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Swedish Tenses: When and How to Use Them

All full sentences need at least one verb, which is why learning verbs and how to conjugate them is so important. Swedish tenses are something all Swedish learners will have to deal with eventually.

Tenses sometimes have a bad rep for being complicated or difficult, but they’re quite special when you get the hang of them. Tenses allow you to communicate when something happens. In this post, you’ll get to learn all about Swedish tenses—how many there are, and how to use each one. Let’s start by jumping into the basics.

Swedish Tenses: Overview of the Basics

Firstly, what are tenses? Tenses are verb forms that allow you to communicate time. When did something exist or happen? Conjugating verbs based on tenses is crucial because it completely changes the meaning of the rest of the sentence.

Take the two sentences: “We will eat the cake” and “We have eaten the cake”. Which sentence someone texts you might determine if you:

  • Run home to get a slice of cake before it’s finished or
  • Walk home slowly because there is no more cake to be had.

Let’s take a look at how many tenses Swedish learners will have to learn.

How many Swedish tenses are there?

There are five Swedish tenses that you, as a Swedish learner, need to gain an understanding of:

  1. Presens: The Swedish Present Tense
  2. Preteritum: The Swedish Simple Past Tense
  3. Perfekt: The Swedish Present Perfect Tense
  4. Pluskvamperfekt: The Swedish Past Perfect Tense
  5. Futurum: The Swedish Future Tense

Luckily, Swedish tenses have similar English equivalents, which gives English-speaking learners an advantage. Another piece of good news is that, unlike some languages, Swedish grammar doesn’t require you to conjugate verb endings based on the subject. The same verb forms are used for both singular and plural subject pronouns.

An introduction to Swedish verb groups

How many Swedish verb groups are there? Wait, why are we suddenly talking about verb groups? Well, to put the verbs in the correct forms to create tenses, we need to conjugate them. Unfortunately, not every Swedish verb will be conjugated in the same way.

To make sense of why they’re “changed” in different ways, we organize Swedish into different groups. Back to the question. How many Swedish verb groups are there? There are four different verb groups in Swedish.

  • Group 1: Verbs where the stem form ends in an “a”.
  • Group 2: Verbs where the stem form ends in a consonant.
  • Group 3: Verbs where the stem form ends in a vowel which is not “a”.
  • Group 4: Strong and irregular verbs.

As you can see, the first three groups are regular verbs, also called weak verbs. The fourth group consists of strong and irregular verbs.

But what is this “stem form” mentioned above? This is the basic form of each verb, which happens to be identical to the imperative form of verbs in Swedish. The imperative is the verb form you use when you give orders and tell people what to do. For example:

  • Titta! = Listen! (Group 1)
  • Läs! = Read! (Group 2)
  • Tro! = Believe! (Group 3)
  • Skriv! = Write! (Group 4)

Understanding this stem form is useful when studying Swedish grammar, as it will also help you see how other verb forms are built around this basic building block.

Now that we’ve got that covered, it’s time to go through the five tenses!

The Present: The Swedish Present Tense (Presens)

To talk about the present in Swedish, we use the present tense, or “presens”, as it is called in Swedish. We use the present tense to talk about things happening right now, things that usually happen, or things that will happen in the near future, for example:

  • Jag äter just nu. = I am eating right now.
  • Jag simmar varje torsdag. = I go swimming every Thursday.
  • Jag går hem om 10 minuter. = I will go home in 10 minutes.

As you’ll notice, Swedish only has one present tense form. Many English speakers need to adjust to the idea that Swedish uses the same phrase where English speakers would use two. For example:

  • Jag äter lunch där varje dag. = I eat lunch there every day.
  • Jag äter lunch just nu. = I am eating lunch right now.

English uses the simple present (I eat) in the first sentence, but present continuous (I am eating) in the second sentence. Swedish uses “presens” for both.

Now, let’s look at some examples of how the present tense is formed in Swedish.

Group Rule Stem Present Tense
1 Stem + -r Titta
2 Stem + -er Läs
3 Stem + -r Tro
4 Irregular Skriv

The Past #1: The Swedish Simple Past Tense (Preteritum)

There are three different Swedish tenses to talk about the past:

  1. Preteritum: Simple past
  2. Perfekt: Present perfect
  3. Pluskvamperfekt: Past perfect

Let’s start by talking about “preteritum”—the simple past. This is also called the preterite or imperfect tense. Preterite is used to talk about something that has happened in the past and is over now. It’s often used together with a time phrase, for example:

  • Jag ringde honom igår. = I called him yesterday.
  • Jag åt för en timme sen. = I ate one hour ago.

Let’s see examples of how to form past tense verbs in Swedish.

