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Learning Swedish – False Friends

I know, not a Swedish title today, but bear with me – the post contains quite a lot of Swedish today.

When having a conversation with a group of friends the other day, we came up with a list of Swedish word which are DEFINITELY NOT  helpful if you speak English as a first language. These words are often known as ‘False Friends’ and let me tell you – they plague my life and make me very confused in conversations when things are going too fast! And so, today, for your reading pleasure, I bring you a list of the most irritating false friends I have so far found ( again, in no particular order).

1) Kanin

Now, This word confuses me because it looks like Canine, meaning dog in English, or the ‘vampire teeth’ people have (canines are vampire teeth: particularly when you’re five and have your adult canines but not your four front teeth that go between them yet). Nevertheless, in Swedish, Kanin means rabbit. I came across this for the first time last week, when looking at a recipe book, which had a picture of a slightly indeterminate animal with floppy ears saying ‘kaniner gillar morötter.’ It actually took a while before I worked out that this didn’t say ‘Dogs like carrots’ merely because my dogs have always loved carrots and would beg for them whenever we were cooking. I did do a double-take, because I was pretty sure that dogs don’t usually like carrots, so I had to ask. Also, in Swedish, Canine teeth are called Hundtand or Hörntand (literally dog-teeth or corner-teeth)

2) Vrist

Any normal human being would assume that Vrist meant Wrist. In fact, it makes total sense. It was only during a conversation with a friend that she revealed that vrist didn’t mean wrist, and in fact meant ankle. But ankel ALSO means ankle. The word for Wrist is handled (literally hand-joint, said HAND-led)

3) Butter

I was revising using a flashcard website today, and it told me that butter means Sullen or grumpy in Swedish. The Swedish word for butter is smör, I know, which is helpful, but it must get confusing occasionally.

4) Bra

This one is one of those basic words which isn’t that hard any more. Bra is Swedish for good. The Swedish word for ‘a bra‘ is bysthållare or behå. I still rarely remember the Swedish word for Bra, but that’s because it’s not a word I use often, as I haven’t been underwear shopping here yet.

5)God

God is Swedish for tasty. The Swedish word for a ‘God‘ is Gud, which would have confused a teenage me, as ‘Gud’ was a textspeak version of ‘good’, which, as we’ve seen above, in Swedish, is bra.

I’m sure there are plenty of other false friend words, so this may become a regular feature. My first reaction to this was, however, to say:
‘Go home Swedish, You’re drunk!’

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About Lady Octavia

I'm Charlie I spent a year living in Sweden and I'm now a full time librarian in a primary school in the UK. In my spare time I have an allotment, I sew and I bake.

7 responses »

  1. On the bright side kanin in Dutch is konijn and in Spanish conejo so maybe the English is the odd one out

    Reply
  2. I have problems with “vill” thinking it means “will” and i always facepalm when i do it because for a whole minute i’m almost proud of myself for communicating until i realize i said vill instead of ska.

    Reply
    • Heh, I have that problem sometimes too, but i get around it by thinking of Swedish as slightly antiquated English: a lot of Swedish words work like Shakespearian English ( varfor – wherefore). In Shakespearian english you’d be more likely to say ‘i shall’ than I will (which sounds more like jag ska) and ‘I will it’ instead of i want it. It’s not a perfect way of remembering it, but i find it helps me remember it!

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Learning Swedish: Culture friends and some useful phrases | Global Master's and Bachelor's Programmes

  4. Hi! I just found your blog. Looks like your are learning Swedish really fast! Do you go to SFI?

    Reply
    • I don’t, no. So far, I’ve been teaching myself via the internet and conversations with my Swedish boyfriend and generally paying attention to everything happening around me. In March I’m starting a course at my University here, but it’s not SFI. I have, however, used some of the online resources from SFI to aid me in my studies.

      Reply

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