The Swedish third person plural pronoun has the nominative case form de, which is pronounced /dɔm/.

How did this situation come about? My guess is that the nominative merged with the accusative but somehow maintained its old orthographic form.

  • Why don't you ask on a Swedish linguistics website?
    – BillJ
    Jul 13, 2016 at 9:20
  • 1
    This is a general question relating to why this situation came about in Swedish but not in Danish or Bokmål. Why not ask it here?
    – jogloran
    Jul 13, 2016 at 16:29
  • 2
    History behind de/dem
    – MujjinGun
    Jul 15, 2016 at 15:26
  • @MujjinGun This is the answer, and well documented too. If you elaborated this into an answer I'd accept it.
    – jogloran
    Jul 17, 2016 at 18:43
  • @jogloran It is the situation with Bokmål too: "bare skriftlig bokmål som fremdeles insisterer på skillet mellom de og dem, men både nynorsk og alt norsk talemål bruker dei, de eller dem både som subjektsform og objektsform" "Only written Bokmål still insists on differentiating de and dem, but both Nynorsk and the spoken language use dei, de (/di/) or dem as both the subject and object form."
    – michau
    Dec 22, 2016 at 5:29

2 Answers 2


MujjinGun has provided this excellent video in a comment, but it's been long enough since it was posted that it deserves a proper answer. I've provided comparisons from English as well whenever possible.

Originally, the Swedish third-person plural pronoun was de in the nominative and dem in the accusative, pronounced just as spelled. At this point the spelling was standardized, and there was much rejoicing.

Over time the pronunciation shifted to /di/ and /dɔm/, but the spelling remained the same. (Compare the mess that is modern English vowels; the spelling used to make sense, but the pronunciation has changed and the orthography hasn't kept up with it.)

Then in northern and central Sweden, de slowly fell out of fashion in the spoken language. Instead, dem was used for both the nominative and the accusative. (Compare how English thou has been replaced almost entirely with you.)

This was seen as vulgar, lower-class, and slang-y. So it happened exclusively in spoken language; in writing, and in more formal environments, the nominative would still be de. (Compare informal English contractions like "gonna". I'd almost always say "gonna" out loud, but in writing I would put "going to" without even noticing the difference.)

This "incorrect" pronunciation slowly spread. Once it was part of the Stockholm local dialect the vulgar/informal labels started to fade away, and by the mid-20th century /dɔm/ became the official standard pronunciation for both nominative and accusative.

And that's where we are now, with the pronouns usually spelled de and dem but both pronounced /dɔm/.


I would say that the Bouba/kiki effect has something to do with the explanation.

I'm from Northern Sweden and briefly watched and listened to the video about the de/dem/dom etymology. I think that there was absolutely nothing about why and only observations how words evolved and changed and how people did.

I would say that the reason is the sound. It is easier and sounds softer to say /dɔm/. The sound has a psychological association with something round and soft, compared with the other sound ("di/de(t)") that has a psychological association with something sharp and hard.

If you compare the sounds in a test, many people will make a connection between a soft sound (example "Bouba") and a round and soft shape, and they will make a connection between a "Kiki" sound and something sharp.

The first association (roundness) is associated with easygoing and the second association (sharpness) is associated with hard determinism.

  • 1
    This is pure speculation, or do you have any references for this theory? Dec 21, 2016 at 18:06
  • There should be a reference. I'm researching it in Sweden and asking now among native Swedes. They say a lot about what is the correct pronunciation and almost nothing about the reasons. Dec 21, 2016 at 18:18
  • 3
    The problem is that native Swedes have absolutely no idea about the history of Swedish, so your efforts are wasted.
    – user6726
    Dec 21, 2016 at 22:38
  • 1
    @user6726 I guess you mean "most native Swedes"? There must be Swedes who can explain the reasons to Dac. Dec 22, 2016 at 6:37

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