SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LEARNING SWEDISH

How to think in Swedish: tänka, tro or tycka?

Swedish has at least three different ways of expressing the English word "think": tänka, tro and tycka. Learning when to use each of these words correctly is a sure-fire way to sound like a true Swede.

How to think in Swedish: tänka, tro or tycka?
A quote above the entrance to the Grand Auditorium of the University Main Building in Uppsala. It says "To think freely is great, but to think rightly is greater". Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

Despite the fact that these words are all translated to “think” in English, choosing the wrong verb in Swedish can change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. 

As a general rule, you should use tänka when talking about the act of thinking, tro when talking about a belief you hold, and tycka when you’re talking about a personal opinion. That might seem confusing, so let’s go into a bit more detail below.

Tänka

The act of thinking

Tänka is the most literal of these three verbs. It describes the act of thinking, such as in sentences like jag tänker på dig (“I’m thinking of you”) or kan du hålla tyst, jag försöker tänka! (“Can you be quiet, I’m trying to think!”)

A future plan

Tänka can also describe something you want to do – “I’m thinking of doing [something]” – such as vi tänker gifta oss (“We’re thinking of getting married”), or jag tänker lära mig svenska (“I’m thinking of learning Swedish”).

I’d quite like…

Another way of using the word tänka is to say that an idea appeals to you or that you’d quite like to do something – like in the phrase jag hade kunnat tänka mig [något] (literally “I had could think me [something]”). 

If, for example, you were discussing with your partner what you should order for dinner on a Friday night, you might say jag hade kunnat tänka mig pizza (best translated as “pizza could be nice” or “I’d quite like pizza”), which is more like a suggestion compared to jag vill äta pizza (“I want to eat pizza”).

I can imagine…

Finally, tänka can also mean “imagine”. This can be seen in the following example:

“Jag var jättetrött efter jobbet i går, jag hade jobbat 14 timmar utan paus!” Oj! Ja, det kan jag tänka mig!”

(“I was really tired after work yesterday, I’d worked for 14 hours without a break!” “Oh wow! Yeah, I can imagine!”)

Tycka and tro

These two verbs are closer in meaning and slightly harder to explain than with the word tänka. The best way to distinguish tycka and tro is to be more specific when translating them in to English. Although “think” can be used as an umbrella term for both of these concepts, the differences start to become clearer if you use more specialised verbs when translating them instead.

An opinion, usually based on experience

Tycka has the same meaning as the English words “deem”, “regard” and “consider”, which are all used when expressing an opinion about something.

To use tycka, you would say jag tycker att (“I think that”) followed by your opinion. In spoken Swedish, the att here is often left out. Jag tycker (att) du är snäll (“I think you’re nice”) and jag tycker (att) det är kallt (I think it’s cold) are two examples.

A belief or speculation

Tro, on the other hand, can be translated as “believe”, which can be used when speculating about something or expressing a belief, such as jag tror på Gud (“I believe in God”) or jag tror det kommer regna imorgon (“I think it will rain tomorrow”).

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between saying tycka or tro:

Jag tycker (att) det är en bra restaurang would mean “I think that’s a good restaurant”, in the sense of “I consider that to be a good restaurant”. You may have eaten at the restaurant before and you can recommend it based on the food that you ate.

Jag tror det är en bra restaurang would also mean “I think that’s a good restaurant”, but in the sense of “I believe that’s a good restaurant”. Maybe a friend has told you that they had a nice meal there, but you’ve not been there yourself so you can’t say for certain. 

Tycker om

You may also have come across the phrase tycka om, which has a slightly different meaning than tyckaTycka always requires some sort of elaboration – it should be followed by a statement about what your opinion is – whereas tycka om simply means that you like something.

Jag tycker (att) han är snäll, jag tycker (att) choklad smakar bra

(“I think (that) he is nice”, “I think (that) chocolate tastes good”)

Jag tycker om honom, jag tycker om choklad

(“I like him”, “I like chocolate”)

You can also use the word gilla to express liking something. Jag gillar honom, jag gillar choklad (“I like him”, “I like chocolate”)

So, how do I think in Swedish?

Essentially, you should use tänka when describing actual thoughts in your head, tycka when expressing an opinion or a recommendation based on something you’ve experienced, and tro when expressing a belief, or a recommendation based on something you’ve heard or read from another source.

