Swedish word of the day: nja

This little word can help you navigate tricky social situations with ease in Swedish.

Swedish word of the day: nja
Will this help you sound fluent? Nja... Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Nja is a useful word to have in your arsenal.

It's a jumble of the words nej (no) and ja (yes), which you can use when you don't want to express an opinion on something outright. That might be because you don't have the information to give a concrete answer yet, or because you just don't want to pick a side. There's a similar construction in German: jein, from ja (yes) and nein (no).

So it might express hesitation, doubt, or disagreement. Depending on the context, the English equivalent might be something like 'We-ell…', 'yes and no…'. It's a perfect word to pull out if you're put on the spot in a debate and need to give a non-committal response.

Nja is often used like a counterpart of jo. Jo means 'yes', when answering a question posed in the negative, for example: Talar du inte svenska? Jo (Don't you speak Swedish? Yes, I do). And nja can be used to respond negatively to questions, without giving an outright denial: Talar du svenska? Nja, men… (Do you speak Swedish? Well, sort of, but…)

If you're trying to work out what Swedish-speaking friends really mean with their nja, be aware that it's usually slightly closer to the 'no' end of the 'yes-no' spectrum.

To really emphasise the doubt or hesitation, you can draw out the word for longer: njaaaa


Men ni är väl vänner? – Nja, inte vänner direkt.

But you're friends, right? – Well, not really 'friends'.

Alla tycker ju om kaffe – Nja, jag tycker bättre om te

Everyone likes coffee – Well, I like tea more.

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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.