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The Swedish language is called Svenska by its native speakers. It is the official language of the country of Sweden and also one of Finland’s two official languages. This reflects the historical fact that much of modern day Finland was part of Sweden from 1362 until 1809, when the Russians took Finland by conquest. Swedish is also spoken by groups of ethnic Swedes in other countries, notably the United States and Canada. It can also be heard widely throughout Scandinavia, including Finland and even sometimes in Estonia.

Modern Swedish is the native language of the 9 million inhabitants of Sweden, plus over 17,000 Finns who still speak it. It is so closely related to Norwegian and Danish that its written form can easily be read by speakers of those languages. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians report that they can also understand much of each other’s spoken language, though the differences in pronunciation and accent – particularly of the Danes – can sometimes make it difficult.

The similarities of Swedish to Norwegian and Danish derive from the fact that they all were once the same language, a North Germanic language with origins among the Vandals and Goths, spoken in the region until about 300 AD. It evolved into what scholars call “Proto-Old Norse,” the supposed language of the early middle ages. Around 800 Old Norse subdivided into a western version (which became Norwegian) and an eastern version (which became Swedish and Danish). Both strains were strongly affected by two later influences: the middle low German spoken throughout the Hanseatic League between 1100 and 1600, and Latin as it had developed amongst clerics and scholars. More words came into the language from middle low German than from any other source.

Like almost all other northern European languages and dialects, the grammar and syntax of Swedish varied greatly from village to village. As the language was not often written down, grammar as such was not standardized and codified. The Swedish crown and the government administration developed a courtly version of the language, starting in about the 13th century, but any matter worthy of being recorded was memorialized in ecclesiastical or academic Latin. Then came the Protestant Reformation, and with it, the need to translate Holy Scripture into the common tongue, just as had occurred in Germany a few years earlier. The effort to translate the Bible brought about the standardization of a written form of the language. That first Swedish bible was named after Gustav Vasa, Sweden’s revered king who seceded from the Kalmar Union (a league of all Scandinavia) to create a unified Swedish realm. He also broke with the Roman Catholic Church and sponsored the translation effort. Gustav Vasa’s Bible was first published in 1540.

The Swedish Alphabet

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn
a be se de e eff ge i ji ell emm en

Oo Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz Åå Ää Öö
o p ärr ess te u ve dubbel-ve eks y säta å ä ö

The alphabet is very similar to the English alphabet, with a couple of exceptions:

  • There is no “Q” because a spelling reform in 1906 replaced all “Q” combinations with “K.”(The letter “Z”does appear in the alphabet, but it is used only in words of foreign origin.)
  • Three additional vowels – Å, Ä and Ö – were added at the end.

Swedish Pronunciation

Letter Pronunciation Examples
a “ah” as in star tála [speak, talk]; glas [glass]
b as in English brö’d [bread]
c 1. before a consonant or a hard vowel (a, o, u, å): as in café;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, ä, ö): as in cycle
1. café;

2. cýkel [bicycle]
d as in English, but the tongue is pressed closer to the teeth dag [day]
e 1. long: French e-acute (as in décor));

2. short: e in fret
1. héta [to be called], se [see];

2. nej [no]
f as in English fria [free]
g 1. before a consonant or a hard vowel (a, o, u, å); as g in go;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, ä, ö): as y in yes
1. gáta [street]; gå [walk, leave];

2. Gíssa! [Guess!]
h as h in ham húvudvä’rk [headache], höst [autumn]
I 1. long: like ee in keep;

2. short: like in pit
1. kniv [knife];

2. sprínga [(to) run], tímme [hour]
j as y in yes (never as j in jam) ja [yes]
k 1. before a hard vowel (a, o, u, å): as k in keep;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, ä, ö): like ch in check, but without the initial t sound
1. káffe [coffee];

2. kä’rlék [love]
l as in English, but the tongue is straight and pressed closer to the teeth lö´rdag [Saturday]
m as in English må´ndag [Monday]
n as in English natt [night]
o 1. long A: as oo in tool (normal);

2. long B: as o in fore (exception);

3. short A: as o in not;

4. short B: (a short version of long A)
1. stol [chair];

2. moln [cloud];

3. kopp [cup];

4. ost [cheese]
p as in English pris [price, cost]
q as in English (rarely in use nowadays)
r a “rolled” r, pronounced with a slight quiver of the tongue rínga [(to) ring]
s as in English/ sómmar [summer]
t as in English, but the tongue is straight and pressed closer to the teeth te [tea]
long: somewhat similar to u in rude;

short: (no equivalent in English)
1. ut [out];

