Swedish word of the day: gnälla

Today's word of the day is gnälla, which can be translated in to English as "whinge" or "whine".

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

Someone who whines a lot could be referred to as a gnällspik (“whine nail”), a gnällpipa (“whine pipe”) a gnällmåns (“whine Måns”), or even a gnällisa (“whine Lisa”), with Måns and Lisa being common male and female Swedish names, respectively.

You may also hear dogs and children accused of att gnälla, especially young children and dogs whining because they want something.

Gnällbältet (“whine belt”) is an informal term often used to refer to the area of Sweden regarded to have a “whiny” or gnällig dialect, due to their use of the “schwa” sound, a vowel sound produced when the mouth is completely relaxed. This sound is pronounced like “uh”, and is found in the “a” in ‘about’ and the “e” in “dinner”.

The dialect of people in the gnällbälte uses this “schwa” after certain vowels, leading speakers of this dialect to sound like they are complaining or whining.

The gnällbält is situated in the middle of Sweden, near the cities of Eskilstuna and Örebro, west of Stockholm. According to Fredrik Lindström, presenter for language documentary Svenska dialektmysterier, the gnällbälte stretches from Laxå in Örebro county, to Kjula in Eskilstuna county. Lindström, coincidentally, comes from Eskilstuna.

People from Eskilstuna usually claim that those from Örebro are more whiny, whereas those from Örebro usually say the same about people from Eskilstuna.

The location of the gnällbälte according to Lindström. Photo: User: Kigsz/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

In Svenska dialektmysterier, Lindström presents his theory for why people in the gnällbält sound so whiny.

According to his theory, the gnällig dialect can be traced back to a period where two rival tribes, the svear (Swedes) and the götar (Goths) lived in Sweden, with the svear inhabiting the east and the götar the west. Lindström believes that the svear had a more prestigious dialect as they held a position of power, and that the götar living in the gnällbälte adapted their dialect to sound like the svear, resulting in the whiny vowel sound.

Now, both of the original dialects of the svear and the götar have changed and disappeared, with the gnällig dialect from the gnällbälte a leftover linguistic quirk from Sweden’s history.

The svear, coincidentally, gave their name to both the country of Sweden, and the region of Sweden known as Svealand, situated in the centre of the country. The götar, on the other hand, gave their name to Götaland – the southern region of Sweden – and the city of Gothenburg.

Example sentences:

Men snälla, mamma, kan jag få lite godis? Nej, sluta gnälla!

Please mum, can I have some sweets? No, stop whining!

Dialekten från gnällbältet är nog Sveriges mest irriterande dialekt.

The dialect from the “whine belt” must be Sweden’s most irritating dialect.

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 – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

Today’s word will help you say that things are going alright or that Peter is okay at karaoke.

Swedish word of the day: hyfsat

It is a decent word, and okay one, rather good, and it has a well-polished past.

Hyfsat or hyfsad most often means that something is ‘okay’, ‘decent’, ‘alright’ or even ‘rather good’, which can apply to a great number of things. And its etymological cousin hyfs, is a quality of character. 

Behind both of these words and their uses lies a lesser known verb, to hyfsa. A word which is perhaps slowly becoming out of date. 

But hyfsa, in spite of its slow descent into the archaic, is a very useful word, as it has the general meaning of ‘to tidy up’. That is to say it can be used for a number of situations that imply a bit of tidying up: whether it be your own appearance, like trimming a bit of your hair, evening out your fringe; or fixing a bit in your garden, like trimming the hedge. 

You could even use it to describe a quick tidy up at home ahead of a visit, like giving a vase or some other ornament a bit of a polish, or just putting some things in their right place. 

From hyfsa we get both hyfs and hyfsat

Hyfs, as previously mentioned, has to do with character, more precisely with behaviour. Hyfs is simply to have a well-polished or presentable manner (especially toward your elders): att ha hyfs, ‘to be polite’, or att vara ohyfsad, ‘to be rude’ or un-hyfsed.

Young people might not use it as much anymore, but all Swedes know the word.

Hyfsat or hyfsad on the other hand describes the quality of something or how someone is at something. Something that is hyfsat will do, it is okay and acceptable, implying that it would be so even to the person you are addressing.

Beyond that it can also be used to describe your own or someone else’s performance at karaoke, or any other thing, if you ever get the question. It is also an appreciation of things, and can also describe something as being ‘moderately so’, ‘not too’ or ‘fairly so’, as in en hyfsat snar framtid, meaning ‘a not too distant future’. In some sense it brings to mind that ever elusive word: lagom.

Generally, one can say that it implies that something is acceptable, and by linguistic extension, its root in hyfsa, that some work has been done to achieve that. Or in other words, that whatever it is it is not entirely uncared for, lacking in effort or preparation. It has done enough to be deserving of basic approval. It is hyfsat. 

Example sentences

Hur gick det på karaoken? Det gick hyfsat bra – “How did it go at karaoke? It went fairly well.”

Är Peter bra på karaoke? Han är hyfsad. – “Is Peter any good at karaoke? He’s alright.”

Hörru, hur går det med den där rapporten? Hyfsat – “Hey, how’s that report coming along? Not too bad.”

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.