Something Swedish

Riddle me this, Sweden


First things first…

Stay with me here – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th. In Swedish these would be 1:a, 2:a, 3:e, 4:e, 5:e, 6:e, 7:e, 8:e, 9:e, 10:e. I wasn’t able to recognize them either, don’t worry. But sometimes you do see “1st” in Swedish – usually in the produce section of the supermarket and you wonder what it is, “Is it the first crop of the season?” then you see “2st” and think it’s just a typo. “st” in Swedish means “stycken” a useful word that we don’t have in English which indicates how many of something, like individual pieces.


Telling time is telling time, right? Wrong. It might be easy for those who know how to use military time, but I have literately missed a work meeting because of the habit of using AM and PM and mistaking an early morning meeting for an “after work” meeting. It takes a lot of time and finger counting to look at a clock and read 21.15 as 9:15, or vice versa, thinking 9:15 but needing to write 21.15, without getting it wrong a few dozen times.

Here’s a tip: if someone is meeting you for a drink at 10.00 they probably mean coffee, not alcohol.

But don’t worry, it’s only written this way, when Swedes speak they use the am/pm system, just to mess with my mind I assume. Not that saying the time is any easier – wrap your head around explaining 7:35 as “five minutes past half till 8,” More simply, dinner at 6:30? instead of saying “half past 6” you would say “half till 7”.

Oh, and 10.00 is how we write the time here in Sweden, I wasn’t accidentally talking about the price of overpriced drinks (coffee/alcohol) in Sweden.

Like so:

2013-09-30 09.12.15


So, if a period equals a colon (10.00 instead of 10:00) to indicate time, then how do we deal with money? Commas, of course, ya know, unless there should be a comma, then we use a period ($1,000 = 7.000 SEK)

Buying a pair of pants? Price: 699,90 SEK. Don’t worry, that’s hundred, not thousand, don’t let that comma startle you. And good news, tax is always included in the price tags in Sweden, so what you see is what you pay! Except that the “öre” (think “penny”) hasn’t existed in many years, so prices are just “rounded” to the nearest kronor, so yes, you will be paying 700 SEK.


Have an important meeting on 5/4/2013? Don’t miss it, it’s on April 5th, not May 4th.  Oh, and don’t try to make it any easier by writing “April 5th” because it is really “5:e april” (You were wondering where they used that colon, if not for telling time, right? Me too) The colon is also used when you would add an ” ‘s ” to an abbreviation, but I digress.


While we’re on the topic of commas, colons, and periods being used differently than what I’m used to – why not talk about apostrophes and semi colons, too?

It’s easy, they barely exist while writing Swedish. Big sigh of relief, eller hur? Semi colons not being used as often as in English I can understand – people use them incorrectly all the time anyway, but apostrophes!? That’s like the bread and butter to English! Well, here’s the thing – Swedish doesn’t use contractions. You’ll never find our beloved “I’m,” “you’re,” “she’ll,” “aren’t” “they’re,” “here’s,” “I’ll,” “he’ll,” and “won’t” in Swedish which means that 90% of the apostrophes we use every day are gone. The other 10%? Also gone: “Sweden’s soccer team” becomes “Sveriges fotbollslag” no apostrophe needed, and yes soccer in the U.S. is “fotboll” (football) here in Sweden.

At least one thing is just as important in Swedish as it is in English, don’t forget your capitalization, as in don’t forget to NOT do it  for months or days of the week.

Multiple choice time!

Why is there an X here?

1) “2” and “3” are way too similar to put next to each other

x) Swede’s thought they’d get the numbers and the letters mingling.

2) To be even more confusing to immigrants!

25 thoughts on “Riddle me this, Sweden

  1. Meg, all that stuff was pretty easy to understand compared to i and på.

  2. Oh, I never said it was HARD – just kinda fun when you think about all the differences. I didn’t want to get into a whole boring, confusing, frustrating grammar lesson….(not that I can even use i, på, av, för and all of those prepositions correctly for the life of me. 🙂 *shudders*

  3. It’s all VERY confusing! It’s the week numbers that get me. Many a time I’ve been driving and have come to a sign translating as ‘road closed week 42’ or have been asked ‘can you work week 36?’ or read in a paper ‘Local market – Sunday, week 48’. Even the Swedes have to then look in a calendar to find out what date is being talked about!! And I still get confused when my Swedish text book answers are marked with a tick when I’m wrong!

