Swedish proverbs

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They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world. Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.
Allan K. Chalmers
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A

  • "Alla vägar bär till Rom."
    • Translation: "All roads lead to Rome."
  • "Allt är inte guld som glimmar."
    • Translation: "Not everything that glimmers is gold." or ""All that glitters is not gold."
    • Notes: Cf. "Man ska inte döma hunden efter håren."
  • "Arga katter får rivet skinn."
    • Translation: "Angry cats get scratched skin."
    • Translation (interpretation): "Quarrelsome dogs come limping home."
  • "Alltid är det något sa flickan som blödde näsblod."
    • Translation: ""It's always something" said the girl with a nosebleed."

B

  • "Bäst att smida medan järnet är varmt."
    • Translation: "Strike while the iron is hot."
  • "Borta bra men hemma bäst."
    • Translation: "Away is good but at home is best."
    • Notes: Cf. "There's no place like home.", and "East or West, home is best."
  • "Bränt barn skyr elden."
    • Translation: "Burnt child shuns the fire."
    • Notes: Sometimes jokingly changed into "Bränt barn luktar illa." ("Burned child smells bad."). Cf. "Once bitten, twice shy."
  • "Bättre en fågel i handen än tio i skogen."
    • Translation: "Better is one bird in the hand than ten in the bush."
    • Notes: Sometimes spoofed as "Bättre en tia i handen än en tjuga i foten." (It's better to have a tia(10 krona coin) in your hand than to have a tjuga(can mean either a 20 krona bill or a hayfork) in your foot.)
  • "Bättre fly än illa fäkta."
    • Translation: "Better to flee than fence poorly."
  • "Bättre sent än aldrig."
    • Translation: "Better late than never."
  • "Bättre stämma i bäcken än i ån."
    • Translation: "Better to dam the brook than the creek."

D

  • "Dansa efter någons pipa."
    • Translation: "To dance according to someones pipe."
  • "Den enes död -- den andres bröd."
    • Translation: "The death of one -- the bread of the other."
    • Notes: What's bad for one person might be good for someone else.
    • cf "One man's medicine is another man's poison." and "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
  • "Den som gapar efter mycket, mister ofta hela stycket."
    • Translation: "The one who bids for much, often loses the whole deal."
    • cf: "Grasp all, lose all."
  • "Den som vill vara fin, får lida pin."
    • Translation: "The one who desires to be pretty, has to suffer."
    • cf: "No pain, no gain."
  • "Den som gräver en grop åt andra faller ofta själv däri."
    • Translation: "The one who digs a pit for others, often falls into it him-/herself."
    • Notes: If you're trying to make things go bad for someone else, you yourself will probably be the one it'll go bad for.
  • "Det finns inga dåliga väder bara dåliga kläder." or "Det finns inget dåligt väder bara dåliga kläder." (older form)
    • Translation: "There is no bad weather only bad clothing."
    • Meaning: "wear your hat, just like mom told you to, and everything will be alright." (objection)
  • "Det gäller att smida medan järnet är varmt."
    • Translation: "You must take the chance to forge whilst the iron is hot."
  • "Det man inte vet mår man inte dåligt av."
    • Translation: "What you don't know doesn't hurt you."
  • "Det som inte dödar, härdar."
    • Translation: "What doesn't kill, hardens."
    • cf "That which does not kill you, makes you stronger." --Nietzsche.
  • "Det var på håret."
    • Translation: "That was on the hair." Alt "That was a close cut"
    • Notes: Meaning "that was close" in cases where something bad almost happened.
    • cf "That was a close shave"
  • "Det är inte ens fel, när två träter."
    • Translation: "It's not one person's fault if two people quarrel."
    • cf "It takes two to make a quarrel."
  • "Det är tanken som räknas."
    • Translation: "It's the thought that counts."
    • Notes: It doesn't matter if things didn't turn out right, as long as the intentions were good.
  • "Du är inte så dum som du ser ut."
    • Translation: "You're not as stupid as you look"
  • "Den som väntar på något gott, väntar aldrig för länge."
    • Translation: "When you are waiting for something good, you can never wait too long" i.e Something good is worth waiting for.
    • Notes: Sometimes jokingly changed into "Den som väntar på något gott, väntar alltid för länge." ("When you are waiting for something good, you always wait too long"). Or "Den som väntar på något gott, blir aldrig tjock" ("The one how waits for womething good, never gets fat").
  • "Det som börjar med en knappnål, slutar oftast med en silverskål*
    • Translation: "What starts with a needle, will often end with a silverbowl" I.e a person that steels something little/done somthing bad/ will probably end up steeling more valuable things/as a criminal.

E

  • "En fluga gör ingen förnär."
    • Translation: "A fly doesn't harm anyone."
  • "Elda för kråkorna."
    • Translation: "Have a fire for the crows."
    • Note: Usually used about a house that is badly insulated.
  • "En gång, ingen gång -- två gånger, en vana."
    • Translation: "One time, no time -- two times, a habit."
  • "En gång är ingen gång, två gånger är en gång för mycket. (Tre gånger är en vana/tradition.)"
    • Translation: "Once is no time, twice is once too much. (Thrice is a habit/custom.)"
  • "En olycka kommer sällan ensam."
    • Translation: "An accident rarely comes alone."
    • Notes: If something goes wrong, usually more things go wrong at about the same time.
    • Cf. "Misery loves company."
  • "Man väntar aldrig för länge, när man väntar på något gott."
    • Translation: "You never wait too long, when you wait for something good."
  • "Ett mjukt svar stillar vrede."
    • Translation: "A soft answer calms the wrath."

F

  • "Friskt vågat, hälften vunnet."
    • Translation: "Daringly dared, half of it won."
    • Notes: Cf. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
  • "Full som en kaja."
    • "Drunk like a jackdaw."
    • cf "Drunk as a Lord"
  • "Förbjuden väg är ofta hårt sliten."
    • Translation: "Forbidden road is often heavily worn."
  • "Först till kvarn får först mala."
    • Translation: "The first at the mill can grind the first."
    • Notes: Cf. "Early bird gets the worm",
    • Possible interpretation: The English proverb "First come, first served." is very close in meaning.

G

  • "Goddag, yxskaft."
    • Translation: "Good day, axe-handles."
    • Notes: Usually said when someone says something that is totally off topic. The proverb originates from a story about a deaf man who used to sit outside his house, making axe-handles. Not hearing what people said he had learnt by heart the answers to what people usually asked him/said to him. Most people passing by would simply greet him and then ask him what he was making. But one day a stranger came along and asked him for the way to town, and so the answers turned into nonsense.
  • "Gräset är alltid grönare på andra sidan staketet."
    • Translation: "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."
  • "Gå som katten kring het gröt."
    • Translation: "Walk like the cat around hot porridge."
    • Notes: Usually means talking "around" a topic without getting to the point, often because it is a sensitive issue.
    • Cf. "Beating around the bush."

H

  • "Ha många järn i elden."
    • Translation: "To have a lot of irons in the fire."
    • Notes: To be involved in many activities. (Close, but not identical, to "Hålla många bollar i luften.".)
  • "Har man sagt ä får man säga ö." or "Har man sagt a får man säga b"
    • Translation: "If you have said a, you have to say b."
    • Notes: Usually said to a person who has hinted at something that he/she then refuses to elaborate on.
  • "Hellre en fågel i handen än tio i skogen."
    • Translation: "Rather one bird in the hand, than ten in the woods." (The English equivalent would be "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.")
  • "Hålla många bollar i luften."
    • Translation: "Keep several balls in the air." (Watch for missunderstanding about "balls")
    • Notes: Being able to do many things at once. (Close, but not identical, to "Ha många järn i elden.".)
  • "Hålla tungan rätt i mun."
    • Translation: "Hold tongue correct in mouth."
    • Notes: Used when great concentration is needed.
  • "Högmod går före fall."
    • Translation: "Pride goes before fall."

I

  • "I de grundaste vattnen går de fulaste fiskarna."
    • Translation: "In the shallowest waters, the ugliest fish swim."
    • Notes: "Ugly fish" usually means a suspicious person, possibly with criminal tendencies.
  • "I nöden prövas vännen."
    • Notes: Cf. "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
  • "Inga nyheter är goda nyheter."
    • Translation: "No news is good news."
  • "Ingen ko på isen."
    • Translation: "No cow on the [lake] ice."
    • Meaning: No harm done; no imminent danger; don't worry.
    • Notes: Cf. "Bob's your uncle."
  • "Ingen rök utan eld."
    • Translation: "No smoke without a fire."

J

  • "Ju fler kockar desto sämre soppa"
    • Translation: "The more chefs, the worse the soup"
    • Possible translation: Supposed to be ironic, meaning that it is better to have one person in charge than many.
    • Cf. "There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians.", and "Too many cooks spoil the broth."

K

  • "Köpa grisen i säcken."
    • Translation: "To buy the pig in the bag."
    • Notes: To do something without knowing what may be the consequences.
    • cf "Don't buy a pig in a poke."

L

  • "Lika barn leka bäst."
    • Translation: "Alike children play the best."
    • Notes: Cf. "Birds of a feather flock together."
  • "Liten tuva stjälper ofta stort lass."
    • Translation: "Small tuft often overturns a big load."
    • Notes: It's often a small problem that eventually makes something go wrong.
  • "Lova runt, hålla tunt."
    • Translation: "Promise freely, fullfill sparingly."
    • Note: Said about someone who promises a lot but doesn't fulfill his/her promises.
  • "Lätt fånget, lätt förgånget."
    • "Easily caught, easily lost."
    • "Easy come, easy go."

