Swedish word of the day: fack

Here's an important word to know for people working in Sweden.

The word
I was going to join a Swedish trade union, but then I thought "facket". Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Fack can mean two things in Swedish. The first meaning is “small compartment or box”, and the second meaning, which this article will focus on, is “trade union”.

Pronunciation-wise, it sounds a lot like the English swearword that starts with an F and rhymes with “duck”. The article is -et, so “a trade union” is facket. So if you’ve been wondering why your Swedish colleagues have been saying “fuck it” so often, now you know.

Fack in the sense of “trade union” is an abbreviation of fackförbund or fackförening. There are specific trade unions for different professions, as well as more general overarching trade unions representing a wider range of professions.

We’ve chosen fack as our word of the day, as it’s a pretty impossible word to avoid if you work in Sweden. With over 70 percent of the Swedish workforce unionised, you’re sure to hear about a fack sooner or later.

Unions also play an important role in the so-called Swedish model, the idea that unions and employers organisations work together to ensure good working conditions and thereby avoid strikes, so they are an integral part of Swedish workplace culture, whether you’re unionised or not.

You might also come across the term fackklubb, a group of union-affiliated workers who create a trade union club at their workplace, which will then elect one or more members who can represent employees in any discussions with their employer.

Unionised workers in Sweden pay a monthly fee to be members of a union, which varies between unions. Read more here for information on union membership for foreign workers in Sweden.


Do you know if he’s joined the union?

Vet du om han har gått med i facket?

I’m considering changing union.

Jag överväger att byta fackförening.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to pre-order. Head to to read more about it, and use the discount code VOVVELOVE (valid until October 27th) to get a 10% discount on all pre-orders.

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For members


Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.