Swedish word of the day: ljus

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: ljus
This word is an integral part of Swedish winter traditions. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today's Swedish word is one we all need this time of the year.


Ljus means “light/pale”; it’s the opposite of mörk (“dark”).

You can use it as an adjective in a tangible or abstract sense, for example ljusa väggar (“light-coloured walls”), nu blir det ljust senare och senare på morgonen (“it’s getting light later and later in the morning now”) or framtiden är ljus (“the future is bright”).

Like mörk, it can also modify a colour adjective, in which case you simply combine both adjectives, like ljusrosa (“light pink”) or ljuslila (“light purple”). Swedes love compound words, in contrast to English where both words would be kept separate.

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Ljus can also be used as a noun (ett ljus). You can for example talk about solljus (sunlight) or månljus (moonlight), or ljuset från en lykta (the light of a lantern).

It can also mean “candle” which is sometimes referred to as levande ljus (literally “living light/candles”).

The plural of ljus is… ljus. This may seem simple and straightforward, and it is, but note that “the candle” is ljuset, whereas “the candles” in plural are ljusen.

The word ljus comes from the Old Norse ljóss, and a lot of Swedish holidays are based around the concept of light – unsurprising in a country with such dark winters.

Every year on All Saints Day, Swedes light candles on the graves of their family members or friends, a Catholic tradition which is still observed in secular Sweden.

December 13th marks the day of Santa Lucia, one of the most enduring Swedish winter traditions, Lucia (whose names comes from the Latin word for light: lux) lights up the darkness with candles in her hair, and a good helping of saffron buns and mulled wine on the side.


And if you live in or have ever spent the month of December in Sweden, you will almost certainly have noticed adventsljusstakar – wooden triangles with little electric lights – in nearly every window. Swedes also light real candles every Sunday of Advent up until Christmas.

But you don’t need a holiday to celebrate the concept of light. In fact, lighting a few candles, and making yourself comfortable on the couch is a perfect way of getting into the spirit of Swedish mys – having a cosy time at home (no innuendo intended, mys is very family-friendly).


Oj, vad ljust det är ute idag!

Wow, it’s so bright outside today!

Tänd ett ljus och låt det brinna

Light a candle and let it burn (a line from a popular Swedish Christmas song)

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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