Swedish word of the day: polarnatt

Here's a word that's relevant during the winter season in the northernmost parts of Sweden.

Swedish word of the day: polarnatt
But even during polar nights, it's not necessarily pitch black. Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Polarnatt means 'polar night', and is used to describe a period of time when the sun sets for more than 24 hours.

It occurs in the northernmost and southernmost parts of the earth, within the 'polar circles' (the Arctic and Antarctic Circles), hence the name. That includes parts of Swedish Lapland, with Kiruna being the largest town within the Arctic Circle. There, the polar night lasts for almost a month. 

The polarnatt is the opposite to the midnattssol (midnight sun, also called the polar day), which is when the sun doesn't set for at least 24 hours. And another name for the polar night is middagsmörker or 'midday darkness'.

Because of the way that the sun's rays are bent, the midnight sun lasts for longer than the polar night; in Kiruna, the midnight sun lasts for 50 days compared to 28 of polar night.

But even during polarnatt, it's not necessarily totally pitch black.

That's because the requirement for the polar night is that the sun doesn't rise above the horizon, so it may still be level with the horizon – so-called polar twilight. This usually means deep blue skies with pinkish hues which are popular with photographers, and clear skies combined with polarnatt tend to offer some of the best chances to see the Northern Lights.

White snow and moonlight also add to the lightness.

However, the polar twilight isn't much use to people who find their moods affected by lack of daylight, since the twilight is too low a level of ambient light to offer the psychological benefits of sunlight.


Polarnatten i Kiruna är en tid av mörker, men det kan vara mysigt

The polar night in Kiruna is a time of darkness, but it can be cosy

Polarnatten sveper in över norra Sveriga

The polar night is sweeping in over northern Sweden

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Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

Today’s word will help you say that things are going alright or that Peter is okay at karaoke.

Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

It is a decent word, and okay one, rather good, and it has a well-polished past.

Hyfsat or hyfsad most often means that something is ‘okay’, ‘decent’, ‘alright’ or even ‘rather good’, which can apply to a great number of things. And its etymological cousin hyfs, is a quality of character. 

Behind both of these words and their uses lies a lesser known verb, to hyfsa. A word which is perhaps slowly becoming out of date. 

But hyfsa, in spite of its slow descent into the archaic, is a very useful word, as it has the general meaning of ‘to tidy up’. That is to say it can be used for a number of situations that imply a bit of tidying up: whether it be your own appearance, like trimming a bit of your hair, evening out your fringe; or fixing a bit in your garden, like trimming the hedge. 

You could even use it to describe a quick tidy up at home ahead of a visit, like giving a vase or some other ornament a bit of a polish, or just putting some things in their right place. 

From hyfsa we get both hyfs and hyfsat

Hyfs, as previously mentioned, has to do with character, more precisely with behaviour. Hyfs is simply to have a well-polished or presentable manner (especially toward your elders): att ha hyfs, ‘to be polite’, or att vara ohyfsad, ‘to be rude’ or un-hyfsed.

Young people might not use it as much anymore, but all Swedes know the word.

Hyfsat or hyfsad on the other hand describes the quality of something or how someone is at something. Something that is hyfsat will do, it is okay and acceptable, implying that it would be so even to the person you are addressing.

Beyond that it can also be used to describe your own or someone else’s performance at karaoke, or any other thing, if you ever get the question. It is also an appreciation of things, and can also describe something as being ‘moderately so’, ‘not too’ or ‘fairly so’, as in en hyfsat snar framtid, meaning ‘a not too distant future’. In some sense it brings to mind that ever elusive word: lagom.

Generally, one can say that it implies that something is acceptable, and by linguistic extension, its root in hyfsa, that some work has been done to achieve that. Or in other words, that whatever it is it is not entirely uncared for, lacking in effort or preparation. It has done enough to be deserving of basic approval. It is hyfsat. 

Example sentences

Hur gick det på karaoken? Det gick hyfsat bra – “How did it go at karaoke? It went fairly well.”

Är Peter bra på karaoke? Han är hyfsad. – “Is Peter any good at karaoke? He’s alright.”

Hörru, hur går det med den där rapporten? Hyfsat – “Hey, how’s that report coming along? Not too bad.”

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.