If you’re not sure whether to use tycka or tro in a specific situation, try swapping out the word “think” with “consider” or “believe”, and see if that helps.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LEARNING SWEDISH

Eight Swedish words I now use in English

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up slipping into your everyday English. Becky Waterton explains why she uses these Swedish words more often than their English equivalents.

Eight Swedish words I now use in English

People often say that the moment you know you speak a language fluently is when you begin dreaming in it.

What they don’t tell you is that the next marker of your fluency comes when you start substituting words in your native language with words from the foreign language. Here are a few Swedish words I’ve started using more and more when I speak English.

Mys

Equivalent to the English word “cosy” or the Danish “hygge”, I find myself using the Swedish word mys (noun) or mysigt (adjective) often in English, even making up my own compound Swedish-English words using mys.

One example is mysväder, literally “cosy weather”, which can roughly translate as the kind of weather where it’s socially acceptable to lie on your sofa with a hot chocolate under a blanket and watch TV (so perfect autumn weather, essentially). The perfect clothing for mys-weather is mys-clothes, like tracksuit bottoms or pyjamas, a soft wooly jumper and a pair of warm socks.

I’ve found myself on more than one occasion saying “oh the weather today is really mys-weather, isn’t it?”, indicating to whoever I’m talking to that I plan on going into hibernation as soon as I get home. If a friend asked me to join them for a day trip somewhere or a fika at a nice cafe, I might say “oh, that sounds mysigt!”, roughly in the same way an English speaker could say “yes, that sounds nice!”. Mys just feels less generic than “nice”, when used in this way.

Swish

Maybe a bit of a cheat in this list of supposedly Swedish words, I regularly use the verb swisha in English if I pick up the bill in a restaurant for a friend. “Oh, it’s okay, you can just swish me,” I say, telling the friend to use payment service Swish to pay me back.

In the same vein, I might tell my husband “I’ve sent you a swishförfrågan (Swish request) for the dagisavgift (preschool fee) this month”, as a not-so-subtle hint for him to log in to the app and send over his half of the payment.

Typ

Typ is a bit of a filler word in Swedish, used in the same way as “like” in English. Not in the sense of liking something, but in the sense of filling a gap in speech or indicating you’re not sure of something. So instead of saying “it costs, like, 30 kronor,” you might say “det kostar typ 30 kronor”.

I use typ so unconsciously in Swedish that it’s started creeping into my English when I fill a gap in speech while I think, in sentences like “I think that was… typ… four days ago?”, or if I’m not sure of the exact amount of something, like if someone asks me how I baked a cake, I might say “and then I added 200g of flour… typ.” 

Macka

This maybe says more about my lifestyle than anything else, but I use the Swedish word macka (bread with topping) every single day, usually when I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast.

Swedes love to eat bread with toppings for breakfast, referred to as a macka, occasionally a rostmacka if toasted. Unlike toast, which is usually only eaten with butter, a macka can be hot or cold, and topped with anything from ham to salami, hummus or cheese. The words “do you want macka or porridge?” and “what do you want on your macka?” are uttered every morning, without fail, in our household.

Snippa

Another Swedish word linked to child-rearing, the word snippa is an informal, not-rude Swedish word for female genitalia. The male variant would be snopp, similar to the English word “willy”.

I haven’t been able to find an informal English version of snippa which is child-friendly and easy for my daughter to pronounce, so I usually use the Swedish word if I’m telling my toddler daughter to wait after a visit to the toilet and wipe her snippa.

Sugen

Sugen is a great Swedish word similar to “hungry”, but more in the sense of “snacky” – you’re not really hungry, but you fancy eating something small and most likely unhealthy, like a biscuit or some crisps.

It’s the kind of word you would say if your partner caught you gazing into the kitchen cupboards a few hours after lunch looking despondent. “Are you hungry?”, they might ask, only for you to respond “nah, not really, I’m just a bit sugen.”

Mellis

It’s similar to the word mellis, another Swedish word which has crept into my English. Mellis is short for mellanmål, literally “between-meal”, but more often used as a small snack to tide you over to the next meal, like an apple or a macka.

VAB

Finally, an essential word for all parents in Sweden, VAB. VAB stands for vård av barn, and is the term for taking time off work to look after a sick child. Usually used in talking to your boss, you might say “my child has a fever so I’m going to have to vab today”, or negotiate with your partner “if I vab this time, can you vab next time?”

It’s just so much easier than saying “I’m going to have to take paid time off work to look after my sick child”.

SHOW COMMENTS