Sexy in Swedish – 44 romantic Swedish phrases

All I want for Christmas is you!

When you are learning Swedish, chances are that the course books include everyday language that is very helpful for getting by in Sweden in general. However, you will probably not find intimate and sexy phrases in these types of books.

It can be difficult to chat up Swedes, as we can be a little more reserved to strangers than some other nationalities. However, according to statistics Swedes can be very flirty too, especially on dating apps.

Here are 44 phrases that you can use when getting to know someone, either face-to-face or via a dating app. So let’s get festive and romantic with some useful Swedish phrases for these situations!

The first steps

Are you dating anyone at the moment?

Dejtar du någon just nu?

Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?

Har du pojkvän/flickvän?

Do you want to dance?

Vill du dansa?

Do you want anything to drink?

Vill du ha något att dricka?

I would like to get to know you better.

Jag skulle vilja lära känna dig bättre.

Do you want to meet again? Maybe we can meet again?

Vill du ses igen? Vi kanske kan ses igen?

Can I get your phone number?

Kan jag få ditt telefonnummer?

Asking someone out

Now that you’ve taken the first step and got acquainted, it’s time to ask them out.

Do you want to meet tonight/tomorrow/this weekend/next week?

Vill du ses ikväll/imorgon/i helgen/nästa vecka?

What would you like to do?

Vad skulle du vilja göra?

How about…?

Vad sägs om…?

We could maybe go for a coffee?

Vi kanske kan ta en fika?

Where do you want to meet?

Var vill du ses?

What time?

Vilken tid?

I’ll get in touch/I’ll call you.

Jag hör av mig.

Stay in touch/call me.

Hör av dig.

Compliments in Swedish

Giving compliments in Swedish can be a bit tricky. Swedes are not great at giving compliments, and many Swedes dislike crude comments about someone’s body.

So stay away from comments like ‘You have a sexy ass’. Giving criticism after a compliment should also be avoided (ex: ‘I love your hair, but you should wear it down more often’). Instead, use some of these phrases…

You look nice.

Vad fin du är.

You are funny.

Du är rolig.

I love your laughter/smile.

Jag älskar ditt skratt/leende.

You have such beautiful eyes.

Du har så vackra ögon.

You’re smart.

Du är smart.

I like your way of thinking.

Jag gillar ditt sätt att tänka.

I like hanging out with/talking to you, you inspire me.

Jag gillar att hänga/prata med dig, du inspirerar mig.

Getting closer

If you have been successful with the previous phrases, the following phrases may come in handy.

May I kiss you?

Får jag kyssa dig?

I (don’t) want to.

Jag vill (inte).

Hold me.

Håll om mig.

Kiss me.

Kyss mig.

I want you.

Jag vill ha dig.

You feel so nice.

Du är så skön.

You are so sexy.

Du är så sexig.

Do you like this?

Gillar du det här?

Don’t stop!

Sluta inte.

Slower.

Långsammare.

Faster.

Snabbare.

That was totally amazing.

Det var helt underbart.

Saying goodbye

After all that passion, unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye.

It’s late.

Det är sent.

I should go home.

Jag borde gå hem.

I’ll call you.

Jag ringer dig.

I don’t want to go.

Jag vill inte gå.

See you tomorrow.

Vi ses imorgon.

Thanks for this evening.

Tack för ikväll.

Goodbye.

Hejdå.

Goodnight.

Godnatt.

I’ll miss you.

Jag kommer att sakna dig.

Make sure to practice these, perhaps make them into flashcards to memorize them. Have fun with them, and good luck!

 

Lucia and her buns

What is Lucia?

In this blog post, we’ll look at the Swedish lucia tradition, why Swedes celebrate an Italian saint, and we’ll also look at the traditional Lucia buns that are served at this time of the year. You’ll also get a free Lucia bun recipe, both in Swedish AND in English (so you can learn some new baking vocab while making your own!

The Swedish Lucia Tradition

Next week, on the 13 December, Sweden celebrates Lucia. The annual candlelit Lucia procession is maybe one of the more exotic-looking Swedish customs, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together.

The tradition is that Lucia wears ‘light in her hair’, which means a crown of candles in a wreath on her head. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle, too. Many people nowadays taking part, especially younger children, use battery-powered candles. But there is still a special atmosphere when the lights are dimmed and the sound of singing grows as they enter the room. Parents gather in the dark with their mobile cameras ready. The star boys carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads, and are also dressed in white gowns.

