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Lesson Transcript


Alisha: How does formal Swedish work?
Jesper: And when is it used?
Alisha: At SwedishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine this situation: Linus Lundin, a high-school student, meets the mom of his neighbor friend, Karen. He says, "Karen, how are you?"
Linus Lundin: Karen, hur mår du?
Linus Lundin: Karen, hur mår du?
Karen Lee: Bra, tack. Hur mår du?
Alisha: Once more with the English translation.
Linus Lundin: Karen, hur mår du?
Alisha: "Karen, how are you?"
Karen Lee: Bra, tack. Hur mår du?
Alisha: "Fine, thanks. How are you?"

Lesson focus

Alisha: In this lesson, we will be discussing formal Swedish. We will look at how it works and when it is used. To begin with, I'd like to point out that, in Swedish, only first names are used. The fact of the matter is that, compared with languages in other Western European countries, Swedish can sometimes seem a little blunt.
Jesper: In German, one can say "Sie" instead of "du" if you want to be formal,
Alisha: and in French you can use the word "Vous" instead of "tu,"
Jesper: but, in Swedish, everyone just uses the word, du,
Alisha: regardless of the degree of formality of the context. You will have heard in the dialogue for this lesson how both Linus and Karen address each other only with the word,
Jesper: du.
Alisha: How then should one be formal in Swedish? Obviously, one will find oneself in situations of varying degrees of formality when talking to Swedish people. It will simply not feel right talking to a stranger or to your boss the same way you do to a member of your family or to a close friend. Much like in English, formal linguistic constructions in the Swedish language have been substituted with politeness. For instance, in English, if you were talking to a stranger or someone who has seniority over you, you wouldn't say "Hand me my bag." Instead, you might say something along the lines of: "Could you pass me my bag, please?" Similarly, in Swedish, instead of saying:
Jesper: Ge mig min väska.
Alisha: which means "Hand me my bag," you could ask:
Jesper: Ger du mig min väska?
Alisha: This means "Would you mind passing me my bag?" and is a lot more suited to a formal situation. A simpler, but equally polite request might be:
Jesper: Ge mig min väska, tack.
Alisha: This means "Pass me my bag, please." The word:
Jesper: tack
Alisha: is a very important one to keep in your arsenal of formal or polite words. In many situations, it can be used as both "please" and "thank you." It can be used in any situation to add a little formality or politeness to it. The fact is that, in Swedish, there is no actual direct translation of the English word "please." If, for instance, someone is offering you something like food or a drink, and you want to say, "Yes, please," the simplest way to do that is to say:
Jesper: Ja, tack.
Alisha: If you want to be more emphatic and say that you would very much like what is being offered, you could say:
Jesper: Ja, gärna.
Alisha: This kind of situation might occur in a restaurant, for instance. Sometimes, after ordering your food, or while the waiter is taking your order, you might decide you want to change something. A good way to be formal or polite when doing this is to used the phrase:
Jesper: Skulle jag kunna få…
Alisha: This translates to "could I get…" in English. For instance, if you want to change your order to rice instead of potatoes with your entrée for more than one person, you could say:
Jesper: Skulle vi kunna få ris istället för potatis till varmrätten?
Alisha: As you can hear, Jesper used the word:
Jesper: vi
Alisha: instead of:
Jesper: jag
Alisha: because it means "we" and he is asking, "Could we please have rice instead of potatoes with the entrée?"
Another situation in which you might prefer to be more formal is when asking or telling someone to do something but the imperative seems a little too blunt. For instance, instead of saying, "Close the window!":
Jesper: Stäng fönstret!
Alisha: you might want to ask something like "Could you please close the window?":
Jesper: Skulle du kunna stänga fönstret?
Alisha: A slightly less formal, but still polite way to do it, would be to add the word:
Jesper: tack
Alisha: You could then say, "Close the window. Thanks.":
Jesper: Stäng fönstret. Tack.
Alisha: In this case, the word is being used to say "thanks in advance" and carries the same weight as the word "please."
Another useful phrase to know is:
Jesper: kan du…
Alisha: which means, "could you…." If you are addressing more than one person, you would say:
Jesper: kan ni…
Alisha: If, for instance, you want someone to pass the salt, you could be blunt and order them to "Pass the salt":
Jesper: Skicka saltet.
Alisha: but if you wanted to be more formal and polite, you would say:
Jesper: Kan du skicka saltet.
Alisha: This means, "Could you please pass the salt?" If you were to use the expression, we talked about before:
Jesper: Skulle du kunna…
Alisha: you would be implying that the person is doing you a huge favor by passing you the salt. It wouldn't really be necessary in this situation. That would be a bit too formal.
