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.
  11. kloie Senior Member

    Could orka also mean to manage?
  12. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    Could you put it (manage) in an English sentence?
  13. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Senior Member

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Absolutely - 'får' in this case is not about permission, it's a prediction more than anything. Scenario: My phone just fell on the floor and broke, so I swear and say 'Helvete också, nu får jag skaffa en ny telefon!' (Darn! Now I'll have to get a new phone) Later on I tell my friend: Jag hinner inte träffa dig imorgon för jag måste köpa en ny telefon. (I won't have time to meet you tomorrow because I have to buy a new phone)

    Sometimes 'får' can be translated as 'get to': Vi ska åka till USA i sommar och då får jag träffa mina amerikanska kusiner. (We're going to the US next summer and then I'll get to meet my American cousins.)
    I'd say that 'I can't be bothered' works most of the time. The task doesn't have to be physically or mentally challenging, the main thing is that you lack the necessary motivation to do it, so you say 'jag orkar inte'. Interest, physical strength or energy are just some of the factors that fuel your motivation or not, and there is no need to specify further until someone asks you why you couldn't be bothered.
  14. kloie Senior Member

    The convict managed to escape from prison.
    Manage is this way means to succeed in doing something difficult.
  15. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    I think my use of "will" was fairly close to "motivation" (perhaps incorrectly?).

    I still wouldn't use "Jag orkar inte" to simply say "no" to something I had no interest in. The way it's been used by me and my friends has always implied some lack of something, like strength (mental or physical) / motivation, and less so interest. Whenever interest has been the key issue we've always chosen something like "Jag har inte lust att xxxx" or something along those lines.
  16. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York

    So I think your sample sentence doesn't translate with the use of "orka", but your definition seems reasonable.

    "Fången lyckades fly från fängelset." would be the translation I would expect to see.

    However, "Jag orkade springa hela tiden!" = I managed to run the whole time (referring to a marathon - as opposed to walking at times).

    It's hard to explain why you would pick "lyckas" in one case and "orka" in the other. I would say that it could be mostly a matter of convention, but if I were to make some sort of poorly educated guess I'd also say that "orka" again implies more effort, either mental or physical. But this "effort" isn't just figuring something out. Obviously when escaping from a prison you would have to figure out how to do that, but it would be more akin to playing chess - you're solving a problem. And the English phrase you used actually encompasses the whole event; both the 'figuring out' and the physical act of escaping. There was actually a recent escape, here in the US I believe, that I think could serve as an example of where you'd use one versus the other:

    - The prisoners managed to escape by hiding in trash cans. (i.e., not a lot of physical effort, describes the entire event (plus how it was done))
    - Fångarna lyckades fly genom att de gömde sig i soptunnor.

    on the other hand

    - The prisoners managed to swim all the way from Alcatraz to Oakland.
    - Fångarna orkade/lyckades simma hela vägen från Alcatraz till Oakland.

    I think the latter could go either way, with "orkade" really emphasizing the physical accomplishment. If someone wrote "lyckades simma" I would almost expect the follow up question "Well, was it far or something?", whereas with "orkade" it's more implied that it indeed is far. Come to think of it, if you're swimming across from Alcatraz to Oakland I'm betting the water can be pretty rough at times, and if it is I would choose "lyckades simma" to emphasize the achievement (due to weather) but "orkade simma" to emphasize the energy spent (due to weather). Not sure if that makes much sense.

    Curious to see if other Swedes agree...
  17. Ansku89 New Member

    I would say that "orka" is pretty much always about energy levels and strain - physical or mental. "Succeed in doing something difficult" is a wider thing because things can be difficult in other ways too, like something intellectually challenging. If you can't solve a math problem because it's so difficult, that's not "orkar inte", but if you can't solve a math problem because you're feeling too tired to think, then you can say "jag orkar inte räkna". And actually it doesn't have to be objectively difficult either. If you've been ill for a long time and now managed to walk to the nearest shop to buy groceries, that's definitely a case for "orka" because it's a lot for your energy level in that situation.

    I'm a native Finnish speaker and there is a word with pretty much 100% similar meaning and use in Finnish (if there ever are 100% similar meanings in different languages...) so I hadn't thought about this being hard for English speakers!
  18. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    I agree.

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