is also common for adverbials of time and place. The 'fundament' can also be empty in which case the V1 is in first position in the clause.

V1: This has to be a verb in one of the tenses presens or preteritum.

(S): This is the position of the subject if the subject is not in the X-position.

SA: The SatsAdverbial modifies the whole clause. There are many examples of words in this category, but the most common is the negation 'inte'.

V2: If there is a second verb it will be in the form of imperfect or supinum.

O: The object position is after the second verb.

Adj: The final position of the clause is occupied by adverbials. These occur in the following order: 1) adverbials of manner (e.g. 'fast'), 2) adverbials of place (e.g. 'here') and 3) adverbials of time (e.g. 'now').

Note: Swedish is sometimes called a V2-language on account of the first verb always being in second positions in the clause. In the outline above this can be seen. If anything except the subject preceedes the verb, then the subject follows the verb. One common mistake learners of Swedish make is to place both an adverbial of time and the subject before the verb: 'Nu jag går'. This cannot be done in Swedish. The correct way would be either 'Nu går jag.' or 'Jag går nu'.

Below are some sentences that are statements. Note how they fit into the formula for main clauses below and how the minimun of verb + subject can be expanded upon into forming really long clauses while all maintainging the same word order:

X V1 (S) SA V2 O P
Jag studerar.
Jag studerar svenska.
Jag studerar inte svenska.
Jag ska studera svenska på SFI.
Jag ska studera svenska på SFI i höst.
I höst ska jag studera svenska på SFI.
Imorgon ska jag kanske åka tåg till Stockholm.

There are two types of questions:

1) Question with verb forst:

  • X-position is empty

  • The answer is Ja(/Jo) or No

2) Question with question verb first:

  • Question word in the X-position

  • The verb follows the question word (/question expression).

In summary, questions start only with a verb or a question word. There is however one construction in spoken Swedish which violates this rule whereby it is possible to ask questions with subject or an adverbial in the inititial position (fundamentet). If, and only if, the particle 'väl' is introduced in the position of SatsAdverbial. The pragmatic meaning of this construction is equivalent to the English "You are coming on Saturday, aren't you?". This is essentially a statement where uncertainty is being introduced resulting in a question. The final example is an example of this:

X V1 (S) SA V2 O P
Studerar du?
Studerar du svenska på SFI?
Brukar du äta lunch i skolan på fredagar?
Bor du inte i Uppsala?
Vad heter du?
Var bor du?
När slutar vi?
Hur mycket är klockan?
Du kommer väl på lördag?

Fill in the blanks in the sentences below. Note whether a statement or a question is being asked for and choose between the alternatives in brackets.

Exampel: Statement: Peter älskar Maria. [Maria älskar/älskar Maria]

1. Statement: Jag studerar svenska. [Jag studerar/Studerar jag]

2. Statement: Jag ska inte äta nu. [inte ska/ska inte]

3. Statement: Han mår inte bra. [inte bra/bra inte]

4. Question: Bor du här? [Här bor du/Du bor här/Bor du här]

5. Question: Äter du frukt? [du frunkt/frukt du]

6. Statement: Hon åker till Malmö imrorgon. [ikväll till Malmö/till Malmö ikväll]

7. Question: Läser hon en bok nu? [nu en bok/en bok nu]

8. Question: Varför springer de? [de springer/springer de]

9. Statement: Imorgon åker vi kanske till Malmö. [vi åker kanske/åker vi kanske]

10. Question: När slutar detta? [detta slutar/slutar detta]