Danish Language Blog

Sounds R Us Posted by on Apr 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

There are basicaly two ways of pronouncing the letter R in Danish: as a consonant and as a vowel. As a sound you can’t sing and as one you can make part of a melody…

If that sounds strange, just think about British English: In words like random and princess, where R introduces a vowel (’a’ and ’i’, respectively), it has a different sound than in words like your and beer, where it follows a vowel. In the latter position, it is actually a vowel that merges with the preceding sound, making them a diphtong (two vowels with a totally smooth transition): [yoᵃʰ], [beeᵃʰ].

In Danish, the R-in-front sounds like a very timid beginning of a growl. It is actually the ”throat R” of German or French, just with a much weaker pronunciation: rasende prins (furious prince).

The Danish ”R-behind” sounds a lot like its British cousin, but perhaps a bit more aw-ish. Say ’or’ like a Londonder (NO R, Americans!), and you’ll get it: kær [KEᵒʳ] ’dear’, bur [BOOᵒʳ] ’cage’, biler [BEEL-or] ’cars’, hare [HAH-or] ’hare’.
As the last two examples show, the weak combination ER (or RE) becomes its own ”or” syllable. Unfortunately, this creates a lot of mess: Many Danes mix up the writings of word inflections like at studere [stooDEH-or] ’to study’ and studerer [stooDEH-or] ’studies’. They sound just the same…

Also note that the Danish A sound – which is usually just as light as the English A in cat – tends to become darker next to an R: Mads [a man’s name; light A] – Mars [the planet; dark A]. (There’s something similar going on in English – notice how the sound changes from cat to car.)

In the combination AR the R very often disappears entirely: Far (father) sounds like ”fah”.

Perhaps Danish children are somehow trying to compensate for their fathers’ lost R’s, for when they cry for their mor (mother), they usually split the diphtong entirely: mo-a! 🙂


Keep an ear on the R’s in this 1972 video of Danish pop star Kim Larsen jamming with his band Gasolin:


Nanna med den røde mund og lange sorte negle… Hun drikker og hun er lidt dum – så hun er glad… Åh, det’ så trist, siger de…

Nanna with the red mouth and long black nails… She’s drinking and she’s a bit stupid – so she’s happy… Oh, it’s so sad, they say…

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Alex:

    This really helped me 😀

  2. Bjørn A. Bojesen:

    I’m glad to hear! I guess sounds are like the ”spirit” of a language – but it isn’t always that easy explaining them… 🙂

  3. Eric Swanson:

    Thanks for your explanation. In Småland we pronounce our R’s simularly. In fact, one could say that the way a person pronounces R sounds is an important clue as to where in Scandinavia the person comes from.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Eric Swanson Well, that’s interesting! I know there are a lot of similarities between Danish and the Swedish dialect of Skåne (once a part of the Kingdom of Denmark). But Småland – I’d never imagine that…