Swedish phonology

Swedish has a large vowel inventory, with nine vowels distinguished in quality and to some degree quantity, making 17 vowel phonemes in most dialects. Swedish pronunciation of most consonants is similar to that of other Germanic languages. Another notable feature is the pitch accent, which is unusual for European languages.

There are 18 consonant phonemes of which /ɧ/ and /r/ show considerable variation depending on both social and dialectal context.

Standard pronunciation[edit]

There is no uniform nationwide spoken Standard Swedish.[citation needed] Instead there are several regional standard varieties (acrolects or prestige dialects), i.e. the most intelligible or prestigious forms of spoken Swedish, each within its area.[citation needed]

The differences in the phonology of the various forms of prestigious Central Swedish can be considerable, although as a rule less marked than between localized dialects, including differences in prosody, vowel quality and assimilation. The differences between the various regional dialects may be compared with those of General American, Australian English and British Received Pronunciation.[citation needed]

In Sweden, the Central Swedish varieties often go under the name of rikssvenska ('National Swedish')


The vowel phonemes of Central Standard Swedish. From Engstrand (1999:140)
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close ɪ ʏ ʉː ʊ
Close-mid øː
Open-mid ɛ ɛː œ (ɵ) ɔ
Open a ɑː

Swedish has 9 vowels that, as in many other Germanic languages, exist in pairs of long and short versions.[1] The length covaries with the quality of the vowels, as shown in the table below (long vowels in the first column, short in the second), with short variants being more centered and lax.[1] Traditionally, length has been viewed as the primary distinction, with quality being secondary.[2] No short vowels appear in open stressed syllables.[3] The front vowels appear in rounded-unrounded pairs.

Vowel Example Vowel Example
ɛː ɛ
ɑː a
ʉː ɵ
øː œ
  • Central Standard Swedish /ʉː/ is near-close near-front [ʏː].[4] In other dialects it may be central.
  • /ɛ, œ, ɵ/ are mid [ɛ̝, œ̝, ɵ̞].[4]
  • /a/ has been variously described as central [ä][4] and front [a].[5]

Rounded vowels have two types of rounding:

  • /ɵ/, /ʉː/, /ʊ/ and /uː/ are compressed [ɘ̞ᵝ], [ɪᵝː], [ʊᵝ] and [ɯᵝː][6][7][8][9][10]
  • /ʏ/, /yː/, /œ/ and its pre-/r/ allophone [œ], /øː/ and its pre-/r/ allophone [œː], /ɔ/ and /oː/ are protruded [ɪʷ], [iʷː], [ɛ̝ʷ], [ɛʷ], [eʷː], [ɛʷː], [ʌʷ] and [ɤʷː].[6][7][10][11][12]

Type of rounding is the primary way of distinguishing /ʉː, ɵ/ from /yː, œ/, especially in Central Standard Swedish.

/ɛː/, /ɛ/ (in stressed syllables), /øː/ (with a few exceptions) and /œ/ are lowered to [æː], [æ], [œ̞ː] and [œ̞], respectively, when preceding /r/.[13][14][15]

The low allophones are becoming unmarked in younger speakers of Stockholm Swedish, so that läsa ('to read') and köpa ('to buy') are pronounced [²læːsa] and [²ɕœːpa] instead of standard [²lɛːsa] and [²ɕøːpa].[15] These speakers often also pronounce pre-rhotic /øː/ and /œ/ even lower, i.e. [ɶː] and [ɶ].[15] This is especially true for the long allophone.[15] Also, the [ɶː] allophone is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the long /ɑː/.[15]

In some pronunciations, traditionally characteristic of the varieties spoken around Gothenburg and in Östergötland, but today more common e.g. in Stockholm and especially in younger speakers, [œ] and [ɵ] merge into [œ]. Words like fördömande ('judging', pronounced [fœˈɖœmːandə] in Standard Swedish) and fördummande ('dumbing', pronounced [fœˈɖɵmːandə] in Standard Swedish) are then often pronounced similarly, if not identically.[16][17]

In Central Standard Swedish, unstressed /ɛ/ is slightly retracted [ɛ̠], but is still a front vowel rather central [ə]. However, the latter pronunciation is commonly found in Southern Swedish. Therefore, begå 'to commit' is pronounced [bɛ̠ˈɡoː] in Central Standard Swedish and [bəˈɡoː] in Southern Swedish. Before /r/, southerners may use a back vowel [ɔ]. In Central Standard Swedish, a true schwa [ə] is commonly found as a vocalic release of word-final lenis stops, as in e.g. bädd [ˈbɛdːə] 'bed'.[18]

In many central and eastern areas (including Stockholm), the contrast between short /ɛ/ and /e/ is lost,[19] except before /r/ when the subtle vowel distinction between the words herre 'master' and märr 'mare' is kept.[20] The loss of this contrast has the effect that hetta ('heat') and hätta ('cap') are pronounced the same.

