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False Cognates in Swedish
I'm a great admirer of the website put together by Anne and Johan Santesson, which has a page on false cognates in Dutch for Swedish speakers. I emailed them expressing my wish that such a page existed for English speakers learning Swedish. They suggested that I start one.
I'm not advanced enough in Swedish to have caught many yet, so I ask you guys to fill in the blanks. Email me and explain the word in Swedish, what you would think it means and what it really means.
False Friends/Falska Vänner
- aktuell/actual - Aktuell means 'current'. If you want to say 'actual', use faktisk or verklig .
- bad/bad - Bad in Swedish means 'bath'. Dålig is 'bad' in the non-moral sense. 'A bad boy' is En stygg
pojke. If you see the words bad shop in a Swedish storefront, it
simply means a place where you can buy swimming gear. -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- bra/bra - Bra means 'good' or 'well' depending on how it functions in the sentence. 'Bra' is behå .
- effektivitet/effectiveness - Effektivitet can also mean 'efficiency'.
- eventuellt/eventually - Anne Santesson said that this should be top on the list. English speakers would assume that eventuellt means 'eventually'. Not so. It means 'possibly'. If you want to say 'eventually', say så småningom.
- fart/fart - Fart means 'speed'. I believe 'fart' is fis .
- fitta/fit - Fitta means 'pussy' according to the Alternative Dictionaries. Torsten Lif corroborates my suspicion that a better translation of the word would be 'cunt'. In any case, to say that something fits you say that it passar bra .
- ful/full - Ful means 'ugly'. Bruce Brolsma says "Even better, if you pronounce the vowel with a long u, it comes out as Swedish
"ful", which means "ugly". I had the pleasure of making this mistake one
evening after dinner with my Swedish host family, and after the laughter
was over, I quickly learned to say "Jag är mätt." instead to indicate that I'd had enough to eat!"
- full/full - Full does mean 'full', but I have more often heard used to mean 'drunk'.
- gymnasium/högskola/high school - Högskola means 'college'. 'High school' is gymnasium (and English 'gymnasium' is gymnastiksal or sporthall). This is a *real* stumper. Even Swedish authorities make the mistake all too often, demoting universitites to high schools when writing in English :-(. -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- gå/go - Att gå means 'to walk', not 'to go'. Depending on the context, you probably want to say att åka or att resa . This one caught me a lot when I was starting in Swedish. I didn't remember it, though. It was submitted by Robbin from the Swede-L list.
- hamstring/hamstring - Hamstring is 'hoarding'. It comes from hamster, so a literal English translation would be 'hamstering'. -Contributed by Bruce Brolsma and Christina Adams
- häcka/hack - means to brood, nest, as in Lars Forssel's famous line, "Dina bröst är som svalor som häckar". 'To hack' is att hacka . - submitted by Oliver D. Iberien
- hallå/hello - This tip is geared more toward American English than British English. Hallå means 'hey' and is more often used to get someone's attention. Ironically, hej (pronounced 'hey') is 'hello'.
- kan/can - Kan means 'can' sometimes and sometimes 'know'. For example, "Jag kan receptet utantill. " means "I know the recipe by heart."
- karta/card/cart - Karta means 'map'. 'Card' is . 'Cart' is kärra .
- kind/kind - Kind means 'cheek'. 'Kind' is rendered vänlig or snäll . This Swedish word catches German speakers as well because it is similar to the German word for 'chin' and the same as the German word for 'child'. Lynn Steele says "Oh YES, great one! I can't tell you how many otherwise flawless translations in the music world stumble over this. You'd think someone
would start getting suspicious of all those red-chinned damsels that crop up
in the songs of Alfven, Stenhammer, Sibelius... and Grieg, since the false
cognate exists in Norwegian as well."
- kissa/kiss - Att kissa means 'to pee'. Att kyssa is 'to kiss'. Be careful with this one, kids.
- konsekvent/consequently - Konsekvent means 'consistent'. 'Consequently' could be translated as följaktligen or därför.
- kontrollera/control - Kontrollera means 'to check'. 'Control' is more often behärska.
- kort/card - can mean 'card' or 'photo'.
- knä/knee - Does actually mean 'knee', but can mean 'lap' as well.
- lapp/lap - Not 'lap' but a 'scrap of paper'. En hundralapp means a hundred kroner bill.
- list/list - List is a strip, border or moulding. Lista means 'list'.
- lust/lust - Lust is desire. One can say "Jag har lust till att se dig. " and simply mean "I want to see you." Lusta is 'lust'.
Johan Anglemark says: One wouldn't unless one was born before WW I. One would express that as "Jag skulle vilja träffa dig." A better example would be "Det har jag ingen lust med."
- lustig/lusty - Lustig means 'funny' is in 'humorous'.
- missa/missa - 'To miss' is att missa when it means 'fail to hit' ('he missed the target' - han missade målet), but att sakna when it denotes a feeling of loss ('I miss you' - jag saknar dig). 'To be missing' is att saknas. -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- mocka/mocha - Mocka means 'suede'. It can mean mocha coffee, but can also mean 'to clean out a stable". Be careful.
- original/original - Original means 'eccentric' when referring to a person.
