Norwegian pronunciation rules

A comprehensive guide to Norwegian pronunciation

In the following, I will give you a general overview of the pronunciation rules of Norwegian, including sound files. The explanation is based on what in general is considered to be a standardised pronunciation of Bokmål. Still, there are different ways of pronouncing the language in different parts of the country. In some cases, this is explained in the text. Extra sound files are also included to show you the differences in the pronunciation of the r. In this guide, every single letter is explained, including combinations of letters. At the beginning, some general aspects are also explained. Be aware that this guide does not cover every single aspect. The Norwegian version of this pronunciation guide gives you even more information. A good dictionary will help you even further. Via ordnett.no, you have access (paid) to dictionaries that include sound files (Oslo voice).

Intonation and tones

The intonation varies between the regions of Norway. The melody of the language in Northern and Western Norway is clearly distinct from how it sounds in the Oslo region. However, if you move to Norway, you will get used to the melody of the language in the region where you live.

Norwegian is also a tonal language. Learning these tones properly is very difficult and not even necessary in order to make yourself understood. The way they are manifested is also different in different regions. In this overview this will not be treated further, the focus will be on other aspects that in my opinion are more important.

Which syllable is stressed?

In most Norwegian words, the stress is placed on the first syllable. However, there are many exceptions to this. Words beginning with the prefixes be-, ge– and er– are stressed on the second syllable. In words with the prefix for-, the stress is in most cases put on the second syllable, but sometimes also on the first syllable.

The table below gives you a short overview. You will hear two different voices, with two different ways of pronouncing the r.

prefix - stress pattern - pronunciation rexamplessound files
prefix be-, ge-, er- – stress second syllable

betale, bestille, gebyr, erfaring

prefix for- – stress second syllable – rolled r

forfatter, fordi, forbi, fortelle

prefix for- – stress second syllable – uvular r

forfatter, fordi, forbi, fortelle

 

prefix for- – stress first syllable – rolled r

fordel – fordom – forord

prefix for- – stress first syllable – uvular r

fordel – fordom – forord

There are also many other prefixes that influence which syllable is stressed. The stress pattern is also very often different in foreign words. Check a dictionary or ask your teacher if you have any doubts.

The Norwegian alphabet

The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Æ Ø Å

The three last letters will be explained under the explanation of the vowels.

Five of the consonants are rarely used:

C Q W X Z

Because these letters are avoided, foreign words are usually written in a typically Norwegian way. Hence you get spelling like this:

sjåfør (driver), konjakk, kvalifisere, klovn, praksis, sebra

One, two or three consonants?

The double consonant indicates that the vowel standing in front of it is short.

Some words still have a short vowel in front of just one consonant:

hun, han, man, men, skal, vil, hos, nok, til, den 

In many cases, this is a way to distinguish two words with similar pronunciation from each other. E.g. menn is the plural of mann, while men means “but”. The consonant m is never written as a double consonant at the end of the word. You will some find exaxmples under o and u.

Combinations of two consonants usually indicate that the vowel is short, like in

anke (appeal)spurv (sparrow)

You will usually not have a double consonant followed by a third consonant. In Norwegian you add a t to an adjective when it describes a noun that is neuter or when it is used as an adverb. As a result of this, one consonant is removed from many adjectives in its neuter form. In the examples below, grønn, grønt, vill and vilt all have a short vowel:

en grønn bil et grønt hus en vill hestet vilt dyr

The rule of a short vowel before two consonants does not always apply. If the adjective has a long vowel in its basic form (the form that you find in the dictionary), the vowel remains long in its neuter form. The same applies to the past tenses of verbs when the infinitive has a long vowel. Here you will find some examples:

en gul bil – et gult hus

å hvilehvilte – har hvilt

In some cases this can be confusing, as you can see from the example below:

Long vowel:

en hel dag (an entire day) – et helt år (an entire year)

en lys garasje (a bright garage) – et lyst kjøkken (a bright kitchen)

And in these cases, there is a short vowel:

en helt (a hero).

Jeg har lyst på suppe (I would like some soup).

Combined words

The rules that are to be found in this overview apply for words that are not combined. When you combine words, you often get several consonants after each other:

vannmølle (water mill) consists of the nouns vann and mølle, while gullring (golden ring) has been created by combining the nouns gull and ring.

However, if two words are combined, you never write three of the same consonant after each other. You write buss and sjåfør (driver) but the person driving the bus is a bussjåfør.