Group Rule Stem Simple Past Tense
1 Stem + -de Titta
2 Stem + -de / -te Läs
3 Stem + -dde Tro
4 Irregular Skriv

The Past #2: The Swedish Present Perfect Tense (Perfekt)

The second way we talk about the past in Swedish is “perfekt”—the present perfect tense. The present perfect tense is used to talk about something that started happening in the past and might still be happening now. It can be used together with a time phrase which isn’t over yet, for example:

  • Jag har läst många böcker i år. = I have read many books this year.
  • Jag har varit trött den här veckan. = I have been tired this week.

Just like in English, the Swedish present perfect is formed by two words: the word “har” (have) + a verb. The English uses the past participle, whereas Swedish uses the verb form “supinum” (Swedish supine). Unless you absolutely love getting into nitty-gritty grammar, you can simply view the Swedish “supinum” as the equivalent of the past participle.

Let’s see examples of how the present perfect tense is formed in Swedish.

Group Rule Stem Supinum Present Perfect Tense
1 Har + stem + -t Titta
TittatFrågat Har tittatHar frågat
2 Har + stem + -t Läs
LästRingt Har lästHar ringt
3 Har + stem + -tt Tro
TrottMått Har trottHar mått
4 Irregular Skriv
Har skrivitHar varit

The Past #3: The Swedish Past Perfect Tense (Pluskvamperfekt)

The third way we talk about the past in Swedish is “pluskvamperfekt”—the past perfect tense. The past perfect tense is used to talk about something that happened and was completed before something else happened in the past. For example:

  • Jag hade ringt henne innan vi gick. = I had called her before we went.
  • Jag hade tittat på hela filmen när han kom hem. = I had watched the whole movie when he came home.

Similar to how present perfect is formed, the past perfect tense is also formed by two words: the word “hade” (had) + a verb in the Swedish verb form “supinum”.

Let’s see examples of how the past perfect tense is formed in Swedish.

Group Rule Stem Supinum Past Perfect Tense“
1 Hade + stem + -t Titta
TittatFrågat Hade tittatHade frågat
2 Hade + stem + -t Läs
LästRingt Hade lästHade ringt
3 Hade + stem + -tt Tro
TrottMått Hade trottHade mått
4 Irregular Skriv
Hade skrivitHade varit

The Future: The Swedish Future Tense (Futurum)

The fifth and last of the Swedish tenses is the one used to talk about the future. It is the future tense, and it is fittingly called “futurum” in Swedish. There is no specific “futurum”-verb form, but there are several ways to talk about the future in Swedish.

As was mentioned previously, one way is to use the present tense along with a time in the future:

  • Jag ringer dem när filmen är över. = I’ll call them when the movie has ended.
  • Jag åker till Spanien om en månad. = I’ll go to Spain in a month.

Another way to express “futurum” is by using one of the following auxiliary verbs along with a verb in infinitive form:

  • Tänker
  • Ska
  • Kommer att

Let’s see some example sentences using these auxiliary verbs:

  • Jag tänker titta på en film. = I’m going to watch a movie.
  • Jag ska fråga henne i morgon. = I will ask her tomorrow.
  • Jag kommer att läsa hans bok. = I will read his book.

Let’s see how Swedish verbs look in their infinitive forms. We’ll also take a look at examples of how the future tense can be formed in Swedish with the help of certain auxiliary verbs and verbs in infinitive form.

Group Rule Stem Infinitive form Future Tense Examples
1 Stem (No change) Titta
TittaFråga Tänker tittaSka fråga
2 Stem + -a Läs
LäsaRinga Kommer att läsaTänker ringa
3 Stem (No change) Tro
Tro Ska troKommer att må
4 Irregular Skriv
Tänker skrivaSka vara

Useful Resources to Learn Swedish Tenses

Of course, mastering all of these Swedish tenses will take time and practice. We’ll list some resources for Swedish conjugation practice here:

  • Clozemaster—an app that gamifies the experience of practicing Swedish. It is simple and efficient and helps you get familiar with verbs and other Swedish vocabulary in the context of complete Swedish sentences.
  • Cooljugator—A tool where you can look up a Swedish verb and find the conjugated forms of it. It allows you to see Swedish verbs in all their tenses, along with example sentences.
  • Duolingo—One of the most popular apps for learning languages, including Swedish. This free app allows you to practice Swedish in short lessons, including exercises on conjugation.

There are a ton of other Swedish learning apps to discover. The key is to commit to practicing Swedish tenses daily. If you also expose yourself regularly to the Swedish language by listening or reading, you’ll be on the fast track to learning Swedish quickly and efficiently.

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning Swedish tenses might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with conjugated forms of Swedish verbs.

Sign up here to save your progress and start getting fluent with thousands of Swedish sentences at Clozemaster.

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Swedish.

Take your Swedish to the next level. Click here to start practicing with real Swedish sentences!

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