The alphabet is so elementary, we say things are as easy as “A, B, C.” Maybe that’s why when we learn a new language that uses a similar alphabet to the one we’re used to, we often skip right over the individual letters and work on full words. If you focus on the Norwegian alphabet first, however, you’ll save yourself a lot of pronunciation headaches down the road.
To give you a leg up, we’ve put together a guide to the Norwegian alphabet, focusing on the letter combinations that might trip you up. Norwegian pronunciation is relatively easy to learn for English speakers, but there’s still a few important points to note.
The Norwegian Alphabet
The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters. The first 26 are identical to the English alphabet, and there are three extra letters at the end. If you want a musical version of the alphabet, you can find one (with the same tune as the English alphabet song) here.
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
While C, Q, W, X and Z do all exist in this alphabet, they’re really only used in loanwords, not words that come from Norwegian originally.
Norwegian also uses accent marks, though sparingly. In general, they’re only used to differentiate between words that are otherwise identical. Someone might use an acute accent in the word ein to differentiate ein (“a”) and éin (“one”). Accent marks also don’t affect pronunciation when you see them.
It’s also important to note that Norwegian doesn’t have a pronunciation standard. There are two different written standards: Nynorsk and Bokmål, though the majority of people use the latter (and the following lesson is based on Bokmål). Even within these standards, though, pronunciation can differ. We’ll offer you some common pronunciations for the various letters, but you should know that — as with any language — not everyone will pronounce words the same way.
When it comes to pronouncing Norwegian, the vowels are more than half the battle. Not only does the Norwegian alphabet have three more vowels than the English one, but also the ones you do know might not be pronounced like you expect them to be. Here are some of the pronunciations to master.
- In most cases, the Norwegian O sounds like the “oo” sound in “wool.”
- bo — to live
- hvor — where
- The Norwegian O can also sound like the “o” in “pot.” Unfortunately, there’s no rule to let you know when this is the case. You just have to discover and memorize them over your learning journey.
- komme — to come
- norsk — Norwegian
- The Norwegian Æ is pronounced like the “ai” in “air,” though there is no perfect English equivalent of the vowel.
- en pære — a pair
- lære — to learn
- være — to be
- et bær — a berry
- The Norwegian Ø has two possible pronunciations. The first is a long Ø, which sounds like the “i” in “bird.”
- et brød — a (loaf of) bread
- kjøpe — to buy
- The other possibility is a short Norwegian Ø, which is a similar sound, only shorter.
- en øl — a beer
- tørst — thirsty
- There’s no perfect equivalent in English, but the Norwegian Å is kind of pronounced like an “o.”
- gå — to go
- et språk — a language
- så fint — great
For the most part, Norwegian consonants are going to be pretty straightforward for someone who already knows English. That said, there’s a few letters and letter combinations that might trip you up.
- The letter K has two possible pronunciations, and it changes depending on what vowel it’s followed by. If K is followed by a hard vowel — A, O, U or Å — then it sounds like the “k” in “kayak.”
- en kaffee — a coffee
- en kopp — a cup
- kunne — can (verb)
- en kål — a cabbage
- If it’s in front of a soft vowel — I or Y — the Norwegian K is pronounced kind of like the “h” in “huge,” though there’s no exact English equivalent.
- en kino — a movie theater
- en kylling — a chicken
- The letter K also has two different pronunciations if it’s preceded by an S. If it’s before the hard vowels — A, O, U and Å — then they’re pronounced separately, like the “sk” in “skill.”
- et skap — a cupboard
- en skole — a school
- Skål! — Cheers!
- If the letter K is followed by a soft vowel — I, Y or Ø — then the letters combine to make a “sh” sound as in “shoe.”
- en ski — a ski
- en sky — a cloud
- ei skøyte — an ice skate
KJ, TJ, SJ And SKJ
- KJ and TJ are pronounced similar to the soft K mentioned above. It’s like the “h” in “huge,” though it’s a bit more pronounced and there’s no perfect English equivalent.
- tjue — twenty
- tjene — to earn
- kjøpe — to buy
- kjær — kind
- SJ and SKJ are pronounced the same way: like the “sh” in “wish.”
- sju — seven
- en sjanse — a chance
- ei skjorte — a shirt
- ei skje — a spoon
- When a word ends with -ig or -lig, the final G is silent.
- hyggelig — nice
- ledig — free
- dårlig — bad
- The letter D is silent when it appears at the end of a word and comes after L, N or R.
- unnskyld — sorry
- land — country
- bord — table