The vowels (alphabetically)

Norwegian has nine vowels:

A E I O U Y Æ Ø Å

All these vowels can be short or long. This difference is important and needs to be mastered. Here you find a table with sound files explaining the long and short version of every vowel. Below you find an explanation of every single vowel, including the most important exceptions for most of them.

A

The vowel a is pronounced more or less like it would be in French, German, Italian and many other languages. In English, you have (approximately) the same sound in the word “father”.

Examples with long and short a:

mat (food) – matt (dim)

E

The vowel e can be pronounced in different ways. It could be compared to the e in languages like German or Spanish. In English, you can compare it to the vowel sound in “bed” or “head”. In the table below, I also refer to the æ-sound (the sound of the letter æ).

PronunciationSome words to exemplifySound file
long e

pen – sen

short e

lett – rett

like short æ (rolled r)

before rr or r+consonant:
herre – lerke – ert

 

like short æ (uvular r)

before rr or r+consonant:
herre – lerke – ert

like long æ (rolled r)

long æ-sound before rl/rn
erle – herlig – jern

like long æ (uvular r)

Long æ-sound before rl/rn.
linerle – perle – jern

her – der – er (rolled r)

Æ-sound in:
her – der – er

her – der – er (uvular r)

Uvular r and æ-sound:
her – der – er

de

“de” (pronomen)

At the end of a word, the e tends to sound slightly differently. This is often the case of the e-ending of infinitives, and in many other cases as well. You will find numerous examples in this pronunciation guide.

I

The vowel i sounds like the vowel in these (and numerous other) English words: English, seat, hit.

pine (pain) – pinne (stick)

O

The vowel o has a peculiar pronunciation. It is similar to the sound of the vowel u in German, Spanish and Italian. It can also be compared to ou in French, oe in Dutch or the first vowel in the English word “woman”. In the table below, I talk about the “o-sound” — the sound of the letter o. However, in many cases, the o sounds more like the letter å. In those cases, I talk about the “å-sound”. In this table, the first two rows cover the long vowel sound, while the rest of the table covers the short vowel sound.

CategorySome words to exemplifySound file
å-sound + ff, ft

offiser – stoff – loft

å-sound: og – også

å-sound, silent g:
og – også

long å-sound before g/v

tog, sove, lov

long o-sound

sol, mote, ro

o as short å-sound

flott, sopp, rotte, vogn, fold, tolv

o-sound+rt (retroflex)

Short o-sound:
skjorte, borte, fjorten

o-sound+rt (uvular)

Short o-sound (Bergen):
skjorte – borte – fjorten

o+m: å-sound

tom – kommer – som

o+m: o-sound

rom – somle – lomme

o+nd: o-sound

Short o-sound::
ond – vond – bonde,

o+nn: å-sound

short å-sound:
fonn, tonn, onn, monne

U

The vowel u is close to the u-sound in the English word “uniform”. Here I will call it the Norwegian u-sound. A long u represents a Norwegian u-sound, while a short vowel can represent either the u-sound or the o-sound (the sound of the vowel o). The table below gives you more details.

CategorySome words to exemplifySound file
long u-sound

Lang u-lyd i:
sur, lur, kul, hus

u + f

Usually u-sound before f:
skuffet, buffer, luft

u + ll, lv, lt, lk

Short u-sound:
full, tull, ull, gulv, pulk

u + nk, ng, kk, ks, kn

Short o-sound:
munk, ung, tunge, sukker, bukse, drukne,

u + r (rolled)

u-sound before r:
surr, slurv, bursdag, furte

u + r (uvular)

U-sound before r (Bergen voice):
surr, slurv, bursdag, furte

um – short o-sound

Usually short o-sound before m:
stum, dum, humle, skum,

um – short u-sound

Sometimes short u-sound:
sum, summe, gummi

Y

hyle (scream) – hylle (shelf)

The letter y is difficult for many people who are learning Norwegian. The pronunciation lies somewhere between the u and the i.

Listen to these words with u and y to hear the difference:

lus (louse, lice) – lys (light) – lutt (lute) – lydt (sound penetrating)

And listen two these words for the difference between y and i:

sy (sow) – si (say) – skylle (pour, flush) – skille (divide)

Æ

The vowel æ comes somewhere between the a and the e.

It can be compared to the vowel in the English word “man”.

være (to be) – færre (fewer)

The æ is mainly used before the consonant r, usually representing a long vowel.

In many other cases, the same sound is represented by an e. See under e for more details.