  4. Oh!! Good one!! I meant to write a post on week numbers when I first moved here, but kept putting it off. Very difficult, especially when figuring out a work schedule. I ended up downloading an iphone app that adds a note to every day on the calendar with what number week it is. It was the best remedy I could find.

    Ah! Yes, I know what you’re talking about with the check mark instead of an “x.” I completely forgot about that.

    And yes, All of this is confusing stuff, and not even really part of the “language” persay. Somethings are easier to adapt to than others.

  5. Ha ha its hilarious…..all the more to confuse immigrants! couldnt agree more….

  6. Even after two years, the “half seven” meaning 6:30 thing still catches me up.

    Not long after I got here, I arranged a meeting for “half six,” which to me, is “half past six”… cue snippy phone call at 5:45 asking where I was (still at home, planning on leaving in the next 15 minutes or so!)

  7. This is excellent. These are exactly the oddities that I notice daily but can’t even begin to explain to our visitors. The “4:e april” kind of thing is just so odd.

  8. Am I too late to write a comment!?

    ~The Dippylomat, Esq.

  9. An correction regarding the writing of dates the one you use 5/4/2013 is never used in Sweden. In case we either use 5/4 – 2013 ore 2013-04-05 or perhaps if sloppy 5/4 2013 or 20130405

    • Thanks, nothanks, for your input. I see what you are saying and I understand it is most commonly written the other ways you listed, but I don’t think what I wrote was technically “wrong” (Thank you mvanderweij and hanna). More importantly though, I didn’t want to make an already intentionally confusing post even MORE confusing, especially for non Swedes 🙂 (taking it step by step, I haven’t myself adapted to the “right” way of writing the date, as long as I write day-month instead of month-day, I am satisfied because I know I can be understood)

  10. Correction, the dates were actually used in that manner at my workplace. So I know of one place that does it 🙂

  11. nothanks: As a fellow swede I can assure you it is sometimes written like that. But I agree it’s not the most common way. I would write 13 04 05 or 5/4 -13, but I do sometimes see 4/5/2013. The only thing that is never ever done is mixing it up the american way… 🙂

  12. Hej! Love this blog thank you so much for writing about your experience. i have just moved to Sweden from NYC via London (long story) and I am relating to this ….:-)

  13. Pingback: An American In Sweden ‹‹ Alyssa Chloe

  14. But… Month-day-year has never made sense to me. Day-month-year is certainly more logical; you move from the smallest unit to the largest, not medium-small-large unit. Why would anyone find that logical? (I understand that if it’s what you’re used to, it does seem logical, I’m just speculating on who came up with that wierd sequence in the first place)

    • Hej Astrid! I’ve gotten this reasoning a lot and the explanation of “just remember that they are in size order” and I completely see it and understand it, and it helps me remember the way I should be write it in Sweden. EXCEPT I also see size order in the way we do it in America, in the form of numbers instead of time: Month (1-12), Day (1-31), Year (1-2013).
      Thank you for not bashing and simply speculating – I completely see where you are coming from, I don’t know which one could be “right” just that it is annoying that they are different! 🙂

  15. We do use colons to write time. Using a colon is the proper way to write time. Tried hard to find time written with a dot but I couldn’t find and instance of it.

    Checked a notary from our postal service, they use 10:00
    My computer on Swedish settings use 10:00
    My phone on Swedish settings use 10:00
    The train and bus time table use 10:00
    Checked an old mail from my dentist, my appointment was written with colons
    Checked my online newspaper when an article was updated, you guessed it, 10:00 format.
    Me and everyone I know writes with a colon.

    You are mistaken/have been misinformed.

    • Hi Confused,

      Yes, both ways are commonly used, however the proper way is with a period. You won’t find it on any electronic time settings like on a digital clock or your computer time. The way you learn it in school, though, is with a period. This wiki mentions it in passing, explaining that colons are also used but a period is the proper way:

      However, I was emphasizing differences, and I’ve seen time written (not typed) with a period countless times, which could be confusing to someone who has never seen it before.

    • I’ve edited the post and attached a photo of laundry times in my apartment building written the way I described for better clarification.

  16. So you take your laundry schedule over virtually everything else, including official agencies, and call it the norm?
    The ratio is more like 10:1 if favor of writing colons. Just saying.
    My guess is that you subconsciously focus on the dot being used every time you see it because it strikes you as weird.

Comments, Feedback, Questions, and Answers are Welcome Here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s