Swedish word of the day: sonderingsperson

Today's word should help you understand Swedish politics a little better.

Swedish word of the day: sonderingsperson
This word is very handy these days. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

In case you need a refresher, Sweden emerged from the September election with no clear winner, and after two months of talks, the first person to be proposed as PM got voted down by parliament on Wednesday. 

This is where the sonderingsperson comes in. The verb sondera means 'to feel out' or 'to sound' and sondering is the noun form, meaning 'probing' or 'sounding out'. Person, you may have guessed, means 'person'.

When there's no clear majority to form a government, parliament's speaker gives one of the party leaders the task of chatting to the others to see if they'd be able to get enough support for a government, either through forming a coalition or by opposition parties agreeing to tolerate, or not vote against, the proposed government. This is the sonderingsperson (sounding-out person) who is given a sonderingsuppdrag (task of sounding out [the other party leaders]) and begins the sonderingar (probes/talks).

It's a temporary role, usually given for a specified period of around two weeks, and even if the sonderingsperson is able to put together a successful government proposal, that doesn't mean they'd necessarily be prime minister.

So far, two people (Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson and Social Democrats leader Stefan Löfven) have been given the role of sonderingsperson for two weeks each, but failed to put together a workable government. Now, it is likely that another person will be asked to sondera, and the baton could be passed to someone new or back to one of the previous sonderingspersoner. If that all sounds complicated, welcome to Swedish politics in 2018.

French-speakers might recognize the verb sonder (to probe or survey), which is the origin of the Swedish political term, but there's no etymological link to the German prefix sonder-, meaning 'special' or to Swedish sönder, meaning 'broken'. 

FOR MEMBERS: How to talk about politics like a Swede


Talmannen meddelar att han ska utnämna en ny sonderingsperson

The speaker announces that he will name a new person to carry out talks with the aim of forming a government

Centerledaren vill bli ny sonderingsperson

The leader of the Centre Party wants to be the new person to carry out talks with the aim of forming a government

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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.