In handful of cases, the æ is pronounced like the Norwegian e.

Væske (liquid) is pronounced exactly like veske (purse), while sæd (sperm) is pronounced the same way as sed (custom, usage).

Ø

The vowel ø is very similar to ö in German. It can also be compared to the vowel sounds in the English words “bird” and “herd”.

føle (feel) – følge (follow)

Å

The pronunciation of å is quite similar to the way the vowel o sounds in languages like Italian, French or German. It can be compared to the vowel in the English words “crawl” and “trawl”.

måte (way of) – måtte (had to)

In most cases, the short å-sound is represented by an o instead (see under o for more information).

The Norwegian diphthongs (gliding vowels)

Norwegian has some gliding vowels as well. Usually they are indicated by writing two vowels after each other, the most common ones being ei, ai, au and øy.

DiphthongsWords with diphthongSound file
ei

stein (stone) – bein (bone)

ai

mai (May) – hai (shark)

au, eu

sau (sheep) – Europa

øy

øye (eye) – bøye (bend)

The consonants (alphabetically)

B

B sounds pretty much like b in English:

bil (car) – bunn (bottom)

C

Rarely used in Norwegian, and only in foreign words. Usually, you’ll write s or k instead of using a c, but there are some exceptions, like you see from these examples:

C pronounced like s: cøliaki,  celle, cellulose, celsius, cirka

C pronounced like k: camping, container, cover, cruise, cup

D

D sounds in Norwegian like a voiced consonant, clearly different from t. However, d is silent in many cases.

SituationWords where it appliesSound file
d pronounced

du (you) – dame (lady)

d silent after vowel

At the end of a word, d is usually silent after a long vowel:
brød, smed, rød, glad, ved, med, blod, død

d pronounced after vowel

D is pronounced in these cases, among others:
vred, Gud, fred, lyd, bed, bud, hud

ld/nd at the end

D is silent in ld and nd at the end of a word:
sild, vold, kald, vind, ond, rund, vond

d silent in ld/nd

Usually silent d after l/n in the middle of a word:
skylde, holde, gjelde, ende, binde, hender

d pronounced in ld/nd

d is pronounced in ld/nd in some cases, like in
sjelden, alder, bilde, veldig, bonde, vindu, grundig

dt

dt is pronounced like tt:
rødt – godt – rundt – mildt – kaldt

ndr, ndl, ldr

hundre, mindre, handle, sildre, huldra

This explanation is not exhaustive. When ld or nd comes at the end of a word, d should be silent. In other cases you need to learn it by heart. In some cases you can choose, like in words like tid or ned. However, you should pay attention to this:

d is pronounced in et råd (advice, council), but it is silent in jeg har ikke råd (I cannot afford).

You may find this confusing. If you are in doubt, I would advise to pronounce the d. Then you can be (alomost) sure that people will understand what you mean, at least if you pronounce the other sounds correctly.

F

The F should for most learners of Norwegian not be difficult. It is pronounced like in English.

fisk (fish) – fange (prisoner)

G

The most common way of pronouncing g is like in “go” in English. However, in some cases it is pronounced differently, or it is silent. This table gives you an overview:

SituationWords where it appliesSound file
Common pronunciation G

genser – gul

gj sounds like j

gjedde – gjøre

g before i, y and ei

g sounds like j:
gi – gyse – geit

eg sounds like ei

eg is often pronounced like ei in
jeg -meg- deg – seg – tegne

egl sounds like eil

egl sometimes sounds like eil:
snegle, segl, forsegle, negl, teglstein

egl sounds like egl

G always pronounced in:
megler, regler

ig

g is silent in ig at the end of words:
viktig, vanskelig, endelig

There are regional differences relating to the pronunciation of egn and egl. Outside the Oslo region, you will hear many people pronouncing the g in words like tegne and negl. In Nynorsk, meg, deg and seg are pronounced the way they are written. However, all Norwegians will agree that jeg is pronounced like if it was written “jei”.

In these words, g tends to be silent:

selge (sell), følge (follow), fugl (bird).

However, in most other words containing lg or gl, g should be pronounced.

H

The h is usually pronounced like in English:

hode (head) – hage (garden)

h is silent before v and j:

hva (what) – hjul (wheel)

J

J is pronounced like y in English “yes”.

jente (girl) – jul (Christmas)

The combinations gj, hj and lj are also pronounced like j. See under g, h and l for further information.

