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Danish Alphabet and Sounds

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[Return to the Danish Handbook]

Hello hopeful students!

In this post I'm going to talk a bit about the Danish alphabets, what sounds the different letters might produce, and some general guidelines to pronunciation.

The Danish alphabet has 29 letters. The 26 you already know from English, along with three extra vowels tagged onto the end. Sing with me:

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 æ ø å

Uppercase of the three extra vowels: Æ Ø Å.

<h1>Vowels</h1>

The vowels are: a e i o u y æ ø å.

You might think, hey, this is a bunch of vowels! And you'd be right. But in fact there are even more. Sorry! These vowel letters represent 2-4 distinguishable sounds each, leaving Danish with a flourishing 30-odd vowel sounds --- and that's without counting dialects.

Please do not despair at the immensity of vowel sounds! Depending on which language you come from, it might take you a bit of effort to learn to pronounce (and hear) these sounds, but it is definitely possible. I've personally watched my fiancée learn to do it :) She's Italian, a language which has around 6 vowel sounds. So if an Italian can do it, you can too!

The upside to the high number of vowels is that Danish in general has very short words. And you do not need to learn to pronounce these vowels perfectly, or even near perfect, to be understood -- people will understand from the context.

Notice that Y is a vowel in Danish, not a consonant! Excepted from this are, of course, any loan words that have kept their foreign spelling, such as the ever present and highly delicious yoghurt.

Another important point about vowels in Danish is that they're "true" or "flat" vowels, which means that they have a single sound only. This is different from English, where vowels "glide" into another sound. Think of the English vowel a: To a Dane, this sounds like a+i. An example of a true vowel in English is the ee of see -- To a Dane, this sound is simply that of i.

A would love to give you an overview of the sounds of the vowels, but it is simply not possible to describe most of them using English vowels as examples. Instead, there is a short series about Danish pronunciation, in which the first two videos deal with vowels:

Another video comes from a great series about how to pronounce Danish, which is unfortunately in Danish. See if it won't be of use anyway:

Vowel Modification:

  • A double consonant or two consonants after a vowel (in the same syllable) makes the preceding vowel short. Otherwise the vowel is long.
  • An R after a vowel (in the same syllable) is not pronounced, but instead serves to open up the vowel. See videos about vowels above.

Stød or Glottal Stop

Danish has the feature called "stød", which is really hard to describe. It is the difference between, for instance, mor (mother) and mord (murder). Wikipedia has an article on stød.

Having scoured Youtube for pronunciation examples, I can only seem to find these two, which are in Danish. See them as advanced training, maybe :)

Although stød is sometimes referred to as glottal stop, it is not the same as the glottal stop found in, say, a downtown London accent or Scottish English. Depending on your language of origin, this might be a tough one to get down -- again, be comforted by the fact that most often the context will let people understand you in any case.

<h1>Consonants</h1>

Rejoice! Consonants in Danish are mostly the same as in English. A few notes:

  • R is pronounced in the throat. Sort of like in French, or like J in Spanish. You'll have fun learning this one. Imagine you have something stuck in your throat, but try not to overdo it. It's rather subtle :) Remember that it is not pronounced if it occurs after a vowel, in the same syllable.
  • The combination ng works the same as in English. Think of sing in English.
  • T is very aired in Danish, meaning you blow out more air while saying it.
  • D can be soft or hard. As a rule of thumb, it is hard (like do) before vowels and soft (like the) immediately after vowels. It can be a bit complicated to decide whether a d inside a word is "before" or "after" a vowel: You have to divide the word into syllables. If it follows another consonant like l or n it shortens the preceding vowel and generally introduces stød (if that vowel is the first in the word). See below. After a g it is generally not pronounced.
  • J is pronounced like the English consonant-Y (as in yogurt). Except in loan words.
  • The combination dj makes the English j sound (as in juice).
  • The combination tj makes the English ch sound (as in chess).
  • G can be soft (like Danish J) or hard (like English geese). Like D, it is most often soft after vowels and hard before vowels.
  • H is silent before other consonants
  • F after A makes a diphthong similar to aw in awful (but with a slightly different a). In the word af (of) it is simply not pronounced.
  • Two Ks in a row sound the same as two Gs in a row (less aired than single K).
  • Two Ts in a row sound the same as two hard Ds in a row (less aired than single T).

