Standard Swedish, spoken by most Swedes, is the national language that evolved from the Central Swedish dialects in the 19th century and was well established by the beginning of the 20th century. While distinct regional varieties descending from the older rural dialects still exist, the spoken and written language is uniform and standardized.
The standard word order is, as in most Germanic languages, V2, which means that the finite verb (V) appears in the second position (2) of a declarative main clause. Swedish morphology is similar to English; that is, words have comparatively few inflections. Swedish has two genders and is generally seen to have two grammatical cases – nominative and genitive (except for pronouns that, as in English, also are inflected in the object form) – although it is debated if the genitive in Swedish should be seen as a genitive case, or just the nominative plus the so-called genitive s, then seen as a clitic. Swedish has two grammatical numbers – plural and singular. Adjectives have discrete comparative and superlative forms, and are also inflected according to gender, number and definiteness. The definiteness of nouns is marked primarily through suffixes (endings), complemented with separate definite and indefinite articles. The prosody features both stress and in most dialects tonal qualities. The language has a comparatively large vowel inventory. Swedish is also notable for the voiceless dorso-palatal velar fricative, a highly variable consonant phoneme.
Swedish is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. In the established classification, it belongs to the East Scandinavian languages, together with Danish, separating it from the West Scandinavian languages, consisting of Faroese, Icelandic, and Norwegian. However, more recent analyses divide the North Germanic languages into two groups: Insular Scandinavian (Faroese and Icelandic), and Continental Scandinavian (Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish), based on mutual intelligibility due to heavy influence of East Scandinavian (particularly Danish) on Norwegian during the last millennium and divergence from both Faroese and Icelandic.
By many general criteria of mutual intelligibility, the Continental Scandinavian languages could very well be considered dialects of a common Scandinavian language. However, because of several hundred years of sometimes quite intense rivalry between Denmark and Sweden, including a long series of wars from the 16th to 18th centuries, and the nationalist ideas that emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the languages have separate orthographies, dictionaries, grammars, and regulatory bodies. Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are thus from a linguistic perspective more accurately described as a dialect continuum of Scandinavian (North Germanic), and some of the dialects, such as those on the border between Norway and Sweden, especially parts of Bohuslän, Dalsland, western Värmland, western Dalarna, Härjedalen, Jämtland, and Scania, could be described as intermediate dialects of the national standard languages.
In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, evolved into Old Norse. This language underwent more changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted in the appearance of two similar dialects: Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden). The dialects of Old East Norse spoken in Sweden are called Runic Swedish, while the dialects of Denmark are referred to as Runic Danish. The dialects are described as "runic" because the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. Unlike Proto-Norse, which was written with the Elder Futhark alphabet, Old Norse was written with the Younger Futhark alphabet, which had only 16 letters. Because the number of runes was limited, some runes were used for a range of phonemes, such as the rune for the vowel u, which was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i, also used for e.