Swedish word of the day: ljus

Today's Swedish word is one we all need this time of the year.

Swedish word of the day: ljus
This word is an integral part of Swedish winter traditions. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ljus means “light/pale”; it’s the opposite of mörk (“dark”).

You can use it as an adjective in a tangible or abstract sense, for example ljusa väggar (“light-coloured walls”), nu blir det ljust senare och senare på morgonen (“it’s getting light later and later in the morning now”) or framtiden är ljus (“the future is bright”).

Like mörk, it can also modify a colour adjective, in which case you simply combine both adjectives, like ljusrosa (“light pink”) or ljuslila (“light purple”). Swedes love compound words, in contrast to English where both words would be kept separate.

Ljus can also be used as a noun (ett ljus). You can for example talk about solljus (sunlight) or månljus (moonlight), or ljuset från en lykta (the light of a lantern).

It can also mean “candle” which is sometimes referred to as levande ljus (literally “living light/candles”).

The plural of ljus is… ljus. This may seem simple and straightforward, and it is, but note that “the candle” is ljuset, whereas “the candles” in plural are ljusen.

The word ljus comes from the Old Norse ljóss, and a lot of Swedish holidays are based around the concept of light – unsurprising in a country with such dark winters.

Every year on All Saints Day, Swedes light candles on the graves of their family members or friends, a Catholic tradition which is still observed in secular Sweden.

December 13th marks the day of Santa Lucia, one of the most enduring Swedish winter traditions, Lucia (whose names comes from the Latin word for light: lux) lights up the darkness with candles in her hair, and a good helping of saffron buns and mulled wine on the side.

And if you live in or have ever spent the month of December in Sweden, you will almost certainly have noticed adventsljusstakar – wooden triangles with little electric lights – in nearly every window. Swedes also light real candles every Sunday of Advent up until Christmas.

But you don’t need a holiday to celebrate the concept of light. In fact, lighting a few candles, and making yourself comfortable on the couch is a perfect way of getting into the spirit of Swedish mys – having a cosy time at home (no innuendo intended, mys is very family-friendly).


Oj, vad ljust det är ute idag!

Wow, it’s so bright outside today!

Tänd ett ljus och låt det brinna

Light a candle and let it burn (a line from a popular Swedish Christmas song)

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.

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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.