So far, we have been adding extra words to what we are saying in order to sound more formal or polite, but sometimes it is important to be brief at the risk of sounding blunt. This would happen in a situation where you are trying not to inconvenience someone who is busy. Getting straight to the point is the polite thing to do in that kind of situation. Let's imagine you are ordering a drink at a bar and the bartender is very busy. You wouldn't then use all the polite words and say, "Would you mind pouring me a beer, please?" Instead, you would simply say, "A beer, please!":
Jesper: En öl, tack!
Alisha: As mentioned before, that simple word:
Jesper: tack
Alisha: can make anything you say seem slightly more formal and polite.
Often, when meeting someone for the first time, the situation is a bit more formal. In informal, relaxed situations, people might greet one another with the phrase:
Jesper: Hur är det?
Alisha: which means "How is it?" Or, perhaps, they might ask:
Jesper: Hur är det med dig?
Alisha: This means "How are things with you?" These two phrases are informal and aren't really suited for formal situations. In a formal meeting, it would be better to use the phrase:
Jesper: Hur mår du?
Alisha: This means "How are you?" It is the phrase you will find in books that teach the language, but it is really quite formal and doesn't suit more relaxed situations. It can also be used to inquire after someone's health if you know they have not been well because it literally means "How do you feel?" Similarly, if someone introduces themselves to you, a polite, formal response would be:
Jesper: Trevligt att träffas.
Alisha: This means "It's nice to meet you." Using the single word:
Jesper: Trevligt.
Alisha: is also acceptable and equally polite, despite its brevity.
Still on the subject of greetings—when greeting someone with the word:
Jesper: Hej!
Alisha: you might be forgiven for thinking that it sounds informal because it sounds so much like the English "hey." The fact is that this is actually the formal way of saying "hello." If you wanted to be informal, you would say it twice as in:
Jesper: Hej, hej!
Alisha: Interestingly, this can also be used to say goodbye.
These are just some of the ways to be more formal in speaking Swedish. The most important thing to remember is that it is mostly about your attitude and your tone. These can convey as much formality as the most polite linguistic constructions. You could use the imperative to say "pass the salt":
Jesper: Skicka saltet
Alisha: and the difference would be in your tone and body language. It can either seem rude, as in "Pass the salt!":
Jesper: Skicka saltet!
Alisha: Or it can sound polite and formal, as in, "Pass the salt."
Jesper: Skicka saltet.
Alisha: It's all about the way you say things and not so much about what you say.
Practice Section
Alisha: Let's review what we heard in this lesson. I will say the target sentence in English, then you should respond by saying the sentence out loud in Swedish. Jesper will then model the correct answer. Listen to him carefully, with the focus on pronunciation, and then repeat.
The first sentence is "Mrs. Lee, how are you?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Karen, hur mår du?
Alisha: Did you get it right? Listen to Jesper again, and repeat.
Jesper: Karen, hur mår du?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Karen, hur mår du?
Alisha: The second sentence is "Fine, thanks. How are you?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Bra, tack. Hur mår du?
Alisha: How did you do this time? Again, listen to Jesper and repeat.
Jesper: Bra, tack. Hur mår du?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Bra, tack. Hur mår du?
Alisha: In this lesson, we discussed how to be formal in Swedish. Some of the examples we looked at were phrases like:
Jesper: Ja, gärna.
Alisha: which means, "Yes, very much, thank you," and can be used in situations where you are being offered something.
We also looked at the phrase:
Jesper: Skulle jag kunna få…
Alisha: This means, "Could I get…" and can be used when you want to request a change to an order, for instance. It implies that you are asking for a big favor.
Another phrase we discussed was:
Jesper: kan du…
Alisha: and this means, "could you…."
But perhaps the most important word we looked at was the word:
Jesper: tack
Alisha: It means "thanks'' but can also be used to say "please" in some situations. It can be added to just about any expression in order to make it seem a little more formal or polite.
Cultural Expansion
Alisha: Although it's not commonly used nowadays, there is a formal version of "you" in Swedish. This has been happening mostly in the context of business and in formal writing. The word that is being used is:
Jesper: ni
Alisha: You will probably recognize it as the plural form of "you":
Jesper: du
Alisha: It was used in the past when addressing people who were in a position of seniority over the speaker—either in terms of status or age. In fact, it was used until relatively recently. It was only in the nineteen-sixties that this word fell out of usage. This was called the:
Jesper: du-reformen
Alisha: or the "you-reform." Since then, it hasn't been used in a formal context. Despite its resurgence in some formal writing and in areas of business, it is still extremely rare in spoken language. Will it catch on? Who knows?


Alisha: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Jesper: Vi ses!
Alisha: See you soon!