In Central Standard Swedish, long /ɑː/ is weakly rounded [ɒ̜ː].[1][7][21] The rounding is stronger in Gothenburg and weaker in most North Swedish dialects.[21]

One of the varieties of /iː/ is made with a constriction that is more forward than it is usual. Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson describe this vowel as being pronounced "by slightly lowering the body of the tongue while simultaneously raising the blade of the tongue (...) Acoustically this pronunciation is characterized by having a very high F3, and an F2 which is lower than that in /eː/." They suggest that this may be the usual Stockholm pronunciation of /iː/.[22]

There is some variation in the interpretations of vowel length's phonemicity. Elert (1964),[23] for example, treats vowel quantity as its own separate phoneme (a "prosodeme") so that long and short vowels are allophones of a single vowel phoneme.

Patterns of diphthongs of long vowels occur in three major dialect groups. In Central Standard Swedish, the high vowels /iː/, /yː/, /ʉː/ and /uː/ can be phonetically a short vowel followed by the corresponding fricative[7] (also described as approximant)[24] [iʝ], [yɥ̝], [ʏβ̝] and [uw̝] or [ij], [yɥ], [ʏβ̞] and [uw].[7] The rounding of the fricative/approximant agrees with the rounding of the vowel, so that [ʝ] / [j] is unrounded, [ɥ̝] / [ɥ] is protruded,[24] more narrowly transcribed [ʝʷ] / [jʷ], and both [β̝] / [β̞] and [w̝] / [w] are compressed, more narrowly transcribed [β̝ᵝ] / [β̞ᵝ] and [ɣᵝ] / [ɰᵝ]. /eː/, /øː/ and /oː/ are often realized as centering diphthongs [eə̯], [øə̯] and [oə̯].

In Southern Swedish dialects, particularly in Scania and Blekinge, the diphthongs are preceded by a rising of the tongue from a central position so that /ʉː/ and /ɑː/ are realized as [eʉ] and [aɑ] respectively. A third type of distinctive diphthongs occur in the dialects of Gotland. The pattern of diphthongs is more complex than those of southern and eastern Sweden; /eː/, /øː/ and /ʉː/ tend to rise while and /ɛː/ and /oː/ fall; /uː/, /iː/, /yː/ and /ɑː/ are not diphthongized at all.[25]


The table below shows the Swedish consonant phonemes in spoken Standard Swedish.[26]

Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative f s ɕ ɧ h
Approximant v l j
Rhotic r

/t, l/ are dental [, ],[27] but /n, d, s/ can be either dental [, , ] or alveolar [n, d, s].[28] If /d/ is alveolar, then /n/ is also alveolar.[29] Dental realization of /n, d/ is the predominant one in Central Standard Swedish.[29]



Initial fortis stops (/p, t, k/) are aspirated in stressed position, but unaspirated when preceded by /s/ within the same morpheme.[30] Hence ko ('cow') is [kʰuː], but sko ('shoe') becomes [skuː]. Compare English [kʰuːɫ] ('cool') vs [skuːɫ] ('school'). Preaspiration of medial[31] and final fortis stops,[32] including the devoicing of preceding sonorants[33] is common,[34][35] though its length and normativity varies from dialect to dialect, being optional (and idiolectal[36]) in Central Standard Swedish but obligatory in, for example, the Swedish dialects of Gräsö,[37] Vemdalen and Arjeplog.[38] In Gräsö, preaspiration is blocked in certain environments (such as an /s/ following the fortis consonant[39] or a morpheme boundary between the vowel and the consonant[33]), while it is a general feature of fortis medial consonants in Central Standard Swedish.[33] When not preaspirated, medial and final fortis stops are simply unaspirated.[40] In clusters of fortis stops, the second "presonorant" stop is unaspirated and the former patterns with other medial final stops (that is, it is either unaspirated or is preaspirated.[41]

The phonetic attributes of preaspiration also vary. In the Swedish of Stockholm, preaspiration is often realized as a fricative subject to the character of surrounding vowels or consonants so that it may be labial, velar, or dental; it may also surface as extra length of the preceding vowel.[42] In the province of Härjedalen, though, it resembles [h] or [x].[42] The duration of preaspiration is highest in the dialects of Vemdalen and Arjeplog.[43] Helgason notes that preaspiration is longer after short vowels, in lexically stressed syllables, as well as in pre-pausal position.[31][44]