- overall/overalls - Overall in Swedish means 'coveralls'. What Americans call 'overalls' are snickarbyxor (literally 'Carpenter's trousers'). -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- pensel/pencil - Pensel is a paintbrush. 'Pencil' is blyertspenna
- personal/personal - Personal is actually a noun. It's the equivalent of 'personnel' or 'staff'. Personlig is the word you had in mind.
- rekommenderat/recommended - Rekommenderat usually means 'recommended' but can also mean 'registered mail'.
- repetera/repeat - means 'repeat' but can also mean 'rehearse' depending on context.
- slips/slip - Slips means 'tie'. The slip one wears under a dress is underklänning .
- se/see - Se means 'see', but only in the sense of seeing with your eyes. 'See' as in 'meet' is träffa. (One exception is Vi ses! means 'I'll be seeing you!'). Träffa can also mean 'hit' -
'He hit the target' - Han träffade målet. -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- slott/slot - Slott means 'castle' or 'palace'. It's even easier to make this mistake in Danish as there is only one 't'. 'Slot' is ränna or springa .
- slut/slut - Slut means the 'end'. 'Slut' is approximated by slampa .
- student/student - Student means 'graduate', someone with a studenten degree. Try studerande or elev .
Johan Anglemark says: Actually, you can only use student in this sense on the very
graduation day. In all other contexts it means University/College
student; i.e. someone who is actively studying
- taxa/tax - Taxa means 'fee' or 'rate'. Skatt means 'tax'.
Johan Anglemark says: Don't forget tax - 'dachshund' :-)
- teknik/technique - often means 'technology' rather than 'technique'.
- trosor/trousers - these words are cognates, but trosor in Swedish means 'panties' or 'briefs'. 'Trousers/Pants' are byxor. -Submitted by Magnus Olsson
- vill/will - "Jag vill ta en tur. " means "I want to go for a ride.". Att vilja is a verb that means 'to want or desire' as opposed to the English word 'to will' which when used as a helping verb forms a future tense.
- öl/oil - No, they're not standing around ordering a pint of oil ! Öl is 'beer'. The true English cognate would be 'ale'.
Stories About False Cognates
You can't imagine how much fun there can be to read
Swedish-English/English-Swedish translations 8-) Here are a few examples
... I'll try to explain the confusion.
President of Swedish company at a international meeting: "Next year i will
have to fock 78 people,mostly women" ("focka" means "fire")
President of Swedish company at the opening of a trade show: "I now declare
this mess open" (trade show = "mässa")
And a teacher I had myself that was visiting England with his class, they
should present themself for the class in the school they were visiting and
started the presentation with "Hello, we are from the Swedish fuck school
..." This is said to have made the two classes roll around on floor
laughing (the expression "fack skola" in Swedish means "vocational school"
at least according to my dictionary).
Contributed by Jan Erik Moström
coffee/caffeine - The vowels are the other way round in Swedish: the
drink is "kaffe", and the chemical is "koffein".
fart/fart - You're right, "a fart" in English is "en fis" in Swedish.
The true cognate is "fjärt", but that's rather old-fashioned. Speed
bumps are sometimes called "farthinder" in Swedish, believe it or not
lust/lust - Nobody says "Jag har lust till att se dig" in Swedish.
"Jag har lust att se dig"
is grammatically correct but sounds a bit strange, because it really
means "I feel like seeing you." The idiomatic translation of "I want to
see you" is simply "Jag vill se dig", but that's only true if I literally want to have a look at you! It's more likely that I want to meet you, which is "Jag vill träffa dig".
To say that "lust is desire" is dangerous, because the English and
Swedish usages don't
overlap. "Jag har lust att göra det" _could_ mean "I desire to do it",
but only in a
very weak sense - "desire" in English has connotations of sensuality -
and that's "lusta" in
Swedish.. "A Streetcar Called Desire" is called "Linje lusta" in Sweden.
mil/mile - A Swedish mile ("en mil") is ten kilometres, or 6.2 English
student - Johan Anglemark is right. "En student" almost always means a
college or university student. Students in other schools are "elever".
"Studerande" is a more neutral form, which can be used as a title (you
can give your occupation as "studerande" or "student", but hardly as
"elev"). When you say "pupil" in English, you generally say "elev" in
Swedish, while English "student" can be "elev", "student" or
"studerande" depending on context.
The meaning you cite, "a graduate" is used only about people who have
just graduated from high school ("gymnasium").
Oh, and when you're talking about the pupil of the eye, the Swedish word
- Magnus Olsson, 8/97
Get that English outta yer Swedish!
Thanks for contributions and corrections to: Bruce Brolsma, Anton Scott Goustin, Jürgen Stuber, Robbin Battison, Magnus Olsson, and Patric Lundberg of the Swede-L list, Torsten Lif of the hpv list and Oliver D. Iberien, of whose linguistic abilities I am very envious.
When in home, act as the homans do...
Last modified on 7/15/98
I used to update something on this site about every two weeks. Unfortunately, things are probably going to be mothballed for a while due to a hellacious flareup of Repetitive Strain Injury. I have voice recognition, but it's not too good for me to spend much time on the computer in either case. I still love hearing your feedback about the site, it's just going to take me longer to reply or implement changes. So keep them cards and letters coming!