The Swedish alphabet can look a little intimidating to someone who doesn’t know the language. There are ö’s and å’s and lots of j’s where you probably haven’t seen j’s before. Really, though, it’s not so different from the English alphabet. With just a little work, you can fully demystify the Swedish letters, which will give you a leg up on learning the rest of the language.
Here, we’ll guide you through the Swedish alphabet and give you a closer look at the letters that give new learners the most trouble.
The Swedish Alphabet
At a glance, the Swedish alphabet is nearly identical to the English one — both use Latin letters as their basis — with just a few additions. While there is no Swedish alphabet song that has the ubiquity of the English one, you can listen to this version if having a song helps.
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 Å Ä Ö
The most important thing to note here is that the three letters at the end — Å, Ä and Ö — should be thought of as letters separate from the A and O they resemble. They’re all vowels, but the diacritics on them indicate that those three are pronounced differently.
While there are fewer vowels than consonants in the Swedish alphabet, it’s the vowels that are going to give you the most trouble. First, each vowel is either soft or hard, which affects the pronunciation of the consonant before it. We’ll note whether each vowel is soft or hard, but the difference will be clearer when we talk about the consonants later.
Also, each vowel has at least two pronunciations. When the vowel appears before two consonants, before a word-final M or N or is in the final, unstressed syllable of a word, the vowel is short. When a vowel is before one consonant or is in a one-syllable word ending with a vowel, the vowel is long. This may seem a little confusing, but listen to the examples here and you’ll get the hang of it.
- The letter A is a hard vowel.
- It most often sounds like the “a” in “father.”
- Short pronunciation: tack (“thank you”)
- Long pronunciation: bra (“good”)
- The letter E is a soft vowel.
- A short E sounds like the “e” in “set,” while the long E sounds like the “e” in “year.”
- Short pronunciation: mellan (“between”)
- Long pronunciation: resa (“travel”)
- The letter I is a soft vowel.
- The I always sounds like the “ee” in “week.”
- Short pronunciation: till (“to”)
- Long pronunciation: bil (“car”)
- The letter O is a hard vowel.
- The short O sounds like the “o” in “shop,” while the long O sounds like the “oo” in “wool.”
- Short pronunciation: komma (“to come”)
- Long pronunciation: osäker (“insecure”)
- The letter U is a hard vowel.
- The Swedish U is kind of pronounced like the U in English, but further back in the throat. It’s almost like an “ew” sound.
- Short pronunciation: buss (“bus”)
- Long pronunciation: du (“you”)
- The letter Y is a soft vowel.
- There is no exact English equivalent to the Swedish Y. To pronounce it, try saying “ee” (as in “week”) but round your lips.
- Short pronunciation: flytta (“to move”)
- Long pronunciation: sy (“to sew”)
- The letter Å is a hard vowel.
- This letter’s appearance is a little misleading. It sounds kind of like the “o” in “or.”
- Short pronunciation: Gårdsby (place in Sweden)
- Long pronunciation: hej då (“goodbye”)
- The letter Ä is soft vowel.
- The Ä has a somewhat nasal sound, like the “ai” in “air.”
- Short pronunciation: Gällivare (place in Sweden)
- Long pronunciation: äta (“to eat”)
- The letter Ö is a soft vowel.
- The pronunciation is kind of like the “er” sound in “her.”
- Short pronunciation: köttbullar (“meatballs”)
- Long pronunciation: öl (“beer”)
For the most part, the Swedish consonants will be straightforward. Lots of letters are pronounced like you would expect coming from English. There are a few exceptions, however, and we’ll walk through some of the most common letters and letter combinations that give learners trouble.
G, GN and NG
- The letter G has two main pronunciations. The first one sounds like the letter “g” in “get,” and it’s pronounced this way when it appears before the hard vowels (A, O, U and Å).
- gata — street
- Gotland — a Swedish island
- When it comes before a soft vowel (E, I, Y, Ä or Ö), the G sounds like the “y” in “yet.”
- gärna — gladly
- gift — married
- The letter G also has the soft pronunciation when it comes after an R or an L.
- älg — elk
- Berga — a place in Sweden
- The letters NG together are pronounced how you’d probably expect, sounding like the “ng” in “young.”
- ung — young
- singel — single
- The more complicated part is GN, which sounds like the “ng” in “young” quickly followed by another “n.”
- regn — rain
- signal — signal
- The letter J is one of the most difficult in the Swedish alphabet. It changes depending on the letter that precedes it. When it’s at the start of a word or after a vowel, it makes a “y” sound.
- hej då — goodbye
- jäst — yeast
- The letter combination SJ is unique to Swedish. To pronounce it, pronounce the letter “h” as in “hat,” but move it further back in your mouth and round your lips. This same pronunciation is used for the first sound in word endings -tion and -sion.
- sjö — lake
- sjukhus — hospital
- station — station
- diskussion — discussion
- The combo TJ is pronounced kind of like the “sh” in “ship.”
- tjugo — twenty
- tjena — hi
- The letter combos LJ, DJ, GJ and HJ all ignore the first letter and are pronounced like the “y” in “yet.”
- gjorde — made
- Ljusdal — place in Sweden
- Djurmo — place in Sweden
- Hjo — place in Sweden
K and SK
- Like the G, the Swedish K also has two pronunciations depending on the following vowel. In front of the hard vowels (A, O, U and Å) and at the end of a word, it’s pronounced like the “k” in “kiss.”
- kul — fun
- kål — cabbage
- In front of soft vowels (E, I, Y, Ä or Ö) and the letter J, it’s pronounced like the “sh” in “ship” (it’s identical to TJ, as we discussed in the last section).
- Kina — China
- köra — to drive
- kjol — skirt
- The combo SK also has two combinations. In front of hard vowels, it’s identical to the “sk” in “skate.”
- Skara — place in Sweden
- sko — shoe
- When it’s in front of a soft vowel or a J, it’s pronounced like the SJ sound discussed above.
- skön — nice
- skiva — slice
- When you see the letter combo RS, the S is pronounced like the “sh” in “shop.”
- korsning — junction
- varsågod — here you go
Q, W and Z
While the letters Q, W and Z are all part of the Swedish alphabet, they’re relatively rare. They’re usually only used in old terms and loanwords. The letter W was considered identical with V until recently, the Q was mostly replaced by K and the Z was mostly replaced by S.
The one last thing we want to note about the Swedish alphabet is that letters are “swallowed” very often. Unfortunately, this just makes things more confusing for the Swedish learner. There are a few rules you can learn — the “k” in “skt” letter combos is often silent, the R is barely audible when it appears before D, L, T and N — but there’s a lot you’ll have to learn through listening to native speakers. Now that you’ve got the Swedish alphabet down, you’re ready to branch out and learn more of this diverse language.