/s/ is dental [] in Central Standard Swedish,[45][46] but retracted alveolar [] in Blekinge,[47] Bohuslän,[47] Halland[47] and Scania.[47]

The Swedish fricatives /ɕ/ and /ɧ/ are often considered to be the most difficult aspects of Swedish pronunciation for foreign students. The combination of occasionally similar and rather unusual sounds as well as the large variety of partly overlapping allophones of /ɧ/ often presents difficulties for non-natives in telling the two apart. The existence of a third sibilant in the form of /s/ tends to confuse matters even more, and in some cases realizations that are labiodental can also be confused with /f/. In Finland Swedish, /ɕ/ is an affricate: [t͡ɕ] or [t͡ʃ].[20]

The Swedish phoneme /ɧ/ (the "sje-sound" or voiceless postalveolar-velar fricative) and its alleged coarticulation is a difficult and complex issue debated amongst phoneticians.[48] Though the acoustic properties of its [ɧ] allophones are fairly similar, the realizations can vary considerably according to geography, social status, age, gender as well as social context and are notoriously difficult to describe and transcribe accurately. Most common are various [ɧ]-like sounds, with [ʂ] occurring mainly in northern Sweden and [ɕ] in Finland. A voiceless uvular fricative, [χ], can sometimes be used in the varieties influenced by major immigrant languages like Arabic and Kurdish. The different realizations can be divided roughly into the following categories:[49]

  • "Dark sounds" – [ɧ] and [x], commonly used in the Southern Standard Swedish. Some of the varieties specific, but not exclusive, to areas with a larger immigrant population commonly realize the phoneme as a voiceless uvular fricative [χ].
  • "Light sounds" – [ʂ], used in the northern varieties and [ʃ], and [ɕ] (or something in between) in Finland Swedish.
  • Combination of "light" and "dark" – darker sounds are used as morpheme initials preceding stressed vowels (sjuk 'sick', station 'station'), while the lighter sounds are used before unstressed vowels and at the end of morphemes (bagage 'baggage', dusch 'shower').



/r/ has distinct variations in Standard Swedish. The realization as an alveolar trill occurs among most speakers only in contexts where emphatic stress is used. In Central Swedish, it is often pronounced as a fricative (transcribed as [ʐ])[50] or approximant (transcribed as [ɹ]),[7] which is especially frequent in weakly articulated positions such as word-finally[20] and somewhat less frequent in stressed syllable onsets, in particular after other consonants.[50] It may also be an apico-alveolar tap.[20] One of the most distinct features of the southern varieties is the uvular realization of /r/, which may be a trill [ʀ],[51] a fricative [ʁ] or an approximant [ʁ̞]. The last one is the standard realization of /r/ in Danish.[52]

Examples of retroflexion[53]
input output gloss
Inflection /før–t/ [fœ̞ːʈ] fört 'brought' sup
/før–s/ [fœ̞ːʂ] förs 'is brought' pass
Derivation /før–tal/ [fœ̞ˈʈʰɑːl] förtal 'slander'
/før–sɔrj/ [fœ̞ˈʂɔrj] försorg 'taking care'
Compounds /før–tʉr/ [²fœ̞ːʈʰʉ̟ːr] förtur 'priority'
/før–sal/ [²fœ̞ːˌʂɑːl] försal 'antechamber'
Across words /før tɵnː/ [fœ̞ˈʈʰɵnː] för tunn 'too thin'
/før sen/ [fœ̞ˈʂeːn] för sen 'too late'

In most varieties of Swedish that use an alveolar /r/ (in particular, the central and northern forms), the combination of /r/ with dental consonants (/t, d, n, l, s/) produces retroflex consonant realizations, a recursive sandhi process called "retroflexion".[54] Thus, /²kɑːrta/ ('map') is realized as [²kʰɑːʈa], /nuːrd/ ('north') as [nuːɖ], /ˈvɛːnern/ ('Vänern') as [ˈvɛːnəɳ], and /fɛrsk/ ('fresh') as [fæʂːk]. The combination of /r/ and /l/, does not uniformly cause retroflexion, so that it may also be pronounced with two separate consonants [rl], and even, occasionally in a few words and expressions, as a mere [l]. Thus sorl ('murmur') may be pronounced [soːɭ], but also [soːrl].[55]

In Gothenburg and neighbouring areas (such as Mölndal and Kungälv) the retroflex consonants are substituted by alveolar ones, with their effects still remaining. For example: /kvɑːrn/ is [kvɑːn] not [kvɑːɳ], /hoːrd/ is [hoːd], not [hoːɖ]. However, [rs], unlike what many other Swedes believe, is not [s] but [ʃ], i.e. /fεrs/ is [fεʃː], not [fεsː].[citