The Swedish Teacher: ‘sämre’ or ‘värre’, what’s the difference?

The Swedish Teacher: 'sämre' or 'värre', what's the difference?
Has my cold got 'värre' or 'sämre'...? Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT
Swedish teacher Sara Hörberg explains the difference between two bad Swedish words.

As you might already know, there are two ways to express “worse” in Swedish – sämre, and värre. My blog reader Caroline has asked me to explain the difference between those two.

Comparison of adjectives

To answer this question, I'll take a step back and quickly go over how we can make comparisons in Swedish. The basic form of the adjective has the grammar terms positive. For example:


Anders är glad. Han har vunnit 100 kronor på lotto.
(Anders is happy. He has won 100 SEK on the lotto.)


Diamantringen är dyr.
(The diamond ring is expensive.)

When we want to express that someone is happier or that something is more expensive, we use the comparative form of the adjective. In Swedish it looks like this:


Åsa är gladare än Anders. Hon har vunnit 1,000 kronor på lotto.
(Åsa is happier than Anders. She has won 1,000 kronor on the lotto.)

(more expensive)

Diamantarmbandet är dyrare än diamantringen.
(The diamond bracelet is more expensive than the diamond ring.)

When we want to express who is the happiest, most expensive, biggest, smallest, et cetera, we use the superlative form of the adjective:


Lena är gladast av alla. Hon har vunnit 100,000 kronor på lotto.
(Lena is happiest of them all. She has won 100,000 kronor on the lotto.)

(most expensive)

Diamanthalsbandet är dyrast. Lena tänker köpa det. 
(The diamond necklace is the most expensive of them all. Lena is going to buy it.)

dålig – sämre – sämst and dålig – värre – värst

So now when we have cleared up how to make comparisons, we will take a look at sämre, sämst and värre, värst. Both sämre/sämst and värre/värst are comparative/superlative of dålig (bad).

Apparently, there are two kinds of “bad” when speaking Swedish – a bit strange, one might think. Something can be bad in itself, always bad, or it could be bad just sometimes. 

Confused? Diseases are good examples of things that are bad in themselves:

Hostan har blivit värre de senaste dagarna.
(My cough has got worse the past couple of days.)

We use värre here because a cough is never considered as something good or positive, it is always a negative thing. Another good example of when to use värre is from newspaper Dagens Nyheter:

Oljekatastrofen är värre än befarat. 
(The oil disaster is worse than first feared.)

A disaster is a negative thing of course, and therefore we use värre and not sämre.

To make sure this is all clear I'm now going to share an example of using sämre:

Patienten mår sämre idag. 
(The patient is feeling worse/weaker today.)

Here we can see the patient himself/herself is not a bad thing like his cough is. Therefore, we should use sämre.

Also, those of you who have spent a summer in Sweden know how to say things like:

Vädret var sämre förra sommaren. Det var inte alls lika varmt som i år.
(The weather was worse last summer. It was not as warm as this year.)

So, the Swedish weather is not something bad in itself, even if it might feel like that sometimes.

Sara Hörberg began teaching Swedish as a foreign/second language in 2001. Ask her anything about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Read more here: Sara the Swedish Teacher.