Danish Language Blog

Diphthongs on the Go Posted by on Sep 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

There are two main groups of Danish diphthongs:

  1. Diphthongs ending in an i (ee) sound.
  2. Diphthongs ending in an u (oo) sound.

Some diphthongs can be written in different ways. Spellings aside, the main diphthongs are as follow:

I (ee) diphthongs

  • AJ. Rhymes with English I. It is spelt aj in haj (shark), maj (May). It is spelt ej in vej (road), dejlig (nice, enjoyable), nej (no) and many other words. It is spelt eg in leg (play), meget [mie-d/mie-th] (much). In two small words it has the odd spelling ig: digmig (you, me). In just one word it has the totally weird spelling ek: seksten [SYE-stn] (16).
  • ØJ. Rhymes with English boy. It is spelt øj in høj (high, tall), øje (eye), papegøje (parrot). It is spelt øg in løg (onion), røg (smoke).
  • AI. This is not an original Danish diphthong. It has been borrowed from English, and appears in such words as mail (e-mail), baby (baby).

U (oo) diphthongs

  • AV. Rhymes with English now. It is spelt av in hav (sea), tavle (blackboard). It is spelt au in pause (break). It is spelt af in compounds whose first element is af [ah] (of): aftale [Aᵒᵒtaleh] (agreement). The letter group ag also has this pronunciation whenever it is followed by a compound element that is not the ending -e or -erdaglig [DAᵒᵒlee] (daily – compare with dag [da-y or da’], day), flagstang [FLAᵒᵒstang] (flagstaff – compare with flag [fla-y], flag).
  • IV. Say ”eew”. It appears in words like liv (life), kniv (knife).
  • OV. A British ”or” sound (as in more) quickly followed by an ”oo” sound (more or less [orʷ]). It is written ov in hov! (oops!), klovn (clown), sjov (fun). It is written og in kogle (cone), og (and), dog (however).
  • YV. Say ”eew” with rounded lips. As in syv (7), tyv (thief).
  • ÆV. Say ”eoo”. It is written æv in a few wors like skæv (slanting), ræv (fox). It is written ev in a few words like evne (ability), brev (letter). It is sometimes written eu in Europa (Europe), though most often this name is pronounced with an
  • ØV. Rhymes with British English though. It appears in words like støvle (boot), øv! (boo!) In words borrowed from English, it keeps the foreign spelling: show (show).


Please note that this is a very basic explanation of the Danish diphthongs. As I said in the intro, many diphthongs in the pro grammars are really just a standard vowel + an independent y sound (like the y following the ee vowel in See you!) This goes for words like sager (things), eg (oak), sygehus (hospital), at besøge (to visit), læge (doctor), which are really just – with Danish letters – ”e-j”, ”sy-jehus”, ”at besø-je”, ”læ-je”.

The above is also true in most occassions when the letter G follows a ”dark vowel”, and gets a w quality: bog (book) sounds like ”bå-u”, sprog (language) sounds like ”språ-u”, drage (dragon) sounds like ”dra-u-e”.

Also note what happens when you add an E to a word like kniv [k-neew] (”knife”): knive [k-NEE-veh] (”knives”). Yes, that’s right, the word gets the interpretation ”kni‑ve”. The diphthong’s lost. That’s also why there’s no diphthong in two-syllable words like have (garden, read ”ha-ve”), at leve (to live, read ”le-ve”).

Finally I should also mention that in the word peber (pepper) – and in this word only – the letter B sounds like English w.

Okay, now take a deep breath and be tilfreds (content). This is all you’ll ever need to know about Danish diphthongs! 🙂


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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.