The History of Lucia

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to Saint Lucia of Syracuse, Italy. Saint Lucia was a Christian martyr who died in 304. But the tradition can also be traced to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. According to the legend, she consorted with the Devil and her children were invisible devils. The name Lucia can be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and it’s difficult to know the exact origins. What you can see in Sweden today is a mixture of traditions.

In the old calendar, Lucia Night was the longest night of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak (yep, we did really believe this). By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were told to eat seven or nine (!) large breakfasts.

Before industrial times, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.

The first recorded appearance of a Lucia dressed in white in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The tradition did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar-custom disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful shenanigans of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The tradition of a Lucia serving coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.

The Lucia Buns

Lussebullar, or Lussekatter, are traditional saffron buns that Swedes eat during this time of the year. Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled up cat (hence why some call them Lussekatter), and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats).

Would you like to have a go at making your own Lucia Buns? Click here to download a free recipe.

Here are some other useful tips about the Lucia Buns

• Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.

• Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so if you want them freshly made on the day, you could prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm (food wrap) and store in a fridge overnight.

• For a little more flavour, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavour of the buns.

• As saffron buns can dry out very easily take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right colour, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth. Another thing that you can add to the dough to make the buns less dry, is Quark or Greek Yoghurt.

• Lussekatter are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting (but be very careful not to overheat them). You can also warm them in the oven on low heat (but again, be careful they don’t dry out too much).

• Many Swedes like to drink glögg with their Lucia Buns. There is glögg with alcohol available to buy from Systembolaget, but also alcohol free in most food shops.

Download a free recipe for Lussebullar here

Alla Helgons Dag

Alla Helgons Dag – a day for reflection

While Halloween celebrators have a lie in and maybe sleep off their hangover on 1st of November, many Swedes take to cemeteries at dusk to light candles on graves and reflect on loved ones they have lost, while strolling through the crisp autumnal landscapes.

Photo by Holger Motzkau

Origins of Alla Helgons Dag

According to sweden.se, in the year 731 AD, 1 November was designated a day of remembrance for saints of the church who had no days of their own. From the 11th century, 2 November was dedicated to all the dead, of whatever standing, and was called All Souls’ Day. It was widely observed by the populace, with requiems and bell-ringing, but was abolished with the arrival of the Reformation. In 1772, All Saints’ Day in Sweden was moved to the first Sunday in November and in 1953 to the Saturday between 31 October and 6 November.

In the 1900s, however, people began putting lit candles on the graves of the departed on All Saints’ Day. This custom originated with wealthy families in towns and cities. But after the World War II, it spread throughout the country. Churches also began holding services of light to mark the day.

In the north of Sweden, All Saints’ Day marks the first day of winter and the traditional start of the alpine ski season. Until recently, shops and stores were closed to mark the occasion. Although this is no longer the case everywhere, many Swedes take the day off. Those who don’t visit cemeteries usually stay at home with the family and cook something together. Many churches organise concerts to celebrate All Saints’ Day.

Where to see Alla Helgons Dag

Any cemetery will be beautiful to stroll through at dusk (make sure to check what time the sun sets).

If you happen to be in Stockholm, you might want to go and visit Skogskyrkogården. It is a very large cemetery just south of Stockholm, and it is also a UNSECO World Heritage site. It is easily accessible on the metro, green line number 18 towards Farsta or Farsta strand. The stop is called Skogskyrkogården.

 

 

Kräftor kräftor kräftor!

Kräftor – Crayfish

August is the season for kräftor crayfish in Sweden. But how did this tradition start in Sweden? What does it entail today? And what are some useful phrases for a traditional kräftskiva crayfish party?

The history of kräftor in Sweden

In Sweden, we have been eating kräftor for many hundreds of years. Earlier, it was mainly considered food for the upper classes, and it wasn’t until late 1800’s and early 1900’s that it became more widely popular in Sweden. About 100 years ago, the idea of kräftskiva crayfish party started to become firmly established.

Why august?

Kräftor has become associated to the month of August because of legislation. Since the Swedes ate large amounts of crayfish, it led to the introduction of legislation in terms of when it was allowed to fish for crayfish. In late 1800’s for example, it was not allowed to fish for crayfish throughout June and July. In the past decades, legislation has become more relaxed again, and there are no strict dates or times for crayfishing any longer. But since it has been associated with August for so long, it is still customary to begin the ‘crayfish season’ (to eat crayfish and to have crayfish parties) in early-mid August.

