Swedish: word order (subject/verb)

Fancythat

New Member
English
Hej!

I know that, in a simple sentence (not a question), you put the subject before the verb.

However, I've noticed that sometimes people switch the verb and subject order, for example: "Godis smaka gott... tycker han." [A sentence from a chat message with a native Swedish-speaker.]

And I'm very sorry that I cannot be more specific, but when I was browsing through various threads in the forum I recall seeing (in a reply) the same inverse order after "nu". (I believe the sentence was something along the lines of "Nu förstår jag.")

I'm very confused as to when I would switch the subject/verb order. What words/phrases 'trigger' the switch? (Adverbs, conjunctions, clauses, ...?)

Tack på förhand!
 
  • cocuyo

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Stockholm
    A secondary clause that precedes the main clause will reverse the order, as well as a main clause that is initiated with an adverb that fulfills the same function as a secondary clause.

    It is also possible to start a sentence with an adjective, which will also change the word order, but it is not colloquial in style; used mostly in poems.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Hi Fancythat,

    You've stumbled upon the Germanic V2 Constraint :).
    It means that often the verb has to be in the second "constituent" place in a clause.
    Usually the subject is before the verb, and the verb is in the second place (after the subject), however when you start a clause with something that isn't the subject, it doesn't push everything back one like in English.

    For example:

    I ate an apple.
    1.2....3....4.

    Yesterday I ate an apple.
    1.............2...3...4...5.

    In Germanic languages (Swedish included) the equivalent word order is:

    Yesterday ate I an apple.
    1..............2...3..4...5.

    I found an article that talks about the V2 Constraint in Swedish, but it's fairly complicated linguistic terminology so I'll try to paraphrase it.

    Marie såg inte film-en.
    Marie saw not film-DEF
    ‘Marie didn’t see the film.’

    Marie har inte sett film-en.
    Marie has not seen film-DEF
    ‘Marie hasn’t seen the film.’
    The subject occurs first, followed by the subject, this is normal because in main sentences (declarative sentences) this is the word order in Swedish. However, like other Germanic languages (including English) you can 'front' information to stress it, to make it more prominent in what you are saying.

    Putting the object before the verb in the sentences above gives you the following word order.

    a.
    Film-en såg Marie inte.
    film-the saw Marie not
    ‘The film, Marie didn’t see.’

    b.
    Film-en har Marie inte sett.
    film-the has Marie not seen
    ‘The film, Marie hasn’t seen.’
    I only know the details about this feature in Old English & Icelandic, and a little bit about how it worked in the Scandinavian of the Vikings, but I'm not sure what changes have happened in Swedish since then so there will be someone better to help you about that, but this is the main gist of it.

    [Edit]: It appears that om (if) and ifall (in case) do not cause the verb to be in the second place when they are first. It is also optional with some others (eftirsom (since) / medan (while))

    I think being aware of it so you know what is going on, is the key for now, so it's not some unknown grammar thing that is confusing you, but be aware there will be times when it doesn't follow a rule, and this will be the case until you gradually pick up what types of words trigger this inversion, and what type of words don't. For now, realising what the rule is and that it fluctuates with different degrees will hopefully make the sentences you read a lot easier to comprehend :D
     
    Last edited:

    Magb

    Senior Member
    Norway, Norwegian
    I'll throw my full support behind Alex's excellent post, with just one minor correction: eftersom and medan never trigger V2 movement. Those are conjuctions (other examples of which include om "if", och "and", eller "or", etc.), and conjunctions never cause verb movement in North Germanic languages. As Alex correctly pointed out, it's adverbials such as igår "yesterday", and fronted objects like filmen in Filmen såg Marie inte that cause the verb to move.
     

    Magb

    Senior Member
    Norway, Norwegian
    By the way, there's one other construction where the verb comes before the subject in Swedish (and related languages), and that's with the following type of conditional statement:

    hade jag vetat_ det_ hade jag väntat
    had_ I__ known that had_ I__ waited
    "If I had known that, I would've waited."
    (Those underscore characters are just an attempt to make the words line up.)

    As you can see this has a parallel in English: "Had I known that, I would've waited." The difference is that in Swedish, the verb comes first in the second clause as well. If that were the case in English, it would've been "Had I known that, would I have waited."
     

    Fancythat

    New Member
    English
    Thank you for that as well! I haven't seen that type of construction before, so I would have never known. I'll just have to keep practicing, and hopefully I'll eventually be able to recognize these cases naturally. For now, I'm going to have to keep going over the notes I copied down from this thread.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I'll throw my full support behind Alex's excellent post, with just one minor correction: eftersom and medan never trigger V2 movement. Those are conjuctions (other examples of which include om "if", och "and", eller "or", etc.), and conjunctions never cause verb movement in North Germanic languages.
    Thank you Magb :) I don't know a lot about Swedish at all, and I will definitely take your word for this, but just letting you know where I got that information from, in this link it says:.

    Following is a list of some Swedish complementizers, classified according to whether or not they allow V2 order in the clause they introduce:

    (14)
    a. Some complementizers that do NOT allow V2 order: om ‘if’, ifall ‘in case’.

    b. Some complementizers that allow optional V2 order: eftersom ‘since’, fast(än) ‘although’, ty ‘since’ (archaic), medan ‘while’.
     

    Tjahzi

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    I had a look at that linked article and must say that, from a native speaker's point of view, I disagree with the purposed distinction made by altering the word order between (15) and (16). To me, (15) appears simply ungrammatical and (16) standard. Although that sentence too could be more natural if "därför att" was to be replaced by "eftersom".

    That said, the first half of the article seems well written.
     

    Magb

    Senior Member
    Norway, Norwegian
    Ah, I get what they were saying now. It's true that some conjunctions can optionally make adverbs like inte "not" move in front of the verb. I thought it was suggesting that the verb would move in front of the subject after those conjunctions, which certainly never happens. I always forget that you apparently aren't supposed to count the conjunction itself as a constituent, so in derför att han har alltid, the verb is the second constituent. I'd never thought of what we're talking about here as an aspect of V2, but I guess it is.

    I had a look at that linked article and must say that, from a native speaker's point of view, I disagree with the purposed distinction made by altering the word order between (15) and (16). To me, (15) appears simply ungrammatical and (16) standard. Although that sentence too could be more natural if "därför att" was to be replaced by "eftersom".

    That said, the first half of the article seems well written.
    Then the plot thickens. How do you (and other native Swedish speakers) feel about the following examples:

    (1)
    a. om han har alltid varit här
    b. om han alltid har varit här
    (remember that this is the conjunction om, i.e. "if", not the preposition)

    (2)
    a. derför att han har alltid varit här
    b. derför att han alltid har varit här

    (3)
    a. eftersom han har alltid varit här
    b. eftersom han alltid har varit här


    My own intuition about Norwegian says that 1a (which would be almost identical in Norwegian) is completely ungrammatical. If I substitute derför att with fordi (not sure if that's really equivalent though), I can accept both 2a and 2b. And finally, 3a is a little awkward to me, but acceptable. But the syntax of Norwegian and Swedish are surprisingly different sometimes, so I don't want to speak on behalf of Swedes.
     

    cocuyo

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Stockholm
    To me all b alternatives are OK and 2a is possible as a complete sentence responding to a question "varför?", but it cannot be used as a secondary clause.
     
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