Icelandic Language Blog

Me Talk Pretty One Day: A Few Basics of Pronunciation   Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in Icelandic grammar

Today, lets talk a little about Icelandic phonology and pronunciation. In order to do that, we have to start with one basic assumption: the letter does not equal the sound. Not always.


Sometimes, for example, we write two letters, but those two letters comprise one sound. Hj, kj, gj, hn, hr, hl are all one sound. Hjarta (pronunciation), kjóll (pronunciation), gjöf (pronunciation), hnerra (pronunciation), hringja (pronunciation ), hlaupa (pronunciation ). Likewise, we sometimes write one letter to represent two sounds: the x , for example, makes a ks, as in buxur (pronunciation ). É = e + j, (where j is pronounced ‘y’ – like yes), as in éta (pronunciation ). Hér (pronunciation ) is pronounced hjer.


Sometimes the letter and the sound are completely different, as is the case with question words. Hvað? Hver? Hvernig? as hvalur, hver, hvass. (pronunciation: hvass).
But that’s an easy one.

One letter can symbolize multiple sounds, as with g.




Gaman: [k] = g or k (pronunciation)
Gefa: [kj] = g-ye-v-a (pronunciation)
Saga: [ɤ] = (pronunciation) (What on earth is that strange letter?)
Sagt: [x] = k (sakt) [ same goes for ‘k’: rakt]
Segi: [j] = sort of like a ‘y’ (pronunciation)


An f  before n or l :

fl is pronounced [pl]

fn is pronounced [pn]


Let’s wrap up with ll and nn.

ll is pronounced [tl] or [l:]

[tl] = hilla (pronunciation), allir, ellefu, fjall

[l:] = Palli (pronunciation), dollari, ball (pronunciation ), grilla *
*This l: typically occurs when the word is a borrow word, or a diminutive/pet name.


-nn- is sometimes pronounced [tn] and sometimes [n:]

Steinn (pronunciation ), grænn (pronunciation), þjónn (pronunciation ), einn, brúnn


[n:] henni (pronunciation), tennur, vinna



Next time: Vowel sounds are long before a single consonant, and short before 2 or more.


That’s all, folks!


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About the Author: Meg

Hi, I'm Meg! I'm here to help you learn Icelandic, the language more than anything else in the world. I'm a former Fulbright scholar, with an MFA from Columbia, and I've published many translations into English from Icelandic and German. I currently study Icelandic, and translate poetry by trade. (If you have questions or comments on my entries, you can write them to me in the comments in either English, German, or Icelandic.)


  1. Marijke:

    Nice, just beginning to understand how the Icelandic pronunciations work. This is very helpfull! Looking forward for more 🙂