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Swedish word of the day: dom

Today's word of the day has a number of different meanings, one of which is not technically correct when used in written Swedish - at least not yet.

Swedish word of the day: dom
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Dom has a few different meanings in Swedish. First up is the Swedish word for a court verdict (from the Old Norse dómr meaning ‘judgement’), which you can also see in the words domare (judge or referee), and att döma (to give a sentence or a verdict), in this sense related to the English word ‘deem’.

Other words related to att döma or dom in the sense of a verdict or judgement include att bedöma (to judge) and en fördom (a prejudice).

The word dom can also mean ‘dome’ (from Latin domus), as well as the word for cathedral, where it is actually a shorter version of the word domkyrka (literally: ‘dome church’). Another Swedish word for ‘dome’ is kupol.

The final meaning of the word dom, and the one this article will focus on, is the spoken form of the words for ‘they’ and ‘them’ in Swedish, de and dem, which you may also see in informal writing, such as on social media or in text messages.

Dom is our word of the day today, as it looks like it may soon become official correct Swedish, replacing de and dem in written Swedish.

It’s been around for a long time – according to Språktidningen, it existed in certain dialects of Old Swedish, and examples of the precursor to dom, þom, exist in texts as early as the 1300s.

In 1954, the agency responsible for sending radio news, Tidningarnas telegrambyrå (which later became TT newswire) asked the Authority for the Protection of the Swedish Language how de and dem should be pronounced on air, as the use of dom in speech was becoming more and more popular.

They were told that di – a version of dom which has all but disappeared nowadays – and dom were acceptable “when speech flows freely and uncontrolled”, but that de and dem should be used when reading news items. The authority further said that di was “rural” and dom was “vulgar”.

Over the following decades, dom became more and more common in news broadcasts, both on the radio and on television, when TV broadcasting started in Sweden. This culminated in a call for a dom reform in the 1970s, by which time it had thrown off the shackles of its lower-class reputation.

Nowadays, no one is arguing against the use of dom in speech, but many Swedes are still against the use of dom in text, preferring instead to write de or dem.

In a 2022 study by Novus on behalf of Språktidningen, only 26 percent of Swedes wanted to make ‘dom’ official, with 39 percent preferring to continue to use ‘de’ and ‘dem’, and 31 percent having neither positive nor negative feelings towards a ‘dom’ reform.

Somewhat paradoxically, as the group most often accused of having problems with ‘de’ and ‘dem’, Swedes between 18 and 29 were most against a ‘dom’ reform, with the majority – 58 percent – against.

At the other end of the scale, Swedes over the age of 65 were most positive towards a reform, with 28 percent for a reform and 26 percent against.

What do you think? Should Sweden bring in a dom reform so the written language better reflects the spoken language, or should Swedes stick to what they know and keep writing de and dem, despite pronouncing both words dom?

Please leave a comment under the article. 

What do de and dem mean in English?

For English speakers, it’s relatively easy to figure out which one to use in text, as dem translates directly to ‘them’, and de to ‘they’ (or sometimes ‘the’ for plural nouns). Note that the correct pronunciation of both words is dom, regardless of the spelling.

Here are some quick examples:

De bakar kakor. (They bake cakes.)

Jag vill äta dem. (I want to eat them.)

De goda kakor. (The nice cakes.)

If Sweden were to carry out a language reform, these sentences would instead be written as follows, but still pronounced the same:

Dom bakar kakor.

Jag vill äta dom.

Dom goda kakor.

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.

Member comments

  1. As a new learner and speaker of Swedish, unburdened by years of tradition and really just wanting to speak and write it correctly, I am absolutely in favor of bringing the written language into accord with the spoken form. The mismatch is, from the point of view of an outsider, a bit silly!

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Swedish word of the day: sommartid

The clocks are springing ahead this weekend, marking the beginning of daylight saving time and the end of Sweden's dark winter period. Aptly described in Swedish as 'sommartid', here is the history of how the practice came about.

Swedish word of the day: sommartid

The phrase will come in handy this weekend if you want to lament a lost hour of sleep in the morning or celebrate the extra hour of daylight in the evening. 

Sommartid translates literally to “summertime” and refers to daylight saving time, which begins this weekend in many European countries, including Sweden. At 2:00 am on Sunday, the clocks will spring one hour ahead.

In the UK, this period is known as “British Summer Time” – one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – while in North America, daylight saving time is used more commonly.

The first time sommartid was officially trialled on a national basis was in 1916, when the German Empire along with other countries such as Austria-Hungary, the UK and Sweden introduced the practice in order to conserve fuel during World War I, with the idea being that the extra daylight would reduce the use of artificial lighting, allowing the surplus fuel to be put towards the war efforts.

In the following years, the practice spread to Australia, Russia, and the US, too.

After the war, daylight saving grew unpopular in Europe, especially among farmers, whose schedules were – and still are – dictated by nature and sunlight rather than the clock.

It wasn’t used on a large scale again until World War II, when Germany again popularised the practice. But a few years after the war ended, it fell out of favour for the second time. It only picked up again when France reintroduced it in 1976, in response to an energy crisis sparked by the oil embargo in 1973.

By 1996, the EU standardised daylight savings, which now runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. 

But the future of daylight saving time looks uncertain once again. In 2019, the European Parliament voted to abolish the practice, however efforts to actually implement this measure have stalled. So at least for this year, sommartid will continue.  

Example sentences: 

När börjar sommartid? 

When does daylight saving time start?

Kom ihåg att sommartid börjar på söndag, så man behöver stå upp en timme tidigare.

Remember that summer time starts on Sunday, so you need to get up an hour earlier.

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.