|Introduction to Swedish by Urban Sikeborg, Stockholm (1997-98)
  Chapter 9
A guide to pronounciation
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On this page Introduction to pronunciation
Pronunciation - letter by letter
Strange spellings
The j sound
The tj sound
The sj sound
The ng sound
The Standard Swedish dealt with in these chapters is the official language used in radio and TV. There are other variants or dialects, but nowadays most of them differ mainly in their pronunciation. The Swedish language has some unusual sounds and the pronunciation is on the whole not as regular as one might wish, but you do not have to master all the peculiarities of this noble tongue to be able to communicate, to understand or to make yourself understood. Spoken Swedish comprises a broad variety of pronounciations, of which some are definitely very strange, and you would have to work hard to come up with a variant that the average Swede would not be able to interpret.

A characteristic of Swedish is the tone, or pitch, accent, which has disappeared in most other Indo-European languages. It is this tone-accent that gives Swedish its typical ‘singsong’ rhythm. The two pitches (acute/"high", and grave/"low") are not marked in written Swedish, and must be learned by listening to the spoken language. You should not worry too much about this admittedly difficult feature, since the choice of pitch very rarely would affect the meaning of a word. Something much more important than using the correct pitch when speaking Swedish, though, is to carefully distinguish between short and long vowel.

The Swedish words in this introduction have been marked with accent signs (no distinction has been made between acute and grave accents), to show which syllable should be more stressed than the others, and long vowels have been underlined. Furthermore, letters that usually are not sounded in spoken Swedish have been crossed-out;  'och' ('and'), for instance, is in this course shown as 'och', since the the two last letters usually are silent ('och' can also be pronounced 'ock' as well, however, especially when you wish to emphasize it more or when it is followed by a temporary silence).

Among other major idiosyncrasies can be mentioned the unexpected changes in pronunciation caused by the letter ‘r’: the vowels ‘’ and ‘’ change slightly when they are followed by an ‘r’, and the consonants ‘s’, ‘n’, ‘d’, ‘t’, and ‘l’ when preceded by an ‘r’ merge with the ‘r’ to form a new, dull sound (so-called retroflexes). But there are several dialects that do not pay attention to these rules, without being less intelligible.

Like in English some consonants can change when they are followed by a certain vowel (cp. ‘city’ - ‘caf’; ‘gist’ - ‘guest’). These so-called soft vowels are the same in Swedish - ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘y’ - with the addition of two other vowels: ‘’, ‘’.

Letter by
Letter Pronunciation Examples
a long: a as in bar tla [speak, talk]; glas [glass]
b as in English brd [bread]
c 1. before a consonant or a hard vowel (a, o, u, ): as in caf;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, , ): as in city

1. caf

2. ckel [bike]

d like in English, but with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth dag [day]
e 1. long: as French (and like e in caf);

2. short: like e in net

1. hta [to be called], se [see]

2. nej [no]

f as in English fredag [Friday]
g 1. before a consonant or a hard vowel (a, o, u, ); as g in go;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, , ): as y in yes

1. gta [street]; g [walk, leave]

2. Gssa! [Guess!]

h as h in ham hvudvrk [headache], hst [autumn]
i 1. long: like ee in keep;

2. short: like in pit

1. kniv [knife]

2. sprnga [(to) run], tmme [hour]

j as y in yes (never as j in jam) ja [yes]
k 1. before a hard vowel: as k in keep;

2. before a soft vowel (e, i, y, , ): like ch in check, but without the initial t sound

1. kffe [coffee]

2. krlk [love]

l like in English, but with the tip of the tongue straight and pressed closer towards the teeth, without actually touching them lrdag [Saturday]
m as in English mndag [Monday]
n as in English natt [night]
o 1. long A: as oo in tool (normal);

2. long B: as o in fore (exception);

3. short A: as o in not;

4. short B: (a short version of long A)

1. stol [chair]

2. moln [cloud]

3. kopp [cup]

4. ost [cheese]

p as in English pris [price, cost]
q as in English (rarely in use nowadays)  
r a ‘rolled’ r, pronounced with a slight quiver of the tongue rnga [(to) ring]
s like in English smmar [summer]
t like in English, but with the tip of the tongue straight and touching the teeth te [tea]
u 1. long: somewhat similar to u in rude;

2. short: (no equivalent in English)

1. ut [out];

2. nder [under]

v like in English vr [spring], vnter [winter]
x as in exceed (never as in example) till exmpel [for example]
y similar to the French u and German 1. dyr [expensive]

2. mcket [much]

z as s in sing zoo
1. long: rather like o in fore;

2. short: like o in yonder

1. sprk [language]

2. lder [age]

1. long: like ai in fair;

2. short: as e in best

1. bra [(to) carry]

2. vn [friend]

1. long A: as eu in the French deux;

2. long B (before an r): like u in fur;

3. short: like e in her (unstressed: tell her!)

1. rd [red]

2. kra [(to) drive]

3. snder [broken, in pieces

The spelling of some Swedish words differs from their pronunciation. The conservative written language has preserved certain word combinations reflecting an older way of pronunciation, even though the actual sounds disappeared long ago in everyday speech. In English you can also find many examples of words with an archaic spelling; both ‘blood’ and ‘flood’, for instance, if pronounced as they are spelled (with an o sound like oo in tool), would actually show how they were pronounced during the Middle Ages - and how they are still pronounced in Swedish: ‘blod’ (cp. Old English 'bldig' = bloody, and Modern Swedish 'bldig'), ‘flod’.

Since the spelling of the words is not always phonetic, even native Swedes sometimes find it difficult to tell how a word should be written correctly. So do not despair. Many times the peculiar spellings, because of their old roots, can actually help you to see how closely they are related to words in English and German, which in turn will facilitate learning them.

Strange spellings:
The j sound
The j sound is pronounced like 'y' in 'yes' and can be spelled in the following ways:
dj djur [animal; related to English ‘dear’ and German ‘Tier’]
g (before the soft vowels e, i, y, , ) gst [guest; German ‘Gast’]
gj gjrde [did, made]
hj hjlpa [(to) help; German ‘helfen’]
j ja [yes]
lj ljus [light, candle; German ‘licht’]

The tj sound
The tj sound is pronounced like 'ch' in 'check' but without the initial t sound)
can be spelled:
ch check
k (before the soft vowels e, i, y, , ) klo [kilo]
kj kjol [skirt]
tj tjgo [twenty]

The sj sound
The sj sound is pronounced as sh in shoe but formed further back in the mouth. It is often also pronounced like a softer version of German ch in ach, or in the Scottish name Loch Lomond. It can be spelled:
ch chock [shock]
-ge garge (mostly French loan-words)
Note: Can only be pronounced like sh in shoe.
rs mars [March]
Note: Can only be pronounced like sh in shoe.
sch schmpo [shampoo]
sh sherry (only in loan-words)
sj sju [seven]
sk (before the soft vowels e, i, y, , ): skinn! [skin]. One important exception is ‘mnniska’ [human being], where ‘sk’ is pronounced as a sj sound, in spite of the following hard vowel (the word was originally spelled with an 'i' after the 'sk'). Before a consonant ‘sk’ is pronounced as two separate letters.
skj skjrta [shirt]
stj stjrna [star]

The ng sound
The ng sound is pronounced as ng in singer (not like in finger!). It can be spelled:
ng mnga [many]
g (before an n) regn [rain]
n bank

Copyright Urban Sikeborg,
Stockholm 1997-1998.

Stockholm School of Economics, Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm
Phone +46-8-736 90 00, Fax +46-8-31 81 86
This page was updated on 21 December 1998.