by Erik Wilhelm Gren
Simply speaking, Swedish nouns are terrible. Terrible in the sense that they’re extremely annoying and frustrating from a learner’s perspective. Let me explain:
Please take a look at the following example: (You’re not meant to understand everything, but bare with me)
En person åt ett äpple.
A person ate an apple.
At first glance, everything seems fine. There seems to be some sort of parallel between the en and ett in Swedish, and the an and a in English.
This is a good observation, since it is somewhat true. En and ett have the exact same grammatical function as an and a has in English. There is, however, a huge catch. If you were to ask yourself: “Should this noun use en or ett?”. The answer to that question is, sadly, not a nice one.
Welcome to the nightmare that is, in Swedish, known as n-ord and t-ord (n-words and t-words).
All Swedish nouns can be divided into two groups based on its so-called grammatical gender, or in Swedish known as the noun’s genus. These two groups are referred to as n-ord, which are words using en, and t-ord, which are all words using ett.
There is no way, through simply looking at a Swedish noun, to determine wether it is a n-ord or t-ord. This is, to me, a fundamental flaw of the Swedish language. You see, every part of grammar that has to do with nouns (which so happens to be most grammar), is heavily influenced by wether the noun in question is a n-ord or a t-ord. Since there is no way of telling wether a noun is a n-ord or t-ord, you simply have to know and remember.
This means that, whenever you learn a new Swedish noun, you have to remember its grammatical gender as well. Because, if you don’t, you won’t really be able to use the noun in a grammatical sense.
After hearing about this, you might feel a bit overwhelmed, and rightfully so. However, you’ll see that as you accustom yourself more and more with this concept, it will come just as naturally yo you as everything else. Native Swedish speakers have a very good gut-feeling for wether words are n-ord ord t-ord simply because they’ve heard endless amounts of Swedish being spoken.
In my experience, as Swedish learners move forwards in their learning and read and listen to more and more Swedish, they too acquire this gut-feeling. So, cheer up! Don’t worry, and keep on studying! Sooner or later your subconscious will do the classifying of nouns by itself.
Whenever you learn a new noun in Swedish, quickly try to note wether the noun is a n-ord or t-ord. Later on, when you study, always remember to say or write en and ett respectively in front of the noun.
For example, when a normal glossary might look like this:
You should instead always try to write glossaries like this:
(…at least! See this article for more notes on studying)
I’ll finish this lesson with some Swedish nouns for you to just glance over and to accustom yourself with. Let the concept of n-ord and t-ord neatly sink in and get prepared to always keep track of the noun in question’s grammatical gender.
Ett stort parkeringshus
A large parking house
I hope the list above brought a positive message. You see, a lot of Swedish nouns are similar to English ones. apple is äpple and träd is tree. So, even though you have to study the noun’s n-ord / t-ord property, the noun itself might be a bit easier to associate with its meaning.
If you are to take anything with you from this article, it is that the English an and a have no implication whatsoever on wether to use en or ett for a noun in Swedish. There simply is no shortcut to this sadly.
But hey, don’t feel bad about it. Sooner or later, you too will become an expert on Swedish nouns, and, the best way to get closer to that goal, is to keep on learning more things about Swedish nouns! So, go on and continue on to my next lesson via the link down below.
Some languages, like Spanish, divide their nouns into masculine or femenine words that define their grammatical gender. In Swedish, however, there is no such thing as a masculine word. The noun's n-ord / t-ord property has nothing to do with the meaning of the noun and has never had. I therefore really don't like the association between this property and our human gender norms and think that you should avoid its association as well when it comes to Swedish. ↩
Even though a and an have no implication on wether to use en or ett on the noun in Swedish, I will try to show the error that’s been made through switching the particle in English as well. This is just to demonstrate that something is incorrect in the statement. ↩