I'm helping some native English speakers to learn Swedish. I have a large list of sentences which I wish to organise by linking each sentence to its associated set of meanings. For example:

    Jag är glad: I am glad.
    Jag känner till det: I know it. 
    Jag åker till Stockholm: I'm travelling to Stockholm


Känner till:
    Jag känner till det: I know it. 


    Jag åker till Stockholm: I'm travelling to Stockholm

Så since "Känner till" is a phrasal verb, I do not associate sentences containing it with either "Känner" or "Till", but rather with "Känner till" as this is the meaning of interest.

However, take the following sentences:

What are you thinking about?
Vad tänker du på? Literally: (What think you on?)


I believe in it.
Jag tror på det. Literally: (I believe on it.)

I don't think these sentences contain phrasal verbs but I'm wondering how I should organise these from the perspective of an English speaker learning Swedish, like this:

"Vad" = What, "tänker" = think, "du" = you, and "på" = on. 

Or is this better:

"Vad" = What, "tänker på" = think about, "du" = you.

So in other words, will a native English speaker easily map "I believe on it." in Swedish with its English equivalent or if it is better for them to associated "think on" in Swedish with "think about" in English.

  • Are you essentially asking how dictionaries deal with idioms and set phrases?
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 9 '14 at 13:24
  • It's nice that you made a bounty, but you shouldn't ignore questions asking for clarification.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 17 '14 at 9:35
  • @curiousdannii Sorry for the slow reply! The dictionary I have doesn't list either "tänker på" or "tror på" but maybe its expected of a good dictionary to cover all meanings no matter how subtle they might be. Would that be your opinion also?
    – Baz
    Nov 20 '14 at 19:08

I believe you are best served by keeping the verb and the particle together. The two items, e.g. tänker på, express one specific meaning. In the case of tänker på, the meaning is still relatively transparent (cf. compositionality), but there are many cases where the meaning expressed by the phrasal verb construction is not readily deduced from the meaning of its individual parts.

Catena-based dependency grammar is a good instrument to capture these kind of idiosyncratic constructions in a surface-oriented manner, which has been, and is proving, helpful to students. Regarding your problem, see in particular the paragraph linked here.

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