Typically Norwegian letters

A beginner’s guide to Norwegian Pronunciation

In the following, you will find a general overview of how Norwegian is pronounced. This pronunciation guide may be helpful if you are a complete beginner or if you just have a limited knowledge of the language. It may also be useful if you have learned the basics of the language, but still need a general overview of the pronunciation rules.

Be aware that this guide does not cover every aspect. If you have questions concerning specific words, you may still need to consult a dictionary or ask a native Norwegian. The rules that you will find here are based on standard Bokmål the way it is pronounced in the Oslo region. The pronunciation is most cases explained by sound files rather than by words.

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 are vowels. They will be explained further down together with the other vowels. Five of the consonants are rarely used: C Q W X and Z. Instead of using these letters, foreign words tend to be written in a typically Norwegian way, based on the Norwegian pronunciation. Here you will find some examples, including a sound file.

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

As you can see, writing in a Norwegian way also means using some typically Norwegian letters. By the way, the sound of a voiced s does not exist in Norwegain. That makes the spelling “sebra” perfectly logic.

The vowels

Norwegian has nine different vowels:

A E I O U Y Æ Ø Å

These vowels can all be both short and long. Below, you can hear my voice demonstrating the pronunciation of both the long and the short version of each vowel. Listen carefully and repeat in order to learn it properly. Under the table there are some further explanations.

The vowelsWords with long and short vowelSound file
A

mat (food) – matt (faint, dim)

E

ren (clean) – renn (skiing competition)

I

pine (pain) – pinne (stick)

O

los (ship pilote) – ost (cheese)

U

skule (glower) – skulle (should)

Y

hyle (scream) – hylle (shelf)

Æ

være (to be) – færre (fewer)

Ø

føle (feel) – følge (follow)

Å

måte (way of) – måtte (had to)

As you may have noticed, the o is pronounced in a more closed way than in most European languages. U may be compared to the vowel sound in English “uniform”, or in “new” in American English. The vowel Y is tricky for many people. It sounds like something in between u and i. The pronunciation of Å comes close to the sound you get in English “crawl”.

Some vowels can be pronounced differently in specific words or positions. This relates mainly to the vowels o, u and e. Here you will find some examples.



The vowelsSome words to exemplifySound file
o sounds like å

Before g and v, and often when vowel is short:
tog (train) – sove (sleep) – hoppe (jump),

u sounds like o

Often when representing a short vowel, like in
bukse (trousers) – munk (monk)

e sounds like æ

Often before r:
der (there) – herre (gentleman)

e sounds like i

Only in one word: de (they)

Gliding vowels (diphthongs)

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)

When is the vowel long, and when is it short?


The double consonant indicates that the vowel coming before is short. The vowel coming before two different consonants is usually also short. If there is only one consonant, the vowel coming before is usually long.

CategoryExamplesSound files
Double consonants

kanne – bitt – hoppe – vinne

Combined consonants

anke (appeal) – spurv (sparrow)

One consonant

bil (car) – hus (house) – pen (pretty) – hvile (to rest)


However, there are quite a few exceptions to this. Some commonly used short words like han, hun, men, til, vil and skal all have a short vowel. Further, the rule of short vowel before two different consonants does not apply for inflected forms. Pent is the neuter form of the adjective pen, while hvilte is the past tense of the verb hvile. Both are examples of words with a long vowel before two consonants.

Consonants


Below you find the pronunciation of the consonants that are commonly used in Norwegian. The rarely used consonants C, Q, W, X and Z are not included in this table.

ConsonantsExamplesSound files
b

bil (car) – bunn (bottom)

d

du (you) – dame (lady)

f

fisk (fish) – fange (prisoner)

g

genser (sweater) – gul (yellow)

h

hode (head) – hage (garden)

j

jente (girl) – jul (Christmas)

k

kone (wife) – kunde (customer)

l

lampe (lamp) – full (full)

m

mil (mile) – mamma (mummy)

n

nese (nose) – not (seine net)

p

prest (priest, vicar) – pute (pillow)

r

reise – ro – lur
(two different voices)

s

Snø, asbest, sebra
S is never voiced!

t

trang (narrow) – time (hour)

v

vite (know) – vann (water)


When consonants are pronounced differently

In many cases, the pronunciation is different. Sometimes a consonant is mute, while in other cases it is not pronounced the way you see in the table above. Combinations of consonants in some cases represent another sound. This table gives you an explanation:

ConsonantsExamplesSound files
d silent

D often silent after l/n and at the end of words:
sild (hering) – vind (wind) – med (with)

g silent

G is silent before j:
gjedde (pike) – gjøre (do)

g sounds like j

G sounds like j before i and y
gi (give) – gyse (shudder)

g sounds like vowel

eg sometimes sounds like ei:
jeg – meg – deg – seg – tegne

h silent

h is silent before v and j:
hva (what), hjul (wheel)

k before j

kjøtt (meat) – kjemme (to comb)

ki/ky

K sounds like kj before i and y
kino (cinema) – kylling (chicken)

rt, rn, rd, rl, rs

Two different voices:
svart – barn – ferdig – ærlig – torsk

sj, skj

sjakk (chess) – skjegg (beard)

sk before i/y

sk sounds like sj/skj before i and y:
ski (ski) – sky (cloud)

t silent

In “det” (it/that) and in definite form neuter nouns
det – huset (the house)

Stress and tones


In most cases, the first syllable of Norwegian words is stressed. However, there are many exceptions to this.
In quite a few cases, the stress is placed on the second syllable rather than on the first. This is the case when a word has one of the following prefixes: be-, er– and ge-. The most commonly used prefix in Norwegian is for. Some words with the prefix for are stressed on the first syllable, others on the second.

prefix - stress - pronunciation of rExamplesSound files
prefix be-, ge-, er- – stress second syllable

betale, bestille, gebyr, erfaring

prefix for- – stress first syllable – rolled r

fordel – fordom – forord

prefix for- – stress first syllable – uvular r

fordel – fordom – forord

prefix for- – stress second syllable – rolled r

forfatter, fordi, forbi, fortelle

prefix for- – stress second syllable – uvular r

forfatter, fordi, forbi, fortelle

 


There are other prefixes and suffixes as well that influence the stress pattern. Further, you need to pay attention when encountering foreign words. However, any good dictionary will inform you which syllable is stressed.

Maybe you have also heard that Norwegian is a tonal language. Learning these tones properly is very difficult and not really necessary in order to make yourself understood. People will usually understand what you mean based on the context.

Final thoughts

This article is merely meant as an introduction to the Norwegian pronunciation. If you are serious about learning more, textbooks and apps will be useful, but probably not enough. A language teacher can give you good advice in order to help you master the major obstacles of pronunciation. However, a good dictionary is certainly also of great value. The Norwegian editor Gyldendal offers a very good online dictionary between Norwegian and English where sound files are included. Other dictionaries can also be found via the same site.

As mentioned at the beginning, there are differences in the way the language is pronounced in different parts of Norway. The explanations in this article refer to what can be considered a standardised pronunciation of Norwegian Bokmål. The basis for this is the pronunciation in the Oslo region, even though it would also be accepted as a general basis in other areas of Norway. Nynorsk differs from Bokmål in the way it is written, but not so much the way it is pronounced.

Lynganor offers online courses in Norwegian. If you sign up for a course, you will get access to even more online resources related to pronunciation.

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