Swedish word of the day: pyssel

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: pyssel
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you have children in Sweden, you've probably heard this word, especially around holidays. But what does it mean?


Today's word of the day is pyssel.

Pyssel's first meaning is similar to "handicrafts" – a small crafting activity, usually aimed at children, which is often carried out around holidays. Swedish children may bring home påskpyssel ("Easter crafts") from school around Easter and julpyssel is a popular activity for families in the quiet period in the run-up to Christmas.

Larger creative activities or projects, particularly those carried out by adults, are usually referred to with more specific terms. If you were building a piece of furniture, for example, you would be doing slöjd ("woodwork") rather than pyssel.

The verb form of pyssel is pyssla. Pyssla is often used when talking about doing small arts and crafts, but can also describe the act of carrying out minor chores or activities around the house. A good English translation here could be "tinkering" or "fiddling" with something.

The question vad pysslar du med? reflects this second meaning, and is an informal way to ask someone what they are doing: roughly translated as "what are you up to?".


A similar word to pyssla is syssla. Both words can be used to describe engaging in some sort of creative hobby which usually requires fine motor skills, although syssla implies that it is a more serious activity, maybe even something the person in question does for work.

For example, att pyssla med modelltåg would be used to describe someone who works on model trains in their free time (a good English translation here could be "tinkers with model trains"), whereas att syssla med modelltåg could mean that the person in question restores model trains professionally.

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The question vad sysslar du med? can also mean "what are you up to?", but can also be a way of asking about someone's profession, similar to asking "what do you do for a living?".

The word sysselsättning also reflects this: it is used to describe the degree of employment in labour market statistics, for example. Att vara sysselsatt doesn't always mean that someone is employed, but can also be used to describe that someone is busy, such as in the phrase det håller barnen sysselsatta ("it keeps the kids occupied").


You can also pyssla om someone: look after them when they are sick.

Although pyssel looks similar to the English word "puzzle", you should make sure to use the word pussel instead when talking about a puzzle or jigsaw. The Swedish term for putting together a jigsaw, for example, is att lägga pussel, and a word puzzle such as a crossword or a riddle would be ett ordpussel.

Example sentences:

Vad pysslar du med? Jag pysslar med mitt pussel.

What are you doing? I'm fiddling with my jigsaw puzzle.

Har du några bra tips på julpyssel jag kan göra med barnen?

Do you have any good tips for Christmas crafts I can do with the kids?

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