How do you catch kräftor? (or where can you buy them?)

In Sweden, there are two species of freshwater crayfish: flodkräftan and signalkräftan. Flodkräftan is from Sweden, whereas signalkräftan has been introduced into Sweden and does not originate from Sweden. They live in shallow waters where they build holes next to stones and roots.

As a private person, you are not allowed to fish for crayfish anywhere you like. Only Lake Vättern is actually open to the public. In other waters around the country, you will need some kind of license (unless you are lucky enough to be the owner of the lake!). On the West Coast, people tend to eat havskräftor – which is more like a langoustine. 

Kräftor are nocturnal animals, and are therefore caught at night. The most common way to catch them is by putting out special netted crates on the lake bed and fill them with fish, so that the crayfish are lured inside.

It is said that you should minimise the suffering of the crayfish by putting them head first into boiling water, so that they die more quickly.

You can also buy them from most supermarkets throughout August.

Kräftskiva Crayfish party

The typical kräftskiva is a party where we eat crayfish and other foods, sing songs and drink (usually quite a lot).

The crayfish are cooked whole in salted water accompanied with dill, other herbs and sometimes also beer. This is accompanied with baguettes, knäckebröd, herb-infused cheese, prawns, and often västerbottenpaj. To drink, Swedes often opt for snaps (herb-infused vodka), beer and soft fizzy drinks. It is quite common to sing songs when drinking snaps.

It is also common to wear special paper hats and bibs with a crayfish motif, and use serviettes with images of crayfish. Lanterns, bunting and candles often accompany the scene of a kräftskiva.

A word of caution…. Crayfish takes some time to eat (because of the challenge of cracking the shells) and the combination of slow eating and drinking snaps can mean a high likelihood of getting drunk quickly! Remember you don’t actually have to empty the snaps every time, even though some Swedes might try and insist on it.

Some useful phrases for a kräftskiva

Åh vad gott det var! Oh it’s really tasty!

Hur öppnar man den här? How do you open this one? (referring to the crayfish)

Kan jag få…? Can I get…?

Kan du skicka…? Can you pass me…?

Det är bra, tack. I’m good thanks. (as in ‘no more, please’)

Tack för maten! Thanks for the food! 

Kan jag hjälpa till med något? Can I do anything? (for example help clearing the table)

Jag är mätt. I am full. 

Jag är full. I am drunk. 

Soundcloud documentary: Who learns Swedish?

Who learns Swedish?

Earlier this year, I (Anneli) was contacted by Annika Beth Jones, a UK journalist student making her final year project: an audio documentary about the rise in Swedish learners during the past five years. She asked me if I wanted to participate in the documentary, to which I said yes!

Annika Jones

The documentary theme stemmed from Annika’s own experiences of learning Swedish, and that in the last 4-5 years the numbers of learners and online resources have exploded. Duolingo is currently recording over 5m registered learners, which considering that of the less than 10m living in Sweden 90% speak English, begs the question why the sudden popularity? Who learns Swedish?

Annika had spoken to lots of people with different reasons for learning, including relationships with Swedes, learning for the joy of it or the kudos – polyglots, refugees, those with Swedish ancestry they wish to connect to, those who have moved to Sweden for educational opportunities or simply because they love the idea of Sweden. These interviews would then be crossed with interviews with linguists, Swedish language youtubers, etc.

What she wanted to discuss with me firstly was some facts about Swedish itself. None of the language experts she had spoken to knew much specifically about Swedish. Annika was looking for someone to explain about the background/origins of Swedish and how it fits into the European language landscape.

She was also interested in my take on language learning, how it’s changed, what the future might hold and what that means for learners, teachers and eventually maybe the languages themselves.

One theme that had come up time and time again is that the world seems to be in love with the perceived culture of Sweden, so she was keen to discuss that and how accurate those perceptions are, how learning a language is a way of buying into that, etc. She asked: “As a Swede is it strange that so many people want to learn your language?”

We had a long, interesting conversation over Skype that we recorded, and you can now listen to the full documentary – Who learns Swedish – on Annika’s soundcloud profile. I think many will find this piece very interesting.

/Anneli

Interview with a Swedish learner – Jamie

This week’s interviewee is Jamie. He is 36 years old and from Ottawa, Canada. He moved to Stockholm in 2015 after meeting his wife. In some ways he says he is a typical Canadian- he loves Hockey and Maple Syrup!

