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: ockerhyra

A word of the day which makes strange use of usury.

​​Swedish word of the day: ockerhyra

Ocker is the Swedish word for usury, and not the Australian for someone who “speaks and acts in a rough and uncultivated manner, using Strine, a broad Australian accent” for the Aussies out there who might recognise the term. 

Usury, of course, is when a lender makes monetary loans which unfairly enrich them. The term is used either in a moral sense, then as a condemnation of taking advantage of others’ misfortune, or in a strictly legal sense, where ocker refers to the crime of charging a higher interest rate for a loan than that which is allowed by the law. You might know an individual who does that not as a usurer, but a loan shark

But ockerhyra has nothing to do with loans or loansharks, at least not directly. The shark, however, might still be there, as you will see.

Hyra simply means ‘rent’ – in this case the rent you pay for an apartment or any other rental property. So ockerhyra means ‘usury rent’, but how can a rent be usurious? Well, it cannot since it is not a loan. What instead is meant here, is at least part of the moral sense of the word ‘usury’, whereby someone is taking advantage of another’s situation. 

Someone setting an andrahandshyra, a second hand rent, which is unreasonably high, would be setting an ockerhyra. This is a topic which The Local has previously dealt with, and there are instances to get help with that. The main reason people can get away with this is because many are desperate to find a place in the city, often Stockholm, and therefore will not alert the authorities. But also, owing to the fact that it is not a punishable crime, all that might happen is that the person subletting their place for more than is reasonable might be forced to pay some money back.

Furthermore, the word ockerhyra does not necessarily imply this type of scenario, it can also be used to generally complain about rents being too high. And many do complain about this.

Do you feel a bit upset about the sometimes absurd rents in Stockholm or in another city? Why not make use of the word ockerhyror in a conversation on the topic?

Just remember that the word is quite strong, so try not to accuse a friend of charging an ockerhyra – might be safer to just question whether they are charging a bit much. Good luck!

Example sentences:

Alltså, det är verkligen ockerhyror på nybyggnationer! Jag är sååå trött på den här skiten.

I mean come on, the rents on new builds are outrageous! I’m sick and tired of this shit.

Duncan, varför tar du ockerhyra på stället du hyr ut i andrahand?

Duncan, why are you charging an exaggerated rent on the place you’re subletting?

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 US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.