M

  • "Man får ta seden dit man kommer."
    • Translation: "Take the custom where you come."
    • When in Rome...
  • "Man kan inte lära gamla hundar sitta."
    • Translation: "You can't teach old dogs to sit."
    • cf "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."
  • "Man saknar inte kon förrän båset är tomt."
    • Translation: "You don't miss the cow until the stall is empty."
  • "Man ska inte döma hunden efter håren."
    • Translation: "Don't judge the dog from its hairs." or "Never judge the book by its cover."
    • Notes: Cf. "Allt är inte guld som glimmar."
  • "Man ska inte gråta över spilld mjölk."
    • Translation: "Don't weep over spilled milk."
    • Notes: Don't mourn what went wrong, try to look ahead instead.
  • "Man ska inte gå över ån efter vatten."
    • Translation: "Don't cross the brook for water."
    • Notes: You shouldn't make things more complicated than necessary.
  • "Man ska inte kasta pärlor för svin."
    • Translation: "Don't throw pearls to the swine."
  • "Man ska inte måla fan på väggen."
    • Translation: "You should not paint the devil on the wall."
    • Notes: You shouldn't assume that something will go wrong, when it's not entirely certain.
    • cf ""Talk of the devil - and the devil appears.""
  • "Man ska inte ropa hej, förrän man är över bäcken"
    • Translation: "Don't celebrate until you are across the brook."
    • Notes: Cf. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
  • "Man ska inte skåda given häst i munnen."
    • Translation: "Don't look a horse that was given to you in the mouth."
    • Note: Don't scrutinize a gift too closely, just be happy for it. (It doesn't matter what you get, what matters is that someone wanted to give it to you.)
    • Note: Cf. "Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth."
  • "Man ska inte såga av den gren man sitter på."
    • Translation: "You shouldn't saw off the branch you're sitting on."
    • Notes: Cf. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."
  • "Mister du en så står dig tusen åter."
    • Translation: "If you lose one, there are a thousand more to choose from."
    • Notes: Usually used concerning broken hearts. There is also a continuation for it: "Väljer du en så är det tusen som gråter." ("If you choose one, a thousand will cry.").
    • Notes: Cf. "There are plenty of fish in the sea."
  • "Morgonstund har guld i mund."
    • Translation: "Morning hour has gold in its mouth."
    • Notes: The strange spelling of mouth ("mund", in modern speech spelled "mun") is an old way of spelling it. "Mund" has been used since 1523 according to the Swedish Academy's dictionary.
    • Notes: Cf. "The early bird catches the worm."
    • Modern humorous retort: "Morgonstund har guld i mund... och bly i ändan." ("...and lead in its behind.")
  • "Mycket snack, lite verkstad."
    • "Much talking, little workshop."
    • Notes: Said to or about someone who talks a lot but doesn't do much.
    • Notes: Cf. "Talk is cheap.", and "He's all hat and no cattle."
  • "Många bäckar små blir till en stor å."
    • Translation: "Many small brooks will form a big river."
  • "Många bäckar små gör en stor å."
    • Translation: "Many a mickle makes a muckle." ("Many a small thing makes a big thing.")
  • "Måste böjas i tid det, som krokigt ska bli."
    • Translation: "Best to bend while it is a twig."
  • "Måtta två gånger, hugg en."
    • Translation: "Measure twice, cut once."

N

  • "När man talar om trollen så står de i farstun och lyssnar."
    • Translation: "When you're speaking about the trolls, they're standing in the entrance hall listening."
    • Notes: Usually said when someone you were just speaking about enters the room. The expression is often shortened to just "När man talar om trollen..." ("Speaking about the trolls...").
    • "Speak of the devil..."
  • "Nöden har ingen lag."
    • Translation: "In distress there is no law."
    • Notes: Similar to (but not exactly the same as) "All's fair in love and war."
  • "När katten är borta dansar råttorna på bordet"
    • Translation: "When the cat is away, the rats dance on the table"
    • Notes: Cf. "When the cats away, the mice will play"

O

  • "Om en blind leder en blind, så faller de båda i gropen."
    • Translation: "If a blind man leads another, they both fall together."
  • "Ont krut förgås inte så lätt."
    • Translation: "Evil gun powder doesn't go away easily."
    • Notes: This proverb is a misunderstanding of the german "Unkraut vergeht nicht." ("Weeds don't go away.").

S

  • "Sakta men säkert."
    • Translation: "Slowly but surely."
    • Notes: Usually said when a work is progressing slowly, but still is heading in the right direction. The word "säkert" has several meanings (surely, certainly, safely, securely), somewhat broadening the use of the proverb, though most Swedes probably would agree that it is mainly used to express certainty about the progress of the work.
  • "Skrattar bäst, som skrattar sist."
    • Translation: "He laughs best who laughs last."
  • "Slicka uppåt, sparka nedåt."
    • Translation: "Lick upwards, kick downwards."
  • "Slå två flugor i en smäll."
    • Translation: "Hit two flies with one smack."
    • Notes: Cf. "Kill two birds with one stone."
  • "Skomakare bliv vid din läst."
    • Translation: "Shoemaker, stick to your last."
  • "Skynda långsamt."
    • Translation: "Hurry slowly."
  • "Slå ned som en bomb."
    • Translation: "Hit like a bomb."
    • Notes: Usually used about surprising news.
  • "Slutet gott, allting gott."
    • Translation: "The end is good, everything is good."
    • Notes: Cf. "All's well that ends well."
  • "Som man bäddar får man ligga."
    • Translation: "The way you make your bed, that's how you'll lie down."
    • Or, "The way you make your bed, is the way you'll lie."
    • Possible interpretation: "You've only got yourself to blame for your problem."
    • English equivalent: "As you sow, so shall you reap"
  • "Som man ropar i skogen får man svar."
    • Translation: "As the question so the answer."
  • "Stor i orden, liten på jorden."
    • Translation: "Big in the words, small on the ground."
    • Notes: Said about someone who wants to give the impression of being better than he/she in reality is.
  • "Surt sade räven om rönnbär." (or just "surt sa räven")
    • Translation: "'Sour' said the fox about rowanberries"
    • Possible interpretation: From a story about a fox that wants to eat some rowanberries that he can't reach because they're high up in a tree. A crow lands in the tree and starts eating the berries. When the crow asks the fox if he wants some, the fox replies "No, they're sour". The proverb can be used to state that you think someone really wants something the person claims they do not.
    • Note: cf Aesop's Fable "The Fox and the Grapes" and the derived English expression "Sour grapes".
  • "Sväva på små moln."
    • Translation: "Float on small clouds."
    • Notes: To be in seventh heaven, to be very very happy.
  • "Sådan herre sådan hund."
    • Translation: "Like master like dog."
  • "Sälj inte skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten."
    • Translation: "Don't sell the fur until the bear has been shot."
    • Notes: Cf. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."

T

  • "Tala är silver, tiga är guld."
    • Translation: "To speak is silver, to keep silent is gold."
  • "Tomma tunnor bullrar mest."
    • Translation: "Empty barrels are the noisiest."
  • "Trampa i klaveret."
    • Alternative:
      • "Göra ett klavertramp."
    • Translation: "To step in the harmonica." or "To make a harmonica-step."
    • Note: To make a mistake (usually by saying or doing something inappropriate).
  • "Trägen vinner."
    • Translation: "Persevere and never fear."
  • "Tron kan förflytta berg."
    • Translation: "Faith can move mountains."
  • "Tänk efter före."
    • Translation: "Reflect on beforehand."
    • Notes: Meaning "think through the consequences before you act". The proverb is also somewhat of a word game, since the Swedish expression for "reflect" litterally is made up of the words "think after" and "on beforehand" litterally is "before", rendering the sentence "think after before".
    • cf "Look before you leap."

U

  • "Ur askan i elden."
    • Translation: "Out of the ashes into the fire."
    • Notes: Going from a bad situation to an even worse. English equivalent might be "Out of the frying pan, into the fire."

V

  • "Vill man vara fin får man lida pin."
    • Translation: "If you want to look good, you have to suffer."
    • cf "No pain, no gain."
  • "Väck inte den björn som sover."
    • Translation: "Don't wake the bear that sleeps."
    • Notes: Cf. "Don't wake the lion."
    • cf ""Let sleeping dogs lie."
  • "Värpa först, kackla sedan."
    • cf "Don't count your chickens 'till they're hatched"

Ä

  • "Äpplet faller inte långt från trädet."
    • Translation: "The apple does not drop far from the tree."
    • "Like father, like son."
  • "Även en blind höna kan hitta ett korn."
    • "Even a blind hen can find a grain.", and "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while."
  • "Även små grytor har öron."
    • Alternative:
      • "Små grytor har också öron."
    • Translation: "Small pots also have ears."
    • Notes: Even though kids are small, they do hear (and understand) a lot.
  • "Även solen har fläckar."
    • Translation: "Even the sun has got spots."
    • Notes: No one is perfect.

Ö

  • "Övning ger färdighet."
    • Translation: "Practice gives skill."
    • Notes: Cf. "Practice makes perfect."