Swedish word of the day: gift

Swedish word of the day: gift
Do you mean gift or gift? Image: nito103/Depositphotos
'False friend' is the name given to words that look and sound like a word in another language but mean something completely different. The Swedish word 'gift' is a step beyond that: it has two distinct meanings in Swedish, neither of which is the same as the English 'gift'.

Gift means both 'married' (when used as an adjective) and 'poison' (when used as a noun), something that has caused confusion to plenty of Swedish language-learners.

It's not as strange as it might seem.

Both forms of gift have their roots in the Old Norse word gipt, which meant 'something given'. Over the years, the meaning changed very little in English, which is where the word 'gift' comes from, but in Swedish, the word developed into giva, which became closely associated with marriage.

Far from modern-day weddings in which both partners are equal before the law (in Swedish weddings the bride and groom typically enter the church together to symbolize this equal partnership), years ago marriage involved a father 'giving away' his daughter (as is still the case in many places). The word for dowry was hemgift, and gift came to be used as the adjective meaning married, but today there is no negative or sexist connotation and it describes married men as well as women.

Meanwhile in Germany, the word gipt went on a very different etymological journey. Several centuries ago, gift was used to mean 'a present' but over the years the meaning changed until it became used solely as a euphemism for poison somewhere around the year 800. Then, Sweden borrowed the noun gift (poison) back from German.

To avoid confusion, it helps to learn the related words to each use of gift. The verb 'to marry' is att gifta sig, while the noun (marriage) is ett äktenskap. In the sense of 'poison', the adjective 'poisonous' is giftig and the verb 'to poison (someone)' is att förgifta (någon).

Thankfully, the Swedish word for a gift is straightforward: en present.


Hon är gift och har tre små barn

She is married and has three small children

Hon har tagit gift

She has taken (consumed) poison

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.


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