21 November, 2018

Puzzling prepositions – a Swedish lesson with The Swedish Teacher

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Here at the Newbie Guide we work in an unholy mess of English, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. So we know first hand the struggle of getting the “small details” of a language right. On top of that we often get emails and messages asking about places and apps to learn Swedish and how to say this and that.

So we figured that the best thing to do was to pair up with people who really know what is what in regards to learning Swedish. And a little while back we asked you, our dear newbies, to share your main Swedish struggles on Facebook. And you did:-)

Prepositions was one of the top contenders and so we asked Sara, founder and head teacher at The Swedish Teacher, to give us a Swedish class about prepositions. And here it is! We are starting with i, på och till. Pay attention and good luck! 🙂

The Newbie Team


Prepositions (on, at, in, to) are often hard to master when you are learning a foreign language. But, with a lot of attention to native speakers and a lot of practice, you will one day get a feel for what preposition to use. I would say that the correct use of prepositions comes when you start thinking more in the foreign language and translate less from your first language.  But maybe you are not quite there yet, so I’m going to help you out with some preposition that often confuses.

What about “i”?

First of all, we use “i” when someone or something is inside a volume of some kind. For example, being in a room:

Eleverna sitter i klassrummet. 

(The pupils are sitting in the classroom.)

Anders fru sitter i köket och bläddrar i tidningen. 

(Anders wife is sitting in the kitchen flipping through the newspaper.)

Anders sitter i soffan och tittar på TV. 

(Anders is sitting on the couch watching TV.)

Now it might sound to you, according to my previous explanation, as if Anders is inside of the couch. Well, of course, he is not. But, sitting on a couch, or sofa if you like, we are in a way surrounded by it, and in such a case you should use “i” in Swedish.

Det är skönare att sitta i en mjuk fåtölj än på en på en stol. 

(It is more comfortable to sit on an armchair than on a chair.)

Speaking of furniture and rooms, using “i” instead of “på” also makes the difference between “ceiling” and “roof.” You see, in Swedish, there is only one word for both of these – “tak.” A couple of examples will show what I mean:

Det hänger en lampa från IKEA i taket. 

(There is a lamp from IKEA hanging from the ceiling.)

Katten sitter på taket och kan inte klättra ned. 

(The cat is sitting on the roof and can’t come down.)

The volume could also be a part of your body:

Det kliar i näsan.

(My nose is itching.)

Hon fick tårar i ögonen.

(She got tears in her eyes.)

Vad har du i munnen?

(What have you got in your mouth?)

Det kan göra ont i öronen när man flyger.

(Your ears might hurt when you are flying)

Peter Forsberg skadade sig i knät under den viktiga matchen.

(Peter Forsberg hurt his knee during the important game.)

Man får lätt ont i huvudet om man inte dricker tillräckligt med vatten.

(You easily get a headache if you don’t drink enough water.)

Jag är så trött i armarna! Skulle du kunna bära min väska?

(My arms are so tired! Could you carry my bag?)

Speaking of body parts, we also use “i” for holding something. My American husband always thinks it sounds funny when you say something like this:

Håll mamma i handen när du går över gatan!

To him, it sounds like the first person is sitting in the hand of the other person. Here is another example of holding or grabbing:

Sluta dra mig i håret!

(Ouch! Stop pulling my hair!)

Less surprisingly we also use “i” when someone or something is in a country, part of a country or in a city or village. For example:

Jag har bott i Uppsala i många år.

(I have lived in Uppsala for many years.)

Uppsala ligger i Sverige.

(Uppsala is in Sweden.)

You should also use “i” when talking about a volume in an abstract sense, as in a situation or condition. Like this for example:

Vi befinner oss i en allvarlig situation.

(We have found ourselves in a serious situation.)

En stor del av världens befolkning lever i fattigdom.

(A big part of the world’s population live in poverty.)

Anitas moster dog i cancer.

(Anita’s aunt died of cancer.)

You can also say “dog av cancer,” but then you are rather focusing on what caused her death than on her condition. The message is more or less the same though.

Some expressions for a time also use “i.” For example, telling the time:

Klockan är fem i halv fyra.

(It is fem minutes to half-past three.)

Also, most time expressions that show past time use “i”:

i lördags

i eftermiddags

i februari

i vintras

i påskas

But also some expressions for future time:

i morgon

i november

i sommar

Some expressions for ongoing time:

i dag

i kväll

i sommar

i år

And, finally, when we tell for how long we have been doing something:

Vi  pratade i flera timmar.

(We were talking for hours.)

Koka potatisen i 20 minuter.

(Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes.)

Least but not last it is good to know that you should use “i” for positive feelings you have for someone or something. First, take a look at this example:

Jag är galen i dig!

(I’m crazy about you.)

Now, let us change “i” for “på”:

Jag blir galen på dig!

(You drive me crazy!)

Here are more examples of positive feelings:

Det är många som är förtjusta i choklad.

(Many people like chocolate.)

Daniel är kär i Åsa.

(Daniel is in love with Åsa.)

