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Lesson Transcript


Alisha: Is it common to omit the subject in Swedish sentences?
Jesper: And why?
Alisha: At SwedishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following scenario: Linus is in a bookstore with his friend, Sasha Lee. He points to a book and says, "[Did you] read that book?"
Linus Lundin: Läste du den där boken?
Linus Lundin: Läste du den där boken?
Sasha Lee: Var den intressant?
Alisha: Once more with the English translation.
Linus Lundin: Läste du den där boken?
Alisha: "[Did] you read that book?"
Sasha Lee: Var den intressant?
Alisha: "Was it interesting?"

Lesson focus

Alisha: In this lesson, we will be learning whether it is common to omit the subject in Swedish sentences and why. Swedish, being a subject-verb-object language, is not a language in which the subject of the sentence is frequently dropped. This usually only occurs where the subject is implied or in response to certain questions. What I mean when I talk about the subject being implied can be seen in a sentence like this one, for instance, where the subject of a second clause is the same as the subject of the first clause:
Jesper: Astrid älskar att festa, men hon går sällan ut.
Alisha: This translates to "Astrid loves to party, but she rarely goes out." As with English, leaving out the second reference to the subject is acceptable in Swedish. The resulting sentence would be
Jesper: Astrid älskar att festa, men går sällan ut,
Alisha: which translates to "Astrid loves to party, but rarely goes out." Sometimes, the subject is implied through the context as well. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to say "Be right there,"
Jesper: Kommer snart,
Alisha: as opposed to "I'll be right there."
Jesper: Jag kommer snart.
Alisha: Another example of this is when a person says
Jesper: Låter rimligt
Alisha: or "sounds reasonable," instead of
Jesper: Det låter rimligt
Alisha: or "That sounds reasonable." While these are convenient shortcuts to know, I must point out that they are colloquial expressions that one would not often hear used in formal contexts. Furthermore, one must be careful not to omit the subject with copulative verbs such as
Jesper: är
Alisha: and
Jesper: var.
Alisha: It would be strange, in English and Swedish alike, to say
Jesper: Är glad.
Alisha: or "Am glad" instead of
Jesper: Jag är glad
Alisha: or "I am glad." This is because a verb like
Jesper: är
Alisha: or "am," links the subject to the subject complement. This is why it is called a copulative verb. The word "copulative" means "coupling" or "joining."
As you can see from what we have discussed in this lesson, dropping the subject does not happen often in Swedish, but it can be done in particular situations.
Alisha: In this lesson, you learned that Swedish is not a language in which the subject is often dropped. This is because, like English, it is a subject-verb-object language and the subject is usually essential to conveying the meaning of the sentence. Let's have a look at two examples of the subject being dropped in response to questions in Swedish.
If someone asks in a text message
Jesper: Vad gör du?
Alisha: or "What are you doing?" and the respondent is sitting in a restaurant, then they might answer
Jesper: Sitter på restaurangen.
Alisha: or "Sitting at the restaurant." This same person, still writing a text message, might go on to add
Jesper: Har precis beställt mat
Alisha: or "Have just ordered food." As you can see, the correspondence with English grammatical construction is very strong. In both languages, it is acceptable to drop the subject when answering questions such as this one, especially if the situation is an informal one or in a written format where being brief is an advantage for both parties.
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 "[Did] you read that book?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Läste du den där boken?
Alisha: Did you get it right? Listen to Jesper again and repeat.
Jesper: Läste du den där boken?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Läste du den där boken?
Alisha: The second sentence is "Was it interesting?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Var den intressant?
Alisha: How did you do this time? Again, listen to Jesper and repeat.
Jesper: Var den intressant?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Jesper: Var den intressant?
Cultural Insight
Alisha: In some sentences in Swedish, it might seem as if the subject has been dropped when, in fact, it has been inverted with the verb. This is usually the case with questions that have been formed out of sentences. Swedish is a verb-second language, meaning that in any main clause or clause containing a finite verb, the verb must be in the second position in the sentence. For this reason, one is used to seeing or hearing the subject-verb-object sequence in a sentence, and a sudden inversion of the subject and verb might appear to be a case of the subject being dropped. In the dialogue for this lesson, Linus asks
Jesper: Läste du den där boken?
Alisha: which translates to "Did you read that book?" The declarative sentence upon which this question is based might be something like, "You read that book," or
Jesper: Du läste den där boken.
Alisha: Compare this with the question in Swedish and you can see that the verb and subject have been inverted from
Jesper: du läste
Alisha: in the sentence to
Jesper: läste du
Alisha: in the question. Sasha's reply reflects the same inversion. She says
Jesper: Var den intressant?
Alisha: or "Was it interesting?" and the sentence on which this is based is
Jesper: Den var intressant.
Alisha: or "It was interesting," in English. You will probably have noticed that the exact same sequence of words is used in Swedish and English. This is because both languages are of Germanic origin.


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