K

The K is in most cases pronounced with the “k-sound”.

kone – kunde

The combination kj has a pronunciation close to (but not equivalent to) the one of sj/skj:

kjøtt (meat) – kjemme (to comb)

You get the same sound when the k stands alone before i and y:

kino (cinema), kylling (chicken)

tj is pronounced the same way (see under t for more examples).

L

Listen to hear the pronunciation of the consonant l:

lampe – full

In this sound file, you will hear a pronunciation that is accepted everywhere. The consonant l can be pronounced this way in any position of a word. People with English or Dutch as a first language often have problems with this.

A common phenomenon is to let r and l melt together to one sound. You will find more information about this under r.

When you write lj, the l is not pronounced. Examples of this are ljå and ljuge (less elegant version of lyge/lyve).

ld, lg and lv can often be pronounced like ll. See under d, g and v for details.

M

mil – mamma

M is never written as a double consonant at the end of the word. Under o and u, you will find some examples of a short vowel before one m.

N

nese (nose) – not (seine net)

Listen to sound file to hear pronunciation of ng and nk:

ingen – bank – ting

gn and ngn are pronounced like ng+n:

signe (bless), forvregning (distortion)

Bygning is pronounced with g+n (not ng+n).

For the combinations egn and rn, see under g and r.

P

prest (priest, vicar) – pute (pillow)

Q

Rarely used, and only in foreign words.

tequila, quiz, IQ

R

The r can be pronounced in different ways. The most common r is a rolled r, but in the west and on the south coast the r is pronounced in the throat (uvular r). In areas where the r is rolled, it often forms a new sound when it is combined with one of the following consonants: n, s, l, t, d. These sounds are called retroflex consonants. However, the retroflex consonants do not exist in Western Norway, where people pronounce both consonants instead.

In the following, you will find a double set of sound files. My own voice represents a rolled r and retroflex sounds. I come from Trondheim, but someone from Oslo would pronounce it pretty much the same way. I have included sound files with a voice from Bergen in order to show you how the same words sound with a uvular r.

SituationWords where it appliesSound file
rolled r

Rolled r in
reise – ro – lur

uvular r

reise – ro – lur
Bergen voice

rt – retroflex

rt as one sound:
svart – fart – kort

rt – uvular

The same words as above.
Voice from Bergen.

rn – retroflex

Voice from Trondheim:
barn – hjerne – garn

rn – uvular r

rn Bergen:
barn – hjerne – garn

rl – retroflex

rl, voice from Trondheim:
erle – farlig – herlig

rl – uvular r

The same words,
voice from Bergen

rs sounds like sj

rs pronounced like sj:
norsk – fersk – kurs

rs uvular r

The samme words with Bergen voice

rd – rolled r

rolled r, d pronounced:
verden – mord – horde

rd – uvular 1

The same words as above, voice from Bergen

rd retroflex

rd pronounced as one sound
verdi – hvordan – ferdig

rd – uvular 2

The same words as above, voice from Bergen

rd – silent d

rd, rolled r and silent d:
bord – gård – nord – ord – gjorde – hard – fjord

rd – silent d, uvular r

The same words as above, but with a voice from Bergen

S

S is never voiced.

snø (snow) – asbest – sebra

Sj and skj are pronounced like sh in English:

sjakk (chess) – skjegg (beard)

Before i, y, ei and øy, sk is usually pronounced like sj/skj:

ski – skygge skeie ut skøyter

Rs is often pronounced the same way. See more under r for examples.

T

trang (narrow) – time (hour)

In the following specific situations, the t is not pronounced:

– the word det (it)

– as last letter in the definite form of neuter nouns: huset (the house)

In all other cases the t is pronounced, like in:

vasket (washed), hoppet (jumped)

However, tj is pronounced like kj:

tjue (twenty), tjern (small lake), tjener (servant)

V

The v is pronouned like in English. It’s voiced in most situations.

vite (to know) – vann (water)

hv is pronounced like v (see h for examples).

lv is sometimes pronounced just like ll.

halv, tolv, sølv, selv

But in most other cases of lv, you do pronounce the v, like in these words:

elv, helvete, alv

W

Seldom used. If encountered, it’s usually pronounced exactly like the v.

whisky, bowling, weekend

X

Rarely used, and usually replaced by ks

X is pronounced like ks in taxi and sex. In xylofon, it is pronounced like s.

Z

Rarely used, and usually replaced by s. If used, it’s usually pronounced like s (and not voiced):

enzym, jazz, ozon, razzia, zoolog

In pizza, it is pronounced like ts.