He also loves his adopted homeland Sweden. He received his citizenship in 2018 and feels really proud to call Sweden home. According to Jamie, Sweden is a wonderful country, has wonderful people and beautiful nature. Jamie works at a tech company as their CSR Manager and also has his own hockey podcast which he does together with his wife.

What led you to want to learn Swedish?

I moved to Sweden in 2015 after I met my wife. I wanted to be able to speak Swedish so that all of her friends and family wouldn’t always have to switch the English whenever I was around. Plus I knew I would make this country my home so it was important for me to “come into Swedish society”, this can only be done by having an understanding of the language.

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

I started by going to SFI the first 2 months. While that gave me a basic vocabulary and understanding of simple conversations, it was simply not enough to get really better at the language. With a combination of Swedish Made Easy and forcing myself to practice, I was able to very quickly handle daily personal/work life in Swedish

How much do you currently use the Swedish language, and why?

I only speak Swedish with my wife’s friends and family and at work, my team speaks only Swedish and I answer in either Swedish or English depending on how technical the subject is.

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

The biggest challenges are simply finding the time to practice and learn. Sometimes one can be so tired that its hard to find time to sit down and study. Skype lessons are great for this because it’s an hour of dedicated learning. Another big challenge is that Swedes love to speak English so one must work hard to get over the Swedish mentality of “lets just speak English”.

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

I have 2 proudest moments: 1- the first Christmas after I moved here, speaking only Swedish with my wifes parents for the entire holiday. 2 – The first time I could be funny while speaking Swedish, felt like I could finally not just speak it but also be myself.

Can you recommend any Swedish books that are good for learning Swedish? (Could be course books, grammar books, novels, or children’s books – anything!)

Read as many lätt svensk books as you can- they are wonderful, like normal books but written in a more basic level of Swedish- I have read a lot of the Mankell books (Wallander). Its more manageable than trying to read a real book at the start.

Can you recommend any online/media resources for learning Swedish?

Hmmm, I don’t really use any.

Do you have any other advice for future, budding Swedish learners?

The biggest thing is you have to swallow your pride a little and accept that making mistakes and saying weird things is the price you pay for learning a new language. Its easy to be self-conscious when speaking a language at the start when you aren’t great at it- but honestly, people will never make fun of you, they appreciate that you are trying to learn their language. My wife, our friends and her family have all laughed together when I have said strange things- its hilarious and all part of the process. I feel compared to a lot of people, I was able to come into the language quite quick, I might not speak perfectly, but I understand everything and I can get my point across- the main reason for this has been my willingness to talk and practice in real situations. It gets easier every time.

This is also why Swedish Made Easy works so well- over time you develop a friendship with Anneli and Daniel and they become very easy to talk to because it’s a safe environment to practice and quite frankly make mistakes!

Writing and reading is also critical- pick up some lätt svensk books on your next vacation and just look up any words you don’t understand. Its great to see text written so you learn the nuances of the language, word order and expressions (there are tons in this language). Most of all remember why you wanted to learn Swedish and use that every day in your motivation!

 

Quick guide to Swedish weddings

Swedish wedding traditions

It’s summer in Sweden and that often means wedding season. In some ways, Swedish bröllop weddings can be quite different to weddings in other countries. So here’s your quick guide to Swedish traditions!

1. Bruden the bride and brudgummen the groom walk up the aisle together at the beginning of the ceremony. A bride walking in with her father is considered quite old-fashioned, and the Swedes don’t really like the idea of a woman being owned by a man. Therefore, it is quite common for the couple to walk in side by side.

2. Sometimes there is no maid of honour or best man. Some do have one or two brudtärnor bridesmaids, though, and perhaps a couple of marskalkar groomsmen.

3. At the reception, if lots of people tap their glasses, it doesn’t mean they want to make speeches.It means they want the bride and groom to kiss.

4. But you won’t go without speeches. Toastmasters will introduce each speech at the reception. All ten or twelve of them…

5. You’ll often receive a booklet at the reception with details about each guest, plus some fun bits about the couple, and song lyrics.

6. What happens on tour may not stay on tour. Because the hens and the stags will be giving a speech about each trip, and photos can (should?) be involved!

7. There will be songs. But don’t worry, there will be alcohol too!

8. There will be games. Mostly poking fun at the bride and groom. Audience participation (if only in the form of cheering) is mandatory.

