Swedish ‘en’ or ‘ett’ – baked goods or a butt?

One of the difficult aspects of learning Swedish is knowing if the noun is prefaced with the indefinite article ‘ett’ or ‘en’. For example ‘a house’ is ‘ett hus’ but ‘a flat’ is ‘en lägenhet’. It’s important to know the difference as it affects the plural and the definite forms of the words. Mixing them up is a mistake many foreigners make, even after 20 years of living in Sweden. (guilty!).

About 20% of Swedish nouns are ‘ett’ nouns, so if in doubt guess ‘en’. However, it’s not that easy, as most of the commonly-used nouns begin with ‘ett’.

To add some spice to the pot, some nouns can be both ‘ett’ words and ‘en’ words, but the meaning of the word changes. Here are some examples:

Bak – ett bak is baked goods, but en bak is a butt/backside. So you see why the expression ‘I love grandma’s ‘bak’ can go very wrong!

Bål – ett bål is a bonfire but en bål is a torso or a punch (as in drink)

Barr – ett barr is a needle (eg from a pine tree), men en bar is a bar (gymnastics equipment)

Ton – ett ton is a tonne but en ton is a note (as in music)

Lag – ett lag is a team but en lag is a law or a syrup

Slam – ett slam is sludge but en slam is a term in a game of cards

Lager – ett lager is a layer but en lager is a lager (beer)

Vak – ett vak is a wake but en vak is a hole in ice

Klöver – ett klöver is a club (in playing cards) but en klöver is clover/shamrock

Poäng – ett poäng is point as in a score, but en poäng is point as in point of view

Nöt – ett nöt is an idiot, but en nöt is a nut (for example hazelnut)

Lår – ett lår is a thigh, but en lår is a crate

Can you think of any more examples to add to the list?

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