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Swedish pronunciation is known by language learners as having rather particular rules, but rules nonetheless. The idea is that once you’ve mastered the rules, you can pronounce most words naturally without having heard them pronounced by someone else.
The pronunciation of the consonant combination <sk> in Swedish is one thing that often trips up learners of Swedish. In many cases, it will be pronounced exactly as it is spelt. In other cases, though, it’s pronounced as the infamous Swedish sj-sound. But when do we use the sk pronunciation, and when do we use the sj pronunciation?
The rules are relatively simple, though there are a few exceptions – but no worries about the exceptions: they are so few that there’s no need to think about whether a new word is pronounced as an exception or not.
Rule 1: If the <sk> is followed by a hard vowel, the pronunciation is /sk/, i.e. exactly as it is spelt. The hard vowels are <a>, <o>, <u>, and <å>. Examples of sk + each of the hard vowels:
ska – will, as in: Jag ska träffa henne idag. – I will (am going to) meet with her today.
en skola – a school;
skulle – would, as in: Jag skulle hjälpa honom, om jag kunde. – I would help him, if I could.
en skål – a bowl. (Or, Skål! as in “Cheers!” when drinking.)
Rule 2: If the <sk> is followed by a soft vowel, the pronunciation is /sj/. The soft vowels are <e>, <i>, <y>, <ä>, and <ö> – i.e. the vowels which are not categorized as hard vowels. Examples of sk + each of the soft vowels:
ett skepp – a ship;
att skicka – to send;
en skylt – a sign (e.g. in front of a building);
att skära – to cut;
skön – nice (i.e. to describe something which feels nice).
Rule 3: There are some exceptions, but only very few:
en människa – a person, a human being. Here, the <sk> is pronounced /sj/, despite preceding a hard vowel.
en skiss – a sketch (i.e. a sketched drawing). Here, the <sk> is pronounced as spelt, /sk/, despite preceding a soft vowel.
ett skelett – a skeleton. Just as with skiss, the <sk> in skelett is pronounced /sk/, despite preceding a soft vowel.
Rule 4: When a word ends in -skt, the /k/ can be dropped completely in everyday speech. For example:
Dramatiskt (neuter form of dramatisk, “dramatic”) can be pronounced as /drama:tiskt/, with the <k> pronounced, or as /drama:tist/, without the <k> pronounced.
Similarly, svenskt (neuter form of svensk, “Swedish”) can be pronounced either /svenskt/ or /svenst/ in everyday speech. This applies to all -skt endings.
Now you’re ready to tackle any <sk> you come across! Good luck 🙂