25 Swedish False Friends

Sorry to potentially disappoint you but this post isn’t about the deceitful nature of Swedish people. It’s about a linguistic concept known as the ‘false friend’.

When we are learning a foreign language, there are many words that are similar in our own language and in the language that we are trying to learn. In some cases, these words have the same meaning and that’s all good. In other cases, these similar-sounding words have different meanings and trick us into a fake sense of security – these words are called bilingual homophones or ‘false friends’.

The origin of the term is as a shortened version of the expression “false friend of a translator”, the English translation of a French expression introduced by linguists Maxime Kœssler and Jules Derocquigny in their 1928 book, ‘False Friends, or the Pitfalls of the English Vocabulary’.

So prepare yourself. Here are 25 false friends between Swedish and English:

    ‘Eventuellt’ in Swedish does not mean ‘eventually’ in English. It means ‘possibly’.
    ‘Smälla’ (pronounced smella) in Swedish means ‘burst’, not ‘smell’
    ‘Advokat’ in Swedish does not mean ‘advocate’, it means ‘lawyer’.
    ‘Vrist’ is your ‘ankle’, not your ‘wrist’
    ‘Ansvar’ is responsibility, not ‘answer’
    ‘Nöt’ (kött) is not ‘nut’, it is the Swedish word for ‘beef’. ‘Biff’ isn’t ‘beef’, it’s more of a burger or a beef steak
    ‘Blankett’ in Swedish doesn’t mean ‘blanket’. It is the word for a ‘form’ that one fills in.
    ‘Kind’ (pronounced shind) isn’t ‘chin’ or ‘shin’. It is the Swedish word for ‘cheek’.
    ‘Kock’ is the Swedish word for ‘chef’. Say no more. ‘Chef’ is the Swedish word for ‘manager’.
    ‘Konkurrera’ does not mean ‘concur’. Quite the opposite in fact, it means ‘compete’.
    ‘Kostym’ isn’t ‘costume’. It means ‘suit’.
    ‘Delikat’ means ‘delicious’, not ‘delicate’.
    ‘Fabrik’ means ‘factory’, not ‘fabric’
    ‘Familjär’ sounds like it would mean ‘familiar’. But it doesn’t, it means ‘intimate’ in English.
    ‘Grind’ doesn’t mean ‘grind’ in English. It is the Swedish word for a ‘gate’.
    ‘Hammock’ sounds like it would be ‘hammock’ in English but it isn’t – it is the word for a ‘porch swing’.
    ‘Hugga’ won’t get you a hug in Swedish, it’ll get you a ‘stab’
    ‘Kiss’ isn’t a loving kiss in Swedish. It is the word for pee/piss. Something altogether different.
    If you ask for a ‘pensel’ in Sweden, you won’t get a ‘pencil’ – you’ll get a paintbrush,
    ‘Recept’ means ‘recipe’ or ‘prescription’ – not ‘receipt’
    ‘Stol’ is not a ‘stool’. It’s a chair.
    ‘Vikarie’ isn’t ‘vicar’. It’s a stand-in or a replacement.
    ‘Blinka’ is not ‘blink’, it is ‘to wink’. And ‘vinka’ is ‘to wave’.
    ‘Necessär’ isn’t ‘necessary’. It is what Swedes call their ‘toiletary bag’ or ‘wash bag’.
    If you give somebody ‘dricks’, you are giving them a ‘tip’, not a drink.

What others can you think of?

4 thoughts on “25 Swedish False Friends

  1. One “biljon” is a thousand times more than a billion. There are a lot of dollar billionaires, but no “biljonärer”.

    Miljon –> Million
    Miljard –> Billion
    Biljon –> Trillion
    Biljard –> Quadrillion
    Triljon –> Quintillion

  2. swede here. hammock is a hammock, kostym is custume but also suit. Blinka is to blink (we don’t have a word for winking unless there’s one in the south that I’ve never heard), delikat can also be used for something delicate.
    Nöt is nut (for the meat it’s nötkött). Eventuellt is more of a “can happen but not now” so it is quite similar to eventually. Familjär literally means familiar.
    Smälla (one smäll, two smällar, to smälla till someone / to give someone a smäll) is more of a hit or blowing soething up. To hit someone = att ge någon en smäll, but, a bang = en smäll.
    Necessär = purse, specifically a small one.

    An extra false friend: leg means ID. Think proving that you’re legitimate. A lot of people have walked in to systembolaget (the only place where you can buy alcohol stronger than 3.5% except for bars and some restaurants) and gotten confused about why the cashier asks for their leg.

    For those who are wondering what a stool is in swedish: it’s pall.

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