Take a look at the third part of the series from above, which is about consonants: How To Speak Danish | Pronunciation 3: Consonants

Unused Consonants

The consonants Q, W, X, and Z are not really used at all, except for loan words. In these they retain their original sound, although Z is pronounced the same as S and W might be pronounced as V (such as in weekend, pronounced like English but with a v at the start). C is the same, except it occurs in many personal names, too. It can be pronounced as either an S (often before a vowel) or a K (often before another consonant)

<h1>Pronunciation Exceptions</h1>
  • -et at the end of a word is pronounced with a soft-d sound instead of the t.
<h1>Useful Resources</h1>
  • Forvo - Search for a word and listen to a native speaker say it.
  • Wiktionary (the English version) has most Danish words with IPA pronunciation, etymology, conjugations, and often a translation too.
  • IVONA This is the TTS voice we're using. Select Danish -> Mads (for male) or Naja (for female) and input any text you want to listen to again.
  • Google Translate Can read out in Danish too.
  • Dansk Udtale on YouTube has videos on different areas of the pronunciation (explained in Danish, though).

[Return to the Danish Handbook]

4 years ago

53 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/NeueEule

Thanks a lot for this post, this helped my understand some of the pronunciation thingy ;) (although it is still hard!). But there's one thing i didn't understand...and its this:

F becomes an (English) oo sound after A.

Can you give me an example?

Edit: Is the danish 'R' similar to the German\Hebrew R?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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Yes, sorry, that one is a bit unclear.

  • Take the word afgang, departure. The syllables are af and gang, so the f is either silent or makes a diphthong. The pronunciation becomes something like [ahw-gang].
  • In the word af (of) it is simply not pronounced, so one says [a] instead (flat, short, closed vowel).

Does that clear it up a bit?

Do you have an example of the GermanHebrew R being pronounced? Then I can tell you right away :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NeueEule

I meant German or Hebrew (I see you did a few lessons in German, so I guess you know the sound). The system didn't post the / between German and Hebrew. If you still need an example, I found this German pronunciation video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWKQczMIhU0

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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Ahhh I thought it was some specific dialect I didn't know about!

Yes it's basically like the one he calls the "French German" R in that video. Although I would say it's more subtle in Danish, like as short a sound as you can possibly make it, if that makes any sense.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/NeueEule

Oh, tak :) If I could make a quick suggestion - please make this thread sticky, it could really help us Danish learners and new learners that are going to start the course in the future.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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Yes the idea is to have one central thread (the one called Danish Handbook) with links to all the details topic. That way, we can avoid having 999 stickied threads :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bjarkehs
bjarkehs
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The combined post can be found here: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/4277767

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DanXander
DanXander
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I don't know if this is a dumb idea or if anyone would be interested, but as we get further along in the course, would anyone be interested in Skyping, so we can practice pronunciation together?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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I think this is a great idea. If there is interest, I'll happily create a sticky post every now and then to help you guys arrange sessions!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bjarkehs
bjarkehs
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I second this idea. I might even have time to join you guys from time to time, so you can learn how to pronounce things the right way. (Stay away from Rune and Sofia, they speak weirdly.)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DanXander
DanXander
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Hahaha! :D Well, hopefully others will be interested in Skyping then.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DanXander
DanXander
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Perhaps I should make a separate thread to find out if others are interested? They may not read all the comments here.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ingridvg70
Ingridvg70
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Thanks for this post, because the pronunciation had me baffled. After watching the Danish stød video, I came upon this video http://youtu.be/dr7hU_iP0dw. Here, the Danish vowels are explained without referring to similar English sounds, making it perhaps easier for people whose first language isn't English.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bjarkehs
bjarkehs
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This is a really solid find! The guy has good pronunciation, and his videos are generally very good! Maybe I should reach out to him and ask him if he'd be comfortable making some of his videos in English.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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I'll add this one to the post :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/blackkitt
blackkitt
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I know this is an old thread, but I just found a video that explains stød really well -- in English! (But it's by a native Dane.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ludwigzhou
ludwigzhou
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Thanks a lot for this post!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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You're welcome! Please let me know if anything is unclear or uncovered.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DanXander
DanXander
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I came across this video on ø and thought it might be helpful for some...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZ-epUEpO0c

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Joeyshere
Joeyshere
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Wow thanks a lot! What a great tutorial.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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You're welcome! Glad you find it useful :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/samuelianadams
samuelianadams
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To me, the Danish R sounds like the German R in words like der, Herr, and hören in casual speech ([dɛɐ̯] or [dɛʁ]; [hɛʁ] or [hɛɐ̯]; and [høːʁən], [høːɐn], or [høːɐ̯n]) but never like Frau or Überraschung. The R is very subtle in the first three words.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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That sounds about right :) It's very subtle in Danish, usually.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/_ajm
_ajm
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Hey there.

I have two concerns regarding pronounciation:

  1. Is 'ej' generally pronounced like 'ei' in German or simply 'i' in English?
  2. Do you speak the 'R' from the throat or with the tip of the tongue?

Kind regards.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jekadu
Jekadu
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  1. The former, assuming 'i' represents a "flat" sound and 'ei' represents a diphthong.
  2. The throat. It's also known as a "guttural R", in contrast with the "rolling R" used in many other languages.
4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/OleAgersna
OleAgersna
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The exception of "-et" at the end of a word being pronounced with a soft d sound is generally true, at least in most dialects. But there's an exception to the exception, which is that if the "-et" ending is preceded by a soft d, the ending is actually prounounced with a "t" sound as it is spelled, to avoid the clash of two soft d sounds so close to each other. For instance, the word "bladet" (the leaf/the magazine) is pronounced with a "t" sound at the end.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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Feel free to post examples of words where a pronunciation seems to be outside of what I have described here :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LittleCatz

Here's a good one about the gluttal stop that is in English, if you want one to add to your post :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Smilesbetter

This helped so much, thanks for posting!! Now to practice my sheep and goat impressions, haha!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/catrin.i.j
catrin.i.j
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This was really helpful - thanks for sharing!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tbarasmussen

Okay, it's not spelled "yogurt", but "yoghurt".

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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I was writing in English, but now I corrected it to "yoghurt" which is valid in both languages. Hopefully no one will misunderstand now.

I'm glad that was the worst you could find ;)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SkillsInPills

It is spelled yogurt...at least in American English it is.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MusicWithRocksIn

Yup, 'yoghurt' in British English and 'yogurt' in American English. We like to have the extra 'H' there...in case of emergencies. :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tbarasmussen

Yes, but in Denmark the only correct form is "yoghurt" with "h" in it. That was what I meant.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kultarr
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Does it help it taste any better? :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BrandyNicole
BrandyNicole
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I can't seem to hear the difference between the soft D sound and something like a dark L (maybe a dark L as heard in Russian?). Currently I'm getting it in the second half of the word "skildpadde", but I've noticed it elsewhere, too. I think I'm replicating the sound from the audio, but the shape of my mouth isn't anywhere near a "th". Any advice?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JaneD-Boston
JaneD-Boston
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Try pronouncing a voiced "th" as in the word "them" or "bathe". Notice where your tongue is. Now try making the same sound with your tongue against the inside of the lower teeth. That should get you closer. Good luck.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BrandyNicole
BrandyNicole
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Ah! That unblocked my mental block! I was putting the tip of my tongue behind my bottom teeth, but also the middle of my tongue touching the roof of my mouth. Some combination of my languages made that seem natural, I guess. I still sort of hear the dark L, but I get how to properly make the sound now. Thanks!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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I'm fairly sure we don't have dark Ls in Danish, at least not my understanding of them :)

One technique I know of, for learning to pronounce impossible words, is to start from the end of the word: Pronounce fx just the soft-d, then add on the a sound, and so on working towards the beginning.

There are some native pronunciations on Forvo that might help you:

  • Ad -- yuck, but consists of a + soft-d. The sound is more drawn out in skildpadde because of the ending e.
  • Padde -- amphibian, the last half of skildpadde)
  • Skildpadde

I just tried listening to the TTS saying skildpadde and I don't hear a dark L. But of course I know what to expect! Maybe try with the male voice (Danish - Mads) on IVONA.

Hope that helps a bit!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bjarkehs
bjarkehs
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Wrong link for padde :P

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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Fixed! Din padde.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DanXander
DanXander
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Ok, I am having trouble with the letter R in the middle of a word, for example in the word "fungere." Can you explain where the tongue should be placed? And why is it pronounced differently in "hvordan" if in both cases it is after a vowel? Is it because in "fungere" a vowel follows the R? In "hvordan," it sounds like it is pronounced more like an English "R" sound (at least it does to me), but in "fungere," it doesn't.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/runem
runem
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The trick is to divide it into syllables. I don't really know how to explain how to do this though, but for the two words you mentioned:

  • fun-ge-re. So the R is before a vowel. It is very very subtle though, at least in my pronounciation, almost just a glotal stop. Also the last E is pronounced (by my generation) as if it was followed by another R (so more open, towards A). This is why it's so hard for (some) Danish people to remember to spell the present tense correctly for verbs ending in -e, because fungere (to function) is pronounced the same as fungerer (functions). At least for people of my generation, in the Copenhagen-area.
  • hvor-dan. Here the R is after a vowel, modifying the vowel but not being pronounced itself.

The case of fungere applies to all verbs ending in -ere, which are the ones imported from Romance languages. There might be some exceptions to this, but as a general rule, it holds.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jordi643
jordi643
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Thanks for the post. Also, I found this and I don't know if it's accurate, but it says how to pronounce diphtongs which I didn't find anywhere in the discussion page and I think its important: http://www.pronunciationguide.info/Danish.html

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tunglskin
Tunglskin
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Thank you so much for this post! Very helpful!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/tjasonham
tjasonham
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bump and a lingot for you! (although I'm sure this is a pinned post)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/blackkitt
blackkitt
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I know this is an old thread, but I just found a video that explains stød really well in English. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/darcy.roche

super useful resource is den danske ordbog, which gives a modified version of IPA for every danish word:

http://ordnet.dk/ddo

there is a table that gives an overview of the dictionary's transcription vis-à-vis IPA:

http://ordnet.dk/ddo/artiklernes-opbygning/udtale

cannot recommend this resource more highly!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Krasy97

Wow, thank you!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jake990865
Jake990865
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nice vido on the glottal stop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc

7 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lerura
Lerura
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It would be nice if people looked through the thread before providing a link. Now there are 4 person that have provided the link (5 with this comment) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc.

It is a great video that I can recommend, but it doesn't get any better by being linked to several times.

Last time i followed the link , youtube suggested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjdEQklFV-0 which is also a good video and maybe even better for some.
In addition to giving examples of the different vowel qualities (long, short and stød) it also shows that there is no direct relation between the spelling and the wovel quality. It gives 2 examples: gul - guld, and mor - mord.
For the first pair the word WITHOUT d has the stød, whereas for the second pair it is the word WITH d that has the stød.

I will recommend that you see the entire series as it covers the other difficult parts of the pronounciation of danish words.

(1/6) mensions the t->d, p->b, and k->g pronunciation. That it is a tendency, rather than a rule. Mostly the context clarifies the meaning even if this tendency is followed.

7 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/hiiamsoshook

mange tak min ven.

5 months ago