Swedish word of the day: jo

Jo and ja both mean yes. But when do you use one or the other?

Swedish word of the day: jo
Such a short word, with so much meaning. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Jo, like the word ja, means yes – but knowing which of the two to use is often tricky for Swedish learners. A reasonably simple rule to remember is that ja is used for affirmative answers to positive questions…

Talar du svenska? Ja (Do you speak Swedish? Yes)

… and jo is used when answering negated questions in the affirmative:

Talar du inte svenska? Jo (Don't you speak Swedish? Yes [I do])

Jo is also often used as a more insistent yes: “I don't want fika.” “Jooo, just a cinnamon bun!”

Or when arguing with someone: “Nej!” “Jo!” “Nej!” “Jo!

In other words, it is used to mark that the answer to a negative question is not what might have been expected or to express an opinion which is different from what someone else just said, but it can also express reluctant agreement (“jo, men…” “yes, but…”) or be used at the a start of a sentence to make sure you have people's attention before you get to the point, the same way an English speaker might use “well”.

Jo may be a short interjection, but it is full of nuances that can be interpreted differently depending on tone of voice, inflection or use of extra words: the more insistent joho, jojomen, jodå, jo visst, or the slightly less certain jovars. And an impressed “jo jo” can be used to mean “well, well”.

To confuse matters further, in northern Sweden the word jo is used more frequently and in a wider range of contexts, and is often interchangeable with ja. It is often also inhaled, causing that strange yes that sounds more like a gasp. Here's a video by The Local investigating this linguistic quirk:


Kommer du inte? Jo, jag ska bara göra en grej först

Are you not coming? Yes, I'm just going to do a thing first

Svenska är inte ett svårt språk. Jo, det är det!

Swedish is not a difficult language. Yes, it is!

Jo, det är så att min mamma kommer på besök i morgon

Well, you see, my mum is coming to visit tomorrow


I have nothing to say so I'm using this filler word to make the silence less uncomfortable (Literally: yes-then-so-that)

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.

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Swedish word of the day: skärgård

You don't have to spend long in Sweden to hear the word skärgård, especially if you live in cities like Stockholm or Gothenburg where the population relocate to the nearby skärgård every summer. Where does the word come from?

Swedish word of the day: skärgård

Skärgård is, like many Swedish words, a compound word made up of the word skär, describing a small rocky outcrop and gård, which has a number of meanings such as “courtyard”, “farm” or “garden”.

Although skärgård is often translated to English as “archipelago” – a group of islands – the word officially refers to an archipelago made up primarily of small islands, close to the coast of a larger island or landmass, such as the rocky archipelagos near Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Other kinds of archipelago – such as those which are not close to other landmasses, or those made up of larger islands – can be referred to as an arkipelag or ögrupp. However, many Swedes will just use skärgård for any kind of archipelago.

Although the word skärgård doesn’t exist in English, a variant of skär has made its way into the language. The English term for this type of small rocky outcrop is “skerry”.

Skerry has an interesting etymology in English – it comes from the Old Norse term sker, which refers to a rock in the sea. This is related to the Swedish word skära, meaning “cut” – a skerry is a rock cut off from land.

Sker came into English via Scots, where it is spelled skerry or skerrie. Other languages also have this word, such as Norwegian skjær/skjer, Estonian skäär, Finnish kari and Russian шхеры (shkhery). It can also be found in Scottish Gaelic sgeir, Irish sceir and Welsh sgeri.

This also reflects the geographic area where skerries are found – there are skerries or skärgårdar along the northernmost part of the Swedish west coast near Bohuslän and Gothenburg, as well as on the east coast near Stockholm. The Norwegian coast also has a large number of skerries, and Skärgårdshavet or “the Archipelago Sea” lies off the southwestern coast of Finland.

In Russia, the Minina Skerries (Shkhery Minina) are one example of a skärgård, and in Scotland, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach in the Hebrides are also made up of skerries. Northern Ireland is home to The Skerries, off the Antrim coast, and Skerries is also the name of a coastal area of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be wondering if the surname of the famous Swedish Skarsgård family of actors – Stellan, Gustaf, Bill, Valter and Alexander Skarsgård, among others – comes from the word skärgård. Although the spelling is similar, this name actually comes from the town of Skärlöv on the island of Öland, and means “Skar’s farm” (Skares gård, in Swedish).

Example sentences

Jag ser redan fram emot sommarsemestern – vi har hyrt en stuga ute i Stockholms skärgård.

I’m already looking forwards to summer – we’ve rented a cottage out in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sverige har många skärgårdar, fast Skärgårdshavet vid Finlands västkust är störst i världen med över 50 000 öar och skär.

Sweden has a lot of archipelagos, but the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s west coast is the biggest in the world has over 50,000 islands and skerries.

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.