Swedish: Verbs for "can"

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by garydpoole, Jan 1, 2018.

  1. Hejsan och gott nytt år !

    I'm looking for some assistance and clarification with three Swedish verbs that I've encountered that superficially, translate as, "can": kunna, gå and få

    I think that I'm OK with få in so far as I believe this translates as, "to be allowed", ie

    I Sverige, får alla gå till skogen.

    However, it's determining the difference (if any) between kunna and gå that I'm struggling with.

    Obviously, kunna means can, ie, jag kan tallar lite svenska, but increasingly, I'm encountering the use of gå to mean can, (although I believe that its true meaning is "to be possible" ie, Går de att ätta ?

    My problem is that when reviewing the previous two examples, both uses would or could translate as, "to be possible". Hence, I'm really not sure how one differentiates between them to determine which one to use for any given scenario ?

    Tack så mycket!

  2. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    Tough one. I had to think about it... I think that "kan/kunna" is telling us the ability of a person (or animal etc) whereas "gå" refers to inanimate "objects" or "actions".

    Jag kan springa en maraton.
    Det går att springa en maraton.

    In the first case a person (me) is capable of running a marathon, whereas in the latter example we're just pointing out that it is possible to run a marathon. So for someone who isn't fit enough: Även om det går att springa en maraton så kan jag inte det... Even if it's possible to run a marathon I can't (run one)...

    Additionally, there's a use of "få" that I think is a bit idiomatic to keep your eye open for; Gick din mobiltelefon sönder? Då får du väl köpa en ny... Your mobile phone broke? I guess you'll have to buy another one... There are also similar cases where "kan" and "gå" end up being more of a suggestion than a statement of 'actual possibility'.
  3. Colorblend New Member

    Interesting, stuff like that you don't think about when it is your mother tongue.

    "du får köpa en ny" - You may buy a new one.

    "du får köpa en ny" - You have to buy a new one

    Exactly the same phrase but it depends on the circumstances and how you say it and so on.
  4. Brannoc Member

    British English
    So would "du måste köpa en ny" be more specific than the second "du får köpa en ny" ?
  5. Colorblend New Member

    Absolutely. "Du får" translates literally as "you may" or "you are allowed to", it just also has a broader use in everyday speech so it can be used when you want so say "you have to" or "you must". "Du måste" translates directly as "you must" and cannot be misunderstood or used in any other way. No real rules apply to this one, you just have to listen to how it's said and consider the circumstances when you come upon "du får", "du fick" etc. Another clear one is "du är tvungen att..." which translates as "you have to" or literally "you are forced to". Tvinga=force, tvungen=forced

    On a side note: one word may seem strange to you in Swedish, "orka".

    Why won't you do the dishes? Why don't you think this through thoroughly? Why don't you stay on your training schedule? Why don't you run another lap? Why don't you study every day? Why don't you lift 90 kgs instead of just 60?

    "Jag orkar inte!"

    Orka is a word with a broad meaning that has no equivalent in English. "I just can't be bothered" works OK sometimes but it describes either an inability or unwillingness to do something due to just about anything, physical limitations, tiredness, lack of motivation, mood etc. It is one of those words we really miss when we speak English because often times we want to use it but there is nothing in English that replaces it.
  6. Brannoc Member

    British English
    Thanks for clarifying "du får" very helpful.

    Orka sounds very useful too, as for no equivalent in English and from what you say I would think "Not interested !" fits the bill exactly for just about everything, with "No way!" as a stronger back-up just in case ;)
  7. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    Not sure why the thread ended up being about "orka", but since it is I'll just chime in and say that I don't think "not interested" is an equivalent. "Orka" is about not having a sufficient amount of something, but it's more akin to lacking some sort of strength or energy, and less like lacking "interest". So if someone says they "orkar inte" then to me it isn't about interest but about the lack of energy or will. It would range from a literal lack of strength to lift something to being exhausted from having been at home all day with screaming children while cleaning and cooking and doing taxes and planning a wedding and now the person is asked to do something intellectually demanding..... If you know what I mean...

    If it was about interest specifically I would expect a different Swedish word to be used.
  8. Brannoc Member

    British English
    Listless, lethargic, apathetic, enervated....?
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
  9. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
  10. Colorblend New Member

    Very well put, Mattias,you got it out better than I did.

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