When is i not i but på?

Can it really make such a big difference if you substitute ”i” for ”på”? Well, as we saw earlier it definately can!

Jag är galen i dig (I am crazy about you) versus Jag blir galen på dig (you drive me crazy). I don’t know about you, but mixing those two up could cause quite a lot of trouble, possibly hilarious trouble – but trouble nonetheless:-)

First of all, we use “på” when we are talking about something placed on a surface. This usage of “på” is similar to English. Here are a few examples:

Tidningen ligger på bordet.

(The newspaper is on the table.)

Det hänger en tavla på väggen.

(There is a painting hanging on the wall.)

Jag bor på Gotland.

(I live on Gotland.)

A place where everybody is doing the same thing. In this case, Swedish “på” is better compared to English “at” than “on.” In Swedish, we, therefore, use “på” when we are talking about a place where everyone is doing the same thing, so when we use “på,” the activity or the function of the place is more important than the place itself. There are many situations that this applies to:

Jag jobbar på en fabrik.

(I work at a factory.)

Jag är på kontoret.

(I am at the office.)

Jag är på jobbet.

(I am at work.)

Jag läste svenska på SFI.

(I studied Swedish at SFI.)

Han gick på KTH.

(He went to/studied at KTH.)

Note that there is an exception to this rule: i skolan.It does happen though that people say “på skolan” in spoken Swedish.

Commercial facilities and public offices

Anna letade julklappar på NK hela dagen.

(Anna were Christmas shopping at NK all day.)

Sedan var hon på banken, på Systembolaget och på Skatteverket.

(Then she were at/went to the bank, Systembolaget, and Skatteverket.)

Förra veckan låg Anders på sjukhus.

(Anders was hospitalized last week.)

Public transportation

Alla är tysta på bussen.

(Everyone is quiet when on the bus.)

Det är kul att gå på bio.

(It’s fun to go to the movies.)

Vill du följa med på fest?

(Do you want to come to a party with me?)

På vintern träffas svenskar gärna på kafé.

(Swedes love meet up at a café in the winter time.)

Courses and meetings

Jag ska gå på ett möte så jag kan inte ha telefonen på.

(I’m going to be in a meeting so I can’t have my phone turned on.)

Note that we still say “i affären” (in the store).

Time off

Klockan 10 går alla på kafferast.

(At 10 o’clock everyone takes a coffee break.)

I juli är all personal på semester.

(In July the whole staff is on vacation.)

På” is also the preposition used when expressing negative feelings:

arg på

(angry about/angry with)

förbannad på

(furious about)

galen på

(mad about)

irriterad på

(annoyed with/at)

besviken på

(disappointed at)

trött på

(tired of/sick of)

We also use “på” when talking about what we can do with our senses:

Lars tittar på TV.

(Lars is watching TV.)

Lyssna på mig!

(Listen to me!)

Kom och lukta på blommorna.

(Come here and smell the flowers.)

Vill du smaka på kakan som jag har bakat?

(Do you want to try/taste the cake I have made?)

Känn på kattens mjuka päls.

(Touch (and feel) what a soft fur this cat has.)

There are of course many many more situations when you should use “på,” but the list above should at least get you started.

Rounding it up with ”till”


Jag ska flytta till en ny lägenhet.

(I’m moving to a new apartment.)

Jag brukar cykla till jobbet.

(I usually ride my bike to work.)

We also use “till” when we are talking about direction in a more abstract sense. You are moving closer to a target (in this case the course):

Jag har anmält mig till en kurs i svenska.

(I have applied for a Swedish language course.)

Jag sparar pengar till en resa.

(I’m saving money for a trip.)

We also use “till” when our action involves change:

Jag vill byta till en större lägenhet.

(I want to change for a bigger apartment.)

Anders utbildar sig till läkare.

(Anders is studying to become a doctor.)

Sending something or giving something away:

Vad ska du ge till Pelle på hans födelsedag?

What are you going to give Pelle for his birthday?)

Säg ingenting till någon.

(Don’t tell anyone.)

Pelle, jag har en present till dig.

(Pelle, I have a present for you.)

What we use things for

<Vad använder du den här till?

(What do you use this one for?)

Jag tror att pengarna räcker till hyra och mat.

(I think I have enough money for my rent and food.)

For any accessories, attachments and side dishes:

Kan jag få mjölk till kaffet?

(Can I have some milk with my coffee?)

Jag kan inte hitta locket till burken.

(I can’t find the lid for this jar.)

Vilket vin passar till fisken?

(What wine goes with the fish?)

Jag bor i en förort till Stockholm.

(I live in a suburb of Stockholm.)

I hope I haven’t made you even more confused now. Don’t be afraid to post questions if something is unclear. Keep on learning! And if you need more hands on help, just get in touch. We are here to help with your Swedish learning journey.

Sara, The Swedish Teacher

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The Newbie Team
The Newbie Team posts news, tips and general goodness that can be useful for all Newbies. We always try to find Newbie related information that will help all Newbies on their new life in Sweden.
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