Fun with Swedish Particle Verbs

It can be literally a living hell, having no-one to nerd out with, in my amateurish way, about grammar and linguistics. My girlfriend is helping me learn Swedish, which is great – far and away the best way to become fluent in a language, right?

But whenever I realise something fascinating about English phrasal verbs and launch into an extended monologue about the equivalent Swedish particle verbs, her eyes glaze over, and then I realise she stopped listening to me before I even got onto how my current fave Swedish PV is the elaborate att ifrågasätta, to doubt/question – literally “to in-question-set”. Ace!

Dutch is littered with verbs like that, and they’re usually separable. The preposition part and the verb part of the infinitive come right apart. (She knows all about this too, so at this point she’ll usually turn up the volume on the TV.) For example, aangeven, to indicate (lit. “to on-give”) gives you:
Vergeet niet om aan te geven (Don’t forget to indicate)
Zij gaf aan dat ze klaar was (She indicated that she was ready)

That made a lot of sense to me, as an English speaker, and the way those Dutch verbs separated felt natural. Now of course, I keep trying to do the same thing to Swedish verbs, and guess what? They don’t do the separating. Not so much. Att påpeka, to point at (lit. “to at-point”) gives you jag påpekar huset (“I point at the house”) or han påpekade det (“he pointed at it”) but trying to separate the verb creates an entirely different meaning. (Jag pekar huset på = I point out the house.)

Anyways, the fun of these phrasal verbs – and I’ll often have to shout this above the whirr of her electric toothbrush – is working out how that combo of preposition + simple verbs combines. Sometimes it’s similar to the English sense, but others you really have to reach for. Now I can keep them separate when the meaning seems clear or logical:

  • att pågå = to go on (lit. “to on-go”)
  • att påstå = to claim/state (“to on-stand”)
  • att uppstå = to arise/result (“to up-stand”)
  • att uppleva = to experience (“to upp-live”)

By this point, she might be reading a book in bed, but it will be clear that it’s not really holding her attention, so I’ll explain exactly why I keep getting confused between avgöra and anföra. Why would “off-do” mean determine, and why’s that so similar to “on-bring”, which means command or quote?

Then when the light goes out, I’ll reassure her that no doubt these things will come with practice. And I’ll soothingly recite all the Swedish particle verbs I can think of, and their English meaning and literal translations, until she drifts off to sleep.


EDIT 14-08-10: As my GF was good enough to point out, påpeka means “point at” and not “point out”…