2. únder [under]
v as in English vår [spring], vínter [winter]
x as in exceed (never as in example) till exémpel [for example]
y similar to the French u and German ü 1.dyr [expensive]

2.mýcket [much]
z as s in sing 1. språk [language];

2. ä’lder [age]
å 1. long: rather like o in fore;

2. short: like o in yonder
1. språk [language];

2. ä’lder [age]
ä 1. long: like ai in fair;

2. short: as e in best
1. Bä’ra [(to) carry];

2. vän [friend]
ö 1. long A: as eu in the French deux;

2. long B (before an r): like u in fur;

3. short: like e in her (unstressed: tell her!)
1. röd [red];

2. kö’ra [(to) drive];

3. sö´nder [broken, in pieces]

Special Swedish Sounds

j (like y
in yes)

    dj djur [animal; related to English ‘dear’ and German ‘Tier’]
    g (before the soft vowels e, i, y, ä, ö) gäst [guest; German “Gast”]
    gj gjórde [did, made]
    hj hjä’lpa [(to) help; German “helfen”]
    j ja [yes]
    lj ljus [light, candle; German “licht”]

tj (like ch
in check but without the initial t sound)

    ch check
    k (before the soft vowels e, i, y, ä, ö) kílo [kilo]
    kj kjol [skirt]
    tj tjúgo [twenty]

sj (like sh in shoe but formed further back in the mouth. It is often also pronounced like a softer version of German ch in ach, or in the Scottish name Loch Lomond. It can be spelled:

    ch chock [shock]
    -ge garáge (mostly French loan-words and only pronounced like sh
    in shoe).
    rs mars [March] (only be pronounced like sh in shoe).
    sch schámpo [shampoo]
    sh sherry (only in loan-words)
    sj sju [seven]
    (before the soft vowels e, i, y, ä, ö): skinn! [skin].
    (before a consonant or a hard vowel (a, o, u, å) “sk” is pronounced as two separate letters.
    (one important exception is “mä´nniska” [human being], where “sk” is pronounced as a sj sound, in spite of the following hard vowel. The word was originally spelled with an “I” directly after “sk”.
    Before a consonant “sk” is pronounced as two separate letters.)
    skj skjórta [shirt]
    stj stjä’rna [star]

ng (as ng in singer – not with a hard “g”as in finger)

    ng må’nga [many]
    g (before an n) regn [rain]
    n Bank

Swedish Sample Text

Alla människor är födda fria och lika i värde och rättigheter. De är utrustade med förnuft och samvete och bör handla gentemot varandra i en anda av broderskap.

Translation: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample Phrases.

Greetings and Departures:
Welcome Välkommen (sing.) -- Välkomna (plur.)
Hello Hej – Hallå -- God dag (formal)
How are you? Hur står det till? -- Hur mår du? (informal) -- Hur är det? (formal)
I'm fine, thanks Bara bra, tack
And You? Och du?
What's your name? Vad heter du?
My name is ... Jag heter . . .
Where are you from? Varifrån kommer du?
I'm from ... Jag kommer från . . . -- Jag är från . . .
Pleased to meet you Trevligt att träffas -- Trevligt att råkas – Angenämt (formal)
Good morning God morgon
good afternoon God eftermiddag
Good evening God kväll
Good night God natt
Goodbye Hej då
Good luck Lycka till!
Cheers/Good health! Skål!
Out and About
Bon apetit Smaklig måltid!
Bon voyage Trevlig resa! -- Lycklig resa!
I don't understand Jag förstår inte
Speak more slowly Var snäll och tala långsammare
Please write it down Skulle du kunna skriva ned det åt mig?
Do you speak Swedish? Talar du svenska?
Yes, a little Ja, lite
How do you say __ in Swedish Hur säger man ... på svenska?
Excuse me Ursäkta!
How much is this? Hur mycket kostar det?
Sorry Förlåt!
Thank you Tack
You're welcome för all del -- var så god -- ingen orsak
Thanks a lot Tack så mycket
Get well soon Krya på dig!
Merry Christmas God jul
Happy New Year Gott nytt År
Happy Easter Glad Påsk
Happy Birthday Grattis på födelsedagen
Where's the bathroom? Var är toaletten?
Leave me alone! Lämna mig ifred!
Help! Fire! Stop! Hjälp! Det brinner! Stanna!
Call the police! Ring polisen!
Native name: 
ISO 639-1: 
Language family: 
Native speakers: 
Writing system: 
Latin alphabet
ISO 639-3: 

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