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"Varje" is often translated as "each" or "every" in English. However, "each" and "every" have different uses in regard to collectivity/distributivity. It is my understanding that "varje" takes a distributive reading, but I am not sure if collective readings are also possible. I have some sentences below to try to test this. I am not a native Swedish speaker, so I need some help from those who are.

1) Varje elev samlades i korridoren.

Imagine we have a group of 10 students. If "varje" is strictly distributive, then I imagine 1) should sound odd, since each student cannot gather him/herself. Or, is it possible to interpret "varje" collectively (i.e., the group of students)?

2) Varje lamm väger circa 150 kg.

Imagine we have 5 lambs. If "varje" is strictly distributive, I imagine that this forces us to believe that each individual lamb weighs 150kg. But, is it also possible to interpret this collectively? For example, say I put 500kg instead of 150kg (to make it plausible), can it be possible that the group of lambs (sum of their weights) collectively weighs 500kg?

Thanks!

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    I’m not a native speaker either, though a fairly competent one, and the first one does sound odd to me. Varje elev gick ut i korridoren is very natural, but varje elev samlades isn’t. In the second example, it is definitely not possible to understand the 150 kg as referring to the combined weight of the sheep. It’s quite unambiguously each individual sheep that weighs 150 kg. But this is true of both each and every in English as well (‘each/every student gathered in the corridor’ doesn’t work either). I’d say varje is as distributive as each in English. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 21:31
  • Thank you for your comment! If you replace the 150kg with 500kg, can you receive the collective reading (i.e., total weight of 5 lambs = 500kg)?
    – kg5425
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 21:35
  • Nope, doesn’t matter what the weight is. If it’s 5 kg, then each/every lamb weighs 5 kg (25 kg in total); if it’s 500 kg, then you’ve got two and a half tonnes worth of the world’s most ginormous lambs. (Incidentally, I would say 150 kg for five lambs sounds more reasonable than 100 kg per lamb, but I’m no farmer, and I don’t make a habit of carrying lambs around.) Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 23:20
  • @dj1121 I'm not sure I get this about lambs... you can't say "Every lamb weighs 500kg" in English and mean that they weight 500kg in total, and you say can't say "Each lamb weighs 500kg" and mean that. It doesn't matter which of "every" or "each" you use, it just doesn't work, so I wouldn't expect to work it in Swedish no matter which English word it best matches.
    – LjL
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 3:09
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    @LjL Generally speaking, every is less insistent on being distributive than each in English, allowing collective uses in some cases, though the lamb example doesn’t really show it. The first example does, though: “*Each student gathered in the corridor” is unequivocally impossible, whereas “?Every student gathered in the corridor” is at least marginally possible. A better example would be that “Every student was photographed” would still be true if they were photographed in groups, whereas “Each student was photographed” requires that it’s one by one. Varje could be both in that case. Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 8:15

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You are correct about both sentences. The first one, Varje elev samlades i korridoren, not only sounds odd but is something that no one would say. (One would expect Alla eleverna samlades….)

Your understanding of the second sentence, Varje lamm väger cirka 150 kg, is also spot-on: it can only mean that each of the lambs weighs about 150 kg (although I doubt a lamb that heavy has ever existed).

Note: In Swedish the spelling is cirka, not circa.

I also seem to remember that grammar textbooks refer to varje as a purely distributive pronoun.

(My credentials for this: Native speaker who grew up in Sweden and who visits and does work there every year. Not living there at present.)

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  • Thank you very much!
    – kg5425
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:32

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