Swedish word of the day: å

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: å
Å, how I love learning Swedish! Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Let's look at one of the Swedish language's single-letter words.


Å is the 27th letter of the Swedish alphabet, and a surprisingly versatile word. To English speakers, it sounds a bit like the "au" in Paul.

So what does it mean? A few different things.

En å is the word for a river, stream or brook. The plural is åar

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Å is also common in place names. There are a total of 12 locations in Sweden called Å, and several others that use as a suffix, such as Skogså (literally "forest brook") in Norrbotten and Luleå, Piteå and Skellefteå in northern Sweden. The use of å in place names usually means the location is near a river.

It can also be an interjection, similar to "oh!", and usually expresses joy or surprise, but can sound slightly affected or old-fashioned. For example: Å, vad jag är glad! (Oh, how happy I am!)

In older Swedish, å was a preposition equivalent to "on" in English. Today it has been mostly replaced by , but you will still see å in some set phrases such as å ena sidan... å andra sidan (on the one hand... on the other hand) or å någons vägnar (on someone's behalf). In the latter phrase, you can also use .

And in dialect or informal Swedish, å can be used to replace the preposition att, especially when att is being used with a verb in the infinitive, for example jag glömde å göra det (I forgot to do it). 

Å also features in a Swedish dialectal poem, in a line made up of single letters. You can read the full poem here, and the sentence goes: d'ä e å, å i åa ä e ö. In standard Swedish, that's det är en å, och i ån är en ö ("there is a stream, and in the stream there is an island"). If that confused you, don't worry – the whole point of the poem is about a city visitor failing to understand the dialect! 



Jag ser en å

I can see a stream

Hon var å andra sidan jätteduktig

On the other hand, she was very competent

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.


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Margaret 2024/02/24 09:52
A wonderful and rich discussion with history, dialects, a poem... I can't wait to use å in a conversation.

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