This paper investigates how and to what degree English is used in specific elite domains in Sweden through analysis of (1) language requirements to participate in undergraduate and graduate programs at competitive institutions; and (2) language qualifications and language use patterns in elite professions. We find that English is used pervasively, but not exclusively. The paper also explores to what extent these language use patterns in elite domains suggest that language shift toward English in Sweden might take place in the future. Although our data indicate that functional dominance of English is far from complete, we argue that the fact that English holds a prominent position in certain elite domains might be significant in influencing language ideology. Furthermore, whereas Sweden cannot presently be characterized as a nation undergoing language shift, the high status of English as the language of international communication and its significance as an important channel of communication in many elite domains are possibly important factors in shaping the climate for language use patterns of the coming decades. Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2001.