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Swedish R's: How to pronounce them?

I encountered a Swedish r at äter. The Swedish r seems like the Spanish r, but I can't pronounce either of them. Does anyone have any tips?

November 17, 2014



In Standard Swedish, the r is similar to the Spanish single r (that is a tap, /ɾ/). It's a myth that we roll our r's. Few people do, in fact, it's more common to "weaken" them to something that resembles the English r, although not as strongly as in English.

In the South of Sweden, a uvular r is used, as in German or French. It's simple, but might sound a bit funny if you're learning Central Swedish pronunciation otherwise, although it's not really a huge deal.

If you speak American or Canadian English you probably already know how to make the Swedish/Spanish r, except that you think of it as a t/d. In American English, t/d turns into a tap between vowels, so that for example "Eddy" and "get up" is pronounced like "eri" and "gerap". Slight exaggerations at the end there, but I hope you get my point :) I'd say that's a good place to start practicing!


You write that you don't roll your r's and yet both my swedish friend and my norwegian friend said its common to roll your tongue and that actually in scandinavia its most common in sweden.

I dont wanna speak broken swedish and I don't know on what to go, roll or not to roll.


First of all, do they roll their r's, or do they say that they roll their r's? Usually the confusion starts there. It's very common to refer to the /r/ pronounced with the tip of the tongue as a "rolled r" to contrast it with the /R/ pronounced in the back of the mouth (the southern r). That doesn't mean that it's actually rolled. (To make the terminology clear; when I say rolled, what I mean is a trilled /r/ with more than one 'rolling' vibration.)

The r can be rolled when it or the word it's in is being especially stressed, or sometimes when the preceding vowel is short (making the r long). The most common pronunciation in Central Swedish, in all contexts, is the tap pronunciation (as described above) or the approximant pronunciation - which is like a tap but weaker, with the tongue just barely touching the roof of the mouth.

As a Swedish speaker, when you actually hear someone speaking Swedish using only really rolled r's, you react, because it sounds odd and emphatic.


I feel like this is probably a dead topic, and I'm sorry if so, but I keep coming back to this and I can't help but wonder, is this maybe just a dialectical thing? Obviously I'm not a native, you'd have a better idea, but I've been, for all intents and purposes, sort of living in Linköping for more than four months. I've been pretty well immersed in the language, going to classes with my boyfriend at his school and generally being around the Swedish language far more than I've been around English. Television and films, music, YouTube, just listening to people talk in coffee shops and to my boyfriend and his family and friends, really every way imaginable, and I've noticed that nearly everyone uses quite a noticeable trilled 'r' pretty often in their speech. Not always, but in quite a few words it is there. Not just flipped or tapped, but rolled. And it confuses me that I keep reading in places that the Swedish 'r' isn't rolled, because I hear it quite a lot. I just didn't know if this was just some sort of statistical anomaly, like maybe the people that I happen to be around are just really prone to trilling their r's, or if it's dialectical, or anything really. Again, sorry if I'm, like, beating a dead horse with this one, but for some time I've been a bit fixated and, for lack of a better word, frustrated with my inability to roll my r's and with my lack of comprehension about whether or not it's used.


It's a valid question. A rolled r does exist, it's just that it isn't used most of the time. There is no dialect issue regarding this, just to make that clear. R ought to be pronounced pretty much the same in most of the Central Swedish area.

Now, r is generally not rolled, but tapped or even weaker. This is most obvious in unstressed words and syllables. You may also notice that people with a Stockholm dialect tend to have more English-like r's (that is, approximant r's) than people from the rest of Sweden. When the rolled r does occur, it is usually more weakly rolled than in languages like Spanish or Finnish, and as I said often it is reduced to a single tap (like the Spanish single r). The rolled variety is most likely to appear in a stressed syllable, particularly before a vowel (f.ex. in words such as 'resa', 'rida', 'rad'). Rolling also occurs when words with r are being singled out or otherwise emphasized.

If you don't know how to trill/roll an r, I'd say just stick with the tap. If you immerse yourself enough in the language you'll pick up on it and eventually start rolling them slightly in the positions this might occur. And if not, nobody will notice, because the tap is close enough and common enough anyway :) A rolled r is not a necessity for speaking or sounding Swedish.

As for the apparent double standard whether or not the r is rolled; The reason you come across the claim that Swedish r isn't rolled is for 2 reasons: 1) It usually isn't, and 2) Stressing that it is rolled gives a false picture of the variation in the r sound, and leads non-Swedish speakers to either over-roll it, or to give up on it (because they can't roll an r) and use English r's (which is even worse). By emphasizing the more common pronunciation of r, it will help learners of the language to actually start using a common Swedish variety of r, which will help the overall pronunciation so much more.

Don't hesitate to ask if you have further questions :)


I use the tapped R. But just being curious, does an English-like R sounds really bad, even for Stockholm dialect? Thank you. :)


Not to diminish your experience, bit this is what I as a native speaker, would perceive to be the standard pronunciation of single and geminate /r/. The realization is somewhere between a alveolar flap/tap and an approximant in my unprofessional opinion. Could it be that you from the perspective of an English speaker perceive it as more "trilled" than English /r/, and this hear it as a trill even when it isn't one? Because it can be a trill when you are putting emphasis or speaking very carefully.

Just took the first examples that came to mind: http://sv.forvo.com/word/sp%C3%A4rr/ http://sv.forvo.com/word/sp%C3%A4r/

Compare with Spanish, that has a true trill and flap in the cases. Different, no?http://sv.forvo.com/word/caro/#es http://sv.forvo.com/word/carro/#es

EDIT: In the beginning of a word you can also hear a trill sometimes, as Blehg stated. But that would also be associated with more articulated speech.


I've heard it's a matter of formality, if you want to be poetic you roll your Rs, if you want to be casual you tap them along with the approximate, and if you want to be sort formal(ish) you have hard Rs, at least that's what I've noticed from listening to people speak.


Thanks, that helped :)


Oh, I love the uvular [R] sound! I can more easily make the [r] or [ɾ], but maybe I'll make that sound just because I like it. By the way, I've been listening to Swedish songs, and sometimes they do roll their r's, but maybe that's just for show, and not something they'd do in real life, or maybe just a few people do it. I like all of the options you can have with Swedish when you don't want to have a mainstream pronunciation. :)


Using the French rhotic seems a bit lazy, tempting as it is. The classic Swedish R sounds beautiful. Could you elaborate on your last paragraph? I speak American English and I can approximate a rolled r, but it sounds nothing like the Swedish R. I heard the Swedish R as an L, almost, but it's a T/D?


Well, uvular trills and fricatives are used in the south of Sweden, so there's nothing wrong with them. In central Sweden, it can be a flap, a sibilant or an approximant. The last one is actually the same as English 'r', and is very common when 'r' is at the end of a syllable. What you think of as "beautiful" is probably the flap though. Try saying "bitty" rapidly several times; you will most likely prounce 'tt' as a flap.


I sounded kind of mean to the south there. I do love the Skånska dialect, but I want to push myself and not accidentally Frenchify my Swedish. I've heard Rs pronounced as that zh-ish approximant sound, but I thought it was a dialectal thing. I've also noticed the flap is easier to pronounce in certain words (jordgubbe springs to mind, if that is a flap).

I've heard "guitarra" and "morgon" pronounced with something that sounds very much like a Spanish R, though. Is that a quirk of loanwords, if those are loanwords?


Well, the Swedish word for guitar is en gitarr (pronounced 'jitarr'), and since it's a geminate consonant, it can be pronounced as a trill when it's emphasized, but will probably be a flap. Morgon is a native Swedish word, and pretty much everyone pronounces it as morron. The same applies here. 'Jordgubbe' is a special case though; here the 'r' assimilates to the 'd', making 'd' postalveolar or retroflex. This means that instead of being articulated with your tongue at your teeth, it's articulated behind the alveolar ridge at the soft palate, either with your tongue curled backward or not. Note: this process happens everywhere in Swedish, even across words, and applies to all dental consonants /t d n s l/ preceded by /r/.


There's a wikihow article about that in which a few methods are explained: http://www.wikihow.com/Roll-Your-%22R%22s Still none of these methods worked well for me but I'll just keep on trying;)


As stated, the phoneme /r/ is not usually trilled in Swedish, so using a alveolar trill (as in Spanish parra) would sound strange. However, it can be a alveolar tap (as in Spanish para).

Edit: See the comment below by Keegster1.


There are two Spanish R's, which are both phonemes (sounds that distinguish meanings of words by themselves). There is /r/, the alveolar trill, and /ɾ/, the alveolar tap/flap, so saying Spanish R is confusing. [r] is used sometimes in Swedish, but it's not very common compared to [ɾ]. However, the two are very similar: [ɾ] seems like [r] but with less pressure behind it, so the process is similar. If you can make [r], you can also probably make [ɾ].


You are correct. I am afraid my ignorance of Spanish phonology at the time got the better of me.


Try imitating the tt in the US pronunciation of butter. That works for me.


Thanks! This helps a lot


Put your tongue behind your upper teeth and blow some air through it... somehow :D

[deactivated user]

    The way I learned to pronounce the swedish /r/ is by using this video : http://youtu.be/V2wzUuGm7yw It is from a Japanese perspective but it is the same sound /ɾ/. Hope this helps any others who stumble upon this problem.


    Oh, I'm actually really familiar with the Japanese /r/.

    That just made it 50 times easier.


    Thank you, that's very useful. I already could make the Swedish /r/, but now I know the Japanese R!


    Pretend you come from Skåne and use a French-ish r :o


    That sounds nice. :P


    I have to share this because I just figured out how to make a trilled-r. I've been able to make an uvular-r for most of my life, but the trilled-r escaped me. So what is the secret? Make machine gun noises!

    Of course the trilled-r isn't strong in Swedish, but after over a decade of trying to make the sound, I finally figured it out. Now I have to integrate this r into words. I hope this helps someone!

    I might have to change my avatar haha

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