9. Do not be alarmed if the bride and groom leave the room. If the bride leaves the room during the reception meal, all the women in the room must run up to the groom and kiss him on the cheek (just the cheek, please!). Ditto if the groom leaves the room, all the men must kiss the bride.

 

Interview with a Swedish learner – Gonzalo

This week’s story comes from Gonzalo. He is originally from Peru and is a native Spanish speaker but learned English when he was very young. He lives in London and works as a management consultant in the infrastructure sector. He met Jenny from Sweden in 2012, and they are now married and are expecting their first child. He is currently studying 2-3 hours a week with our Swedish teacher Daniel.

What led you to want to learn Swedish?

I met Jenny in 2012 and married her in 2017. She is fluent in Spanish, my mother tongue, so we agreed that I should try to become fluent in hers. That way I can understand when her family speak to our future baby.

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

I bought Rivstart’s old edition in 2014 and did a classroom term with UCL. Didn’t progress so found Swedish Made Easy.

How much do you currently use the Swedish language, and why?

For the time being I do not use Swedish that much as my wife speaks fluent English and Spanish and it would be rather inefficient to switch. Moreover, “we met in English” so it is a de facto communication form between us. This might change when our daughter is born later in the year as Jenny will speak to her in Swedish and I in Spanish thus opening new situations for me to experience my learning.

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

I learned English and Spanish when I was very young and never learned “the rules”. I had 20 hours a week at school taught in English so I was bilingual by 15. Starting with a new language in your 30s and having to learn after work is a big challenge.

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

This will be when I move to Stockholm for work and can work in Swedish, not quite there yet.

Can you recommend any Swedish books that are good for learning Swedish? (Could be course books, grammar books, novels, or children’s books – anything!)

Following on the thought above (about how things will change when our daughter is born), my mother in law has bought a number of the Gubbe Pettson (Pettson och Findus) for me which could now be redeployed with our daughter. They are good fun.

Can you recommend any online/media resources for learning Swedish?

I try to do 2 lessons a week. On occasion my work allows me to do a third one and in order to keep it varied, Daniel and I look up stories in 8 sidor and translate them into English. 8 sidor is great for colloquial vocabulary and for finding out everyday things happening in Swedish. They do make the occasional spelling mistake though and we filter those out to maintain purity.

Do you have any other advice for future, budding Swedish learners?

Make sure you have the motivation to get it done! That will give you the discipline to make it happen.

Interview with a Swedish learner – Marilena

Marilena is a biologist who is lucky enough to work as a researcher in one of the most well-known institutes in Europe. She arrived in Sweden a couple of years ago, moving from her home country, Greece, to work in Stockholm.

Even though Swedish winters are hard for Mediterranean people, she loves Stockholm for its parks, restaurants, amazing bars and widely preserved nature. And what is even more great, according to Marilena, is that there are cinnamon rolls everywhere!

What led you to want to learn Swedish?

Fate brought me to Sweden almost 2 years ago, when I got a new position as a researcher in Stockholm. Even though there was no immediate need to learn Swedish to cope at work or daily life, I found that I was missing out on a lot of facts about Swedes and their lifestyle.

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

I initially got a teach-yourself book about three months after I arrived in Sweden. However, it soon became clear that I needed a bit of guidance and help to really be able to understand this new language. Even though it is not one of the most difficult languages, it is important to have someone with good knowledge of Swedish to explain things.

How much do you currently use the Swedish language, and why?

I do not use Swedish as much as other people living here, mainly because at my workplace we are communicating in English. However, I have the opportunity to speak Swedish quite often, either with non-English-speaking people at the institute and very often in department stores, doctor appointments and other everyday life incidences. The ability to be able to speak Swedish has made me much more open to meeting new people outside work and I really enjoy the practice!

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

Very often I mix some words or principles from other languages while I talk or write in Swedish. In particular, I find very often that I make mistakes by introducing words from German, since I do find the two languages to have quite some similarities. Quite often, I can get away with it because they do share a lot of words!

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

I take pride in small things, such as ordering at a restaurant in Swedish, making small talk with Swedish colleagues in Swedish, or being able to follow conversations on the publish transport (I know, I should not be that much proud of listening to strangers’ conversations!). I will be very proud though, when I am able to give even the tiniest presentation about my work in Swedish!

Can you recommend any Swedish books that are good for learning Swedish? (Could be course books, grammar books, novels, or children’s books – anything!)

I am tempted to say that the book of my very own teacher, Anneli, has been my favorite! I also find it quite helpful to pick up some magazines in Swedish (for example, the booklets they sometimes have at the cinema, where one can find interviews of actors or a few pieces on upcoming movies).

Can you recommend any online/media resources for learning Swedish?

A quick and easy fix is to install any app, to freshen up on vocabulary while riding the metro or bus. I find this to be very helpful. My favorite one is Duolingo, and it offers the advantage of being repetitive when you tend to do mistakes (until you get it right!).

Do you have any other advice for future, budding Swedish learners?

Never feel shy to speak in Swedish even if you are just learning. From my experience, Swedes love to see people interested in learning their language and they are always very supportive. They even speak slower and clearly once they realize you are new to learning Swedish!

 

Book a Swedish lesson here. 

Hen – the debated Swedish pronoun

A note on hen

Hej! Anneli here. You may have heard of the gender neutral Swedish pronoun “hen“. It has been debated in Sweden during the past decade, and some people feel strongly about it. So what’s the fuss all about?

Swedish gender and pronouns

The Swedish language, like German, used to have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. This started to change during the 14th century and the Swedish language today has two grammatical genders: the common gender (indefinite article en and pronoun den) – a merged form of masculine and feminine, and neuter gender (indefinite article ett and pronoun det).

Swedish also uses the third person pronouns han he and hon she for humans, known animals, and when biological gender is of interest. But what if you don’t know the gender of a person? Or if it is irrelevant? Consider a situation where you say you need to book an appointment at the dentist, and you hope that he/she/the dentist will be able to help you with your toothache. You may not want to assume that the dentist is a woman nor a man. Some people find saying ‘he or she’, or ‘s/he’ to be pretty clunky (especially in speech – how on earth do you pronounce ‘s/he’?), and to say ‘the dentist’ again may sound repetitive. So what can you say? In English, you can of course say ‘they’ – you hope that they will help you with your toothache. However, in Swedish, you do not use the third person plural for a singular person. In other words, you cannot say de they in this case.

Kivi and the monster dog

Lately, a new, gender-neutral pronoun has started to become more popular in Sweden – hen. The pronoun hen is defined as a gender-neutral personal pronoun intended as an alternative to the gender-specific hon (‘she’) and han (‘he’). It can be used to avoid a stated preference to either gender, and also as a way to referring to individuals who are transgender, agender, non-binary or those who reject the idea of binary gender. Even though this is a relatively new phenomenon in Swedish, several languages have gender-neutral pronouns. Finnish, for example, only uses a gender-neutral pronoun in third person. The word has been proposed in Sweden several times, first time in 1966 and again in 1994, but it did not receive wider acknowledgment until the book Kivi och Monsterhund came out in 2012. It is the first book that only uses hen as a personal pronoun, instead of han and hon. And the book caused a widespread debate in Sweden.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 15.19.58

The author, Jesper Lundqvist, wanted to write a book for children – rather than for girls or boys, and that was the main reason why he used hen in his book. He said he found it liberating to write directly to children, without having to think about all the stereotypical associations that surround boys and girls. Jesper says that some have misunderstood the whole idea of hen, and thought of it as a way of replacing han and hon. But this is not correct. Rather, it is more about having an “extra tool in the tool box”, linguistically speaking, he says.

Reactions to hen

The reactions among the Swedish native speakers were both mixed and passionate, to say the least. Those who did not like it usually fell into one (or several) of three categories:

  1. Those who felt that this was an attempt to linguistically eradicate male and female gender roles, perhaps highlighted by its use in a particular pre-school in Stockholm, something which sparked debate and controversy in Sweden and also received media attention internationally.
  2. Those who felt that there already existed functioning words like personen the person or vederbörande the person in question.
  3. Those who associated hen to the English word for a female bird. This argument is perhaps a little problematic, given many other Swedish words that mean something else in English (barn childfart speedbra goodprick dotpuss kisskiss urine, and so on).

Interestingly, another reason for the resistance to this new word may be that personal pronouns belong to what we may call ‘closed word categories’. Typically ‘open word categories’ are verbs, nouns and adjectives. These are categories where most people welcome new additions and creative solutions. The closed categories, like personal pronouns or prepositions, not so much.

The gender-neutral pronoun hen was included into the Swedish Academy Dictionary in 2015, with the advert slogan ‘Hen är här nu’ (Hen is here now). The debate is still on going, although we can probably assume that it will fizzle out with time and the pronoun will be fully absorbed into everyday Swedish.