Swedish word of the day: påtår

Here's a word that will come in handy on those days when you Need. Coffee. Now.

Swedish word of the day: påtår
Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Påtår means ‘refill’, and is almost exclusively used to refer to coffee. So when you’ve emptied your cup of bryggkaffe (filter coffee) and want another mug-full, you ask for en påtår.

You’ll often see it included on menus: påtar – 5 kronor or similar, and if you’re a big coffee-drinker, it’s well worth your while to find a cafe that offers cheap or even free påtår.

It won’t always be on the price list though. Often, if the coffeepot is accessible to customers, it's a sign that it’s OK to give yourself a refill but if you’re unsure, just ask. 'Ingår påtår?' is how you ask “are refills included?” A great sentence for practising that å sound.

You can also use påtår outside cafes, for example if your friends are visiting you at home. Once their mugs are empty, show off both your Swedish and your hosting skills by asking ‘En påtår?’

READ ALSO: Why coffee was banned in Sweden five times

This word dates back to at least 1842, when the first recorded use of påtår is found. It’s not often used for other beverages, so if you want a refill or second cup of a non-caffeinated drink, say either ‘en påfyllning, tack’ (a refill, please) or ‘en till, tack’ ('another please' – you might need to point at your glass to be clear what you want a second serving of).

Påtår comes from the outdated word kaffetår, which in the 1800s was used to refer to the first cup of coffee. Tår means ‘tear’, as in when you cry, but it used to also have the meaning of a ‘drop’ or a ‘sip’ of a drink, and in fact it is still used in that way in Danish. So en kaffetår meant ‘a drop of coffee’. Of course, this is Sweden, so that usually meant a substantial cup-full.

is a preposition with a wide range of meanings, most often translated as ‘on’. It comes from the Old Norse word upp á, which also gave us the English word ‘upon’ (and English ‘up’ and Swedish upp). The word påfylla means ‘to refill/replenish/fill up’, and so en påtår meant ‘another kaffetår’.

The Swedes didn't stop there.

According to the Swedish Academy's dictionary, there used to be a special word for the third consecutive cup of coffee, tretår, from tre meaning 'three'. A fourth cup was en krusetår (from krusa meaning 'to sway/ripple' because of the effect of so much caffeine), and the rarely used term for the fifth cup was en pintår (from the noun pina meaning misery or torment).

Now, the word kaffetår and the other variations have almost entirely dropped out of use, so when ordering your first cup you say en kopp kaffe, tack (a cup of coffee, please), en bryggkaffe, tack (a filter coffee, please) or similar. 

READ ALSO: Ten places to get a perfect cup of coffee in Stockholm


Vill du har påtår?

Do you want a refill?

De sitter och dricker påtår på påtår

They sit and drink coffee after coffee

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.


Member comments

  1. Finishing the last drops from the pot may be referred to as “squeezing Peter”, or “klämma Petter” in Swedish.”Kaffepetter” is a name for the coffee pot, maybe somewhat dated.

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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.