Swedish Language Blog

Swedish False Friends Posted by on Aug 29, 2014 in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

A while ago, we talked about some of those words in Swedish that are the same in English in a creatively titled post English Words in Swedish. They’re the ones that make learning a language just a little bit easier. Of course, learning a language is always a challenge, no matter how many cognates there are because you also have false cognates. False friends if you will. We’ve posted a short piece titled Beware False Friends from a while ago.

Sometimes those false friends are spelled exactly the same as a word you know in English. Other times, the word might be close, so close, that you think you can guess it. You might be right. Or you might not be. So beware. Here are 20 false friends that you should learn, just to avoid any confusion:

Don't English grind on the Swedish grind. Photo credit: B. Marcus Cederström

Don’t English grind on the Swedish grind. Photo credit: B. Marcus Cederström

Svenska = Engelska

  1. bad (ett) = bath
  2. barn (ett) = child
  3. bra = good
  4. dog = died
  5. fart (en) = speed
  6. full = drunk
  7. gem (ett) = paper clip
  8. genus (ett) = gender
  9. grind (en) = gate
  10. gymnasium (ett) = high school
  11. kind (en) = cheek
  12. kiss (ett) = pee
  13. offer (ett) = victim or sacrifice
  14. personal (en) = staff/personnel
  15. pest (en) = plague
  16. semester (en) = vacation
  17. slut (ett) = end/finished
  18. smoking (en) = tuxedo
  19. stark = strong
  20. trams = nonsense

Of course, you can see the potential for problems here. If you’ve had enough to eat at dinner, don’t say you’re full. Unless you’ve also had too much to drink. With school starting, don’t say you’re dreading the start of the new semester. Unless you’re going on a horrible vacation. If you ask for a gem, don’t be surprised when someone gives you a paper clip. I think you understand how this works.

And those are just the ones that are spelled the same. There are plenty of others, like val. Kind of looks like whale. It does mean whale. Kind of. If it is EN val, it is a whale. If it is ETT val, it is an election. So right now in Sweden, there is ETT val coming up. Not EN val. We’ll be voting in elections, not whales.

Good luck and be sure to write more of your false friends in the comments below.

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Judy:

    Great topic! I’ve made so many mistakes with these types of words!

  2. Marcus Cederström:

    They can be super tricky sometimes

  3. Eirik:

    Don’t forget about the endless potential for confusion and awkward conversations with the Swedish word “gift,” (poison, or married.) Even after you’ve gotten the basics down and you know that “gift” is not a present, it’s easy to confuse the verbs “gifta” (to marry) and “förgifta” (to poison.) My Swedish friends really got a kick out of my story about how Socrates was punished for “corrupting the youth” by being married.

    • Marcus Cederström:

      @Eirik haha yes, very good point, and great story!