Thursday, October 21

Navigating between the Swedish past and the perfect time


Photo by Tushar Mahajan from Pexels

Memorizing and conjugating Swedish verbs should be more than just drudgery. Learning to use one tense over another is more important. To illustrate this point, let’s navigate the difference between the last (past and Perfect (perfect) times, and then how to use them together. So grab your favorite verb table and let’s go!

Verb tenses vary from Swedish to English

As a student of Swedish, you already know that literal translations from Swedish won’t get you very far. Swedes often use a completely different verb tense than what seems appropriate compared to their mother tongue. One of the best examples of this is “I was born on… ” WWhat it is used here to describe a birth as a complete action. “I It was born in Sweden “. However, a Swede considers this to be a present tense sentence “I it is born in sweden. “When speaking English, Swedes often translate this directly using the present tense and make the mistake of saying”I am born in Sweden.“(* Swedish NOTE!)

Another demonstration of this idea highlights our two verb tenses of the day: last (past and Perfect (Perfect). On average, Swedish speakers tend to use perfect tense much more than English speakers. When an English speaker asked “What happened?“A Swede is more likely to use the perfect tense to say”What has happened?” (what has happened).

As you may have noticed, we are moving from the present tense, so if you are not very comfortable with Swedish, the basic verb groups and their conjugations, check these resources before continuing:

Swedish verb roulette with “201 Swedish verbs”
Preteritum – Swedish past tense
Fun with Swedish grammar: Perfect Perfekt

Swedish Past and Perfect Tenses – Let’s Review

Both past and perfect tenses describe past actions. But they differ slightly. Simply put, the past is used to describe a time frame or an action that totally complete. Think yesterday:

Helena laughedof for me yesterday. Helena laughed to me yesterday.

* Yesterday is the full time period, so past tense is better here for this context.

We playof tennis when we where little. We played tennis when we They were little.

* We play tennis here but we no longer do it.

Now, enter the perfect (simple) time. This is used in different ways, but mainly when we are referring to an indescribable time frame or an action that is in progress, incomplete. We use the auxiliary verb has (to have) and the supine form of the verb. For instance:

Helena has do not laughto What, today. Helena has don’t laughed Still today.

* Today, it is still happening, the time frame is incomplete.

Helena has bott in Lund for 8 years. Helena has lifeed in Lund for 8 years.

* We use perfect here because Helena still lives in Lund.

Perfect tense: what have you did it?

Remember the game “Have you ever …?” Perfect is the time you need to succeed here.

Have you been to the United States? Have you been to the United States?

Have you ever eaten herring? Have you ever eaten bitter herring?

Thinking of going back to Umeå? Have you thought about going back to Umeå?

Use the Swedish past and perfect tenses in harmony

This may be more difficult than you think. You may be used to your instructor telling you to choose a tense and stick to it. This is true when writing a movie synopsis or retelling your weekend plans, but don’t let verb tenses limit you. The best way to jump between tenses is to start with this sequence *:

PERFECT preterite

What have you done in your life? When did you do that?
What have you done in your life? When did you…?

I have lived in another country. I lived in Canada from 2005 to 2010.
I have lived in another country. I lived in Canada from 2005 to 2010.

I have learned Swedish. I learned Swedish in school.
I have learned Swedish. I learned Swedish in school.

You can also reply to last column using swedish short answer (short answer form). Look down:

I have celebrated the summer solstice in Finland. The made Me in 2018.
I have celebrated Midsommar in Finland. I made in 2018.

Cycle back and forth between the description of something Have done using perfect and full details of what made using the past tense. Don’t forget to practice asking questions using both forms:

Have you sung karaoke? Where did you sing karaoke?
Have you sung karaoke? Where did you sing karaoke?

Work through all the verb groups as you practice flexing between these forms. Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

* The past and perfect sequence exercise is adapted from Form i fokus: övningsbok i svensk grammatik – del B. 1997. Fasth and Kannermark, page 56.




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