Swedish word of the day: drottning

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

Our last word of the day was kung, the Swedish word for king. Today, we’re continuing the royal theme with drottning, the Swedish word for queen.


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Sweden’s current queen is Queen Silvia (Drottning Silvia in Swedish), who is not a ruling queen, but a queen consort due to her marriage to King Carl XVI Gustaf.

This makes her technically a drottninggemål, with gemål here meaning spouse (usually only used for royals and nobles), but she's usually just referred to as Sweden's drottning.

Confusingly, drottninggemål has also historically been used in Swedish to refer to the spouse of a ruling queen – two examples from the UK are Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, and Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. An alternative term for the spouse of a ruling queen in Swedish is prinsgemål.

While the spouse of a king is referred to as a queen, the spouse of a queen is usually referred to as a prince, rather than a king.

Sweden has had three ruling queens in its history – Queen Margareta, who ruled over Denmark, Sweden and Norway from the late 1300s to early 1400s, Queen Kristina, who ruled Sweden from 1644-1654, and Queen Ulrika Eleonora, who reigned from 1718-20.

Prior to 1980, Sweden had agnatic or patrilineal succession, meaning that the throne was passed down through the male line and the first male child would inherit the throne regardless of any older sisters.

This law change has made it more likely for Sweden to have a ruling queen, and indeed the next two members of the royal family in line to the Swedish throne are both female: Crown Princess Victoria and her daughter, Princess Estelle.


The word drottning can be traced back to Old Norse, where the word dróttinn was used for a chieftain, lord, or similar male ruler. A dróttinn’s wife (or mistress) was referred to as a dróttning. While Swedish rulers became known as kings, the name for their wives never changed to reflect their husbands’ new status, so they were still referred to as a dróttning.

Just like in English, drottning can be used to refer to a queen bee (bidrottning). The queen piece in chess is known as a drottning or dam (lady), while the queen in a pack of cards is only known as dam.

Drottning features in some compound words like änkedrottning (a queen by marriage whose ruling husband has died) or drottningmoder, which is the mother of a ruling monarch, although these have traditionally been referred to as an änkedrottning or riksänkedrottning in Swedish.

You may have also spotted drottningsylt in your local supermarket –- this is jam made with half raspberries and half blueberries (which are actually a different species than American blueberries and should really be referred to as bilberries in English).


Example sentences:

Sverige och Norge har kungar men Danmark har en drottning.

Sweden and Norway have kings but Denmark has a queen.

Hennes Majestät Drottning Silvia pratar svenska, tyska, engelska, franska, spanska och portugisiska.

Her Majesty Queen Silvia speaks Swedish, German, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

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