Swedish word of the day: kung

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

In honour of the Swedish king's 50th jubilee, we're looking at the origins of the Swedish word for king.


There are technically two words for "king" in Sweden, kung and konung. 

Kung is by far the most common word used when referring to a king, while konung is a more formal version. For example, you would usually say Kung Carl XVI Gustaf if you were talking about the king in a normal setting, but if you wanted to talk about "His Majesty the King", you would say Hans Majestät Konungen.

The formal name for Sweden is technically Konungariket Sverige (the Kingdom of Sweden), although this is only ever really used in official documents.

You can also see this word in the official Swedish translation of the name of the United Kingdom, Förenade konungariket Storbritannien och Nordirland (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), although in most situations it's referred to as Storbritannien (Great Britain) or even just England.

You would also be more likely to use konung in some expressions, such as skogens konung (king of the forest), which usually refers to an elk, djurens konung (king of the animals), which is a lion, or konungarnas konung (the king of kings), which usually refers to Jesus.

Both kung and konung originally stem from Proto-Germanic *kuningaz, which also meant king, but there appears to have been a distinction between the two words for much of Swedish history, as there are also two separate words for king in Old Norse: kongr and konunger.


The English word king is also often used colloquially, particularly by younger people, to refer to something particularly good or cool, either with or without the word jävla, which in this context can be translated as "damn" or "fucking" in English: helgen var king (the weekend was awesome) or han är jävla king! (he's so fucking awesome!)

You may see Sweden's king referred to affectionately as knugen, a nickname which he supposedly gained after signing his name "Cal Gustf" on an official document. He also supposedly wrote in an assignment at school as a young boy that he would be a knug when he grew up.

Later, it was discovered that he had dyslexia, as do two of his children – Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Carl Philip, who were both diagnosed at a young age as their mother, Queen Silvia, was looking out for any signs that her children may be affected.


When Carl Philip and his wife, Princess Sofia, got married in 2015, they launched a joint foundation, Prins Carl Philips och Prinsessan Sofias stiftelse, aiming to increase respect for and understanding of people with dyslexia.

Carl XVI Gustaf has also been open about the issues he faced in school due to his problems with reading and writing, telling filmmaker Karin af Klintberg in the Kungen och Jag documentary on SVT, released just prior to the jubilee, that he believes it is one of the reasons he is so shy.

Finally, for no reason other than I found it while I was researching this article, here's a video of Sweden's king interrupting an interview because he saw a cute cat drinking some water.

He says: "Sorry, I'm just looking at a little cat who's sitting here, I don't know if you can quickly film it?" and when the King of Sweden asks you to film a cute cat, you film a cute cat.

Example sentences:

Har Sverige en kung? Ja, han heter Carl XVI Gustaf.

Does Sweden have a king? Yes, he's called Carl XVI Gustaf.

Snart ska jag bli en mäktig kung, som fienderna slår
Ja, men djurens konung brukar väl ha lite mera hår?

Soon, I'll be a mighty king, who beats the enemies
Yes, but doesn't the king of the jungle usually have more hair? (The first two lines of the Swedish version of "I just can't wait to be king", from the Lion King)

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