Swedish word of the day: särbo

Särbo is a Swedish word that will be particularly useful for some expats.

Swedish word of the day: särbo
Do you have a särbo? Image: nito103/Depositphotos

It's used to refer to a couple who do not live together, and can describe couples who live in different properties in the same cities as well as those in a long distance relationship (or långdistansförhållande) in different regions or even countries.

Särbo is a shortening of isär (literally 'apart', and sharing an etymological root with English 'asunder') and boende (living), so it can be translated as 'apart-living'.

It's one of a set of similar words to describe different living situations. The original and most commonly used of these words is sambo, meaning 'cohabiting partner' or literally 'together-living', which is used for couples who share a household but are unmarried.

READ ALSO: The difference between sambo and marriage in Sweden

Särbo was created on analogy with sambo, and was first used in the 1980s, some years after sambo entered common usage.

Another term in the same category is the more colloquial or jokey term mambo, which translates as 'living with mum' (mamma in Swedish) and is used to talk about people, usually single, who still live with their parents into adulthood.

As is the case with sambo, särbo has connotations of a serious, long-term relationship, rather than someone you've only been dating casually or for a short amount of time. So if you're not confident you've reached that level, it may be better to use an alternative term such as flickvän/pojkvän (girlfriend/boyfriend) until you have that talk.

You can use särbo as a noun to talk about someone who lives apart from their partner: min särbo har en syster (my partner, who doesn't live with me, has a sister); Peter och Julia är särbor/särbos ('Peter and Julia are särbos' – note that there are two forms of the plural, although adding 's' is slightly more common).

It can also function as an adjective to describe the living situation, as in the sentence vi är särbo ('we are partners who live apart') or kan man bli lyckligare genom att bli särbos? ('can living apart as a couple make you happier?'). To get the same meaning across, you could also say vi bor isär ('we live apart'), but särbo neatly sums up the idea of being in a romantic relationship in different locations.

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: 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.