Swedish and English Idioms

English is a very idiomatic language. This makes it very difficult for foreign speakers of English as the meaning is not always obvious, even from the context. My advice is to avoid using them unless you are totally sure of the meaning. Unless you are in class of course, in which case you are encouraged to try.

Idioms which are the same in Swedish and English

  • throw the baby out with the bathwater
  • many irons in the fire
  • too many cooks spoil the broth
  • heads will roll
  • swings and roundabouts
  • a wolf in sheep’s clothing
  • speak of the devil
  • to hit the nail on the head
  • to be wet behind the ears
  • to hit the roof
  • over my dead body
  • the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
  • to fall between two stools
  • skeletons in the closet

Idioms which are slightly different but have the same meaning in Swedish and English

  • to kill two birds with one stone
  • to sell like hotcakes
  • make a mountain out of a molehill
  • don’t count your chickens before they are hatched
  • a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush
  • people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
  • when the cat’s away the mice do play
  • you have made your bed, now lie in it
  • the early bird gets the worm
  • you can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • the more the merrier

And then some which do not translate at all

Han spottar inte i glaset

He doesn’t spit in the glass WRONG
He is fond of the bottle.

Brother-in-law politics WRONG

Go like the cat around hot porridge. WRONG
Gå som katten kring het gröt.
Beat about the bush.

To roll hat. WRONG
Rulla hatt.
To party.

You are all blue-eyed you. WRONG
Du är allt blåögd du
To be innocent/naive

Now your out riding your bicycle. WRONG
Nu är du ute och cyklar.
You don’t know what you’re talking about!

Splush the bend, I´ve been white for a week now! WRONG
Spola kröken, jag har varit vit i en vecka nu!
Stop drinking, I’ve been sober for a week now!

That was close to the eye. WRONG
Det var nära ögat
That was a close shave.

Ice in the stomach. WRONG
Is i magen.
Means your in control of the situation – cooool

(pronunciation note – don’t say ‘eyes in your stomach’)

on the wallpaper WRONG
på tapeten. o
n the agenda

Nothing to knit under the chair with. WRONG
Inget att sticka under stolen med.
That’s nothing you have to hide…

Here lies a dog buried. WRONG
Här ligger en hund begraven.
There is something fishy going on.

Up as a sun, down as a pancake. WRONG
Upp som en sol, ner som en pannkaka.
It started out well but ended in disaster

He has Santa Clauses on the attic. WRONG
Han har tomtar på loftet.
He is out of his mind.

He doesn’t have clean flour in the bag. WRONG

Han har inte rent mjöl i påsen. He has something up his sleeve; he’s up to something.

The ideas for the last phrases come from the site

http://www.acc.umu.se/~widmark/java/chock/idiom.html – check it out!


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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