Swedish vowels – Å, Ä, Ö

To finish off the series about how to pronounce the Swedish vowels, here are the three extra vowels in the Swedish language: å. ä, and ö.

Here is the first one of the three extra vowels in Swedish (they come in the end of the alphabet by the way, in this order: å, ä, ö). The challenge is to really distinguish them as separate vowels, and not just muddled versions of A and O. The Å can be thought of as the ‘au’ sound in (British accent) ‘Paul’. Indeed, some Swedish Pauls actually spell their names Pål. The sound is long, as in a long ‘Pååål’, or ‘poor’.

This letter can be thought of as the English ‘ai’ in ‘pair’, or ‘hair’. The only thing to remember is that the mouth is actually quite wide, a bit more of a smile than when saying ‘pair’.

Finally, the Ö is similar to the English sound ‘i’ in the word ‘bird’. Or ‘u’ in the word ‘fur’. Or ‘ea’ in the word ‘heard’. The lips are fairly rounded, but also slightly trumpet-shaped.

And finally, the graduation test is to fully master the following Swedish tongue twister: Flyg fula fluga flyg, och den fula flugan flög (Fly, ugly fly, fly, and the ugly fly flew.).

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27 thoughts on “Swedish vowels – Å, Ä, Ö

  1. I’m not a student of Swedish (just curious how to pronounce these vowels), but ö is like the vowel in “bird” or “fur” in varieties of English in and around London, right? in most North American varieties of English (along with Irish English and northern varieties of British English), that vowel is r-colored (pronounced with the tongue curled up toward, but not touching, the palate).

    Otherwise, very nice explanations. Thanks!

    • Yes you are possibly right. It is always hard to find a way to explain a vowel that doesn’t exist in another language. Maybe a bit like the Northern American ‘Duh!’, or ‘eeeerrrr…’ sounds? /anneli

  2. My family used to spell their name “Petersön” how would that be pronounced? Or, is there a way to spell it that would actually use some type of character and have a legitimate pronunciation? Also, is the Name Richard at all spelled differently or can it be spelled differently to fit a Swedes language?
    Thank you

    • Hej! Interesting questions. Are you sure of the dots over the o in your sir name? A more common way of spelling that name would be Petersson or Pettersson (i.e. meaning the son of Peter/Petter). When we pronounce it, we often blend the r and the s, so the pronunciation might be something like “Pe-te-shon” – if that makes sense. Richard can also be spelled Rickard, and would always be pronounced with a hard k in Sweden. Hope this helps! /anneli

    • Hi!

      I accidentally stumbled onto this blog post (looking for some aid in explaining these three letters to English speakers), and found your comment fun to read – if you note my name, you’ll see why. 🙂

      When I, some years ago, visited USA, I found that nobody I met was able to come close to pronouncing my name the way I say it. After a few days, I started to introduce myself as “Richard” (English pronunciation) instead to make it easier for the people I met.

  3. I’ve recently began taking a course in Swedish. Although I do find some of the grammar confusing (ie. when to use “du”, “ni”, or “ni är”), easily one of the most frustrating things for me was the pronunciation. It seemed like sometimes, the ‘å’ sound would make an ‘o’ sound, sometimes an ‘a’ sound, an ‘oa’ sound, and sometimes an ‘au’ sound (as in “Paul”). Sometimes a regular ‘s’ sound would be said as ‘sh’, as in “varsågod”. An extra j/y sound would be made in words like ‘flicka’ (making it sound like ‘flickja’). The ‘ö’ sound made an ‘e’ sound in words like ‘mjölk’. The ‘g’ was silent in ‘Jag’. “De” was pronounced as “Dom”. Overall, I have just been very confused with the pronunciation. If anyone can clarify or explain these odd pronunciations, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Tack på förhand!

    SIDENOTE: Is there a consistent way to differentiate as to when you should use “en” or “ett”?

    å, ä, ö

    • Hej! This is difficult to explain in a brief comment, but overall I would say that the vowel sounds to some extent differs between dialects. ‘rs’ together is often pronounced as ‘sh’ – as in varsågod (and also in names like Anders, Persson etc). I am not sure I agree with the extra j/y in words like flicka… We do drop some consonants in colloquial speech – jag becomes ‘ja’, det becomes ‘de’ and so on. Most Swedes these days do pronounce de as dom (although this was not the case if you go back 40-60 years) – I have no idea why we have started doing this, but we do. Finally, in terms of the en and ett, there are no consistent ways to differentiate, I am afraid, although once you have learnt the plural forms, you can actually tell from them whether a word is en or ett in singular. I would generally advice you to get some practice with a native speaker, who can help you to correct and guide your pronunciation (but perhaps make sure it’s not someone with an unusual/strong dialect!). It is hard in the beginning, but it does eventually develop. Best of luck! 🙂 /anneli

      • I’m glad to hear other languages have unknown strangeness like English. In my native Western US dialect (Wisconsin too) we commonly say ‘you betcha’ in place of ‘your welcome’. A Filipino friend of mine asked me the why we say that or what does it mean. I had never thought of it before and I still have no idea why we say that. It doesn’t even make sense.

  4. I recently ran across the Swedish name “Måårdh.” I understand how to pronounce the single “å” but what happens when you double it? What English sound would that rhyme with?

    • Hej! Oh, good question. Maybe a drawn out British ‘fraud’, or ‘flawed’? Just make it as long as you can. 🙂 Anneli

  5. Hi, I am a native speaker of Swedish, and I know the language. The translation for the Swedish tongue twister is actually:

    Fly, ugly fly, fly, and the ugly fly flew.

    It’s rather hard to turn into English, so I understand your mistake was easy to make. However, please be more precise next time.

  6. HiHAnneli Hi Anneli
    I’m looking for nice short word in the Swedish language with letter O & two dots above ,meaning : good , central, excellent, harmony & so one , any Idea ?
    I would love to hear your imput

  7. Hej!
    Stort tack for denna sida. Jag arbetar utomlands och min a utlandska kollegor har uppskattat den! Dessutom saknar min jobbdator svenska och nar jag har behovt skriva kortare texter med svenska vokaler har jag anvant copy-paste fran er sida (inte speciellt effektiv metod, men mycket uppskattad I brist pa annat!).

  8. Tydligen är det förenklat. “Ä” har två sätt att uttalas.
    Som “a” i “bag” på engelska: väl, är, även, äta, äga, skäl, själ …
    Som “ai” i “pair” på engelska: lägga, skägg, föräldrar, rätt …

  9. While your explanation of å,ö,ä are helpful, I don’t think you’ve covered the entire pronunciation problem. ”Ä” really has two – at least – pronunciations according to it’s environment. For instance, “jag är” can often be prononceras without its ”r” sound all together. Also, it can have the sound of long ”a” in English as in ”bay”, and there is a second pronunciation: ”eh” as in the English ”bet”. I’ve found no logical explanation of this this change which must be governed by the environment of the sentence. Double consonants following vowels can change their sound altogether. Is this a part of this sound change? If so, please explain which environment controls each pronunciation change.

    • Hej Dennis! I am just about to release some videos talking about this exact thing, the long and short vowel sounds. So stay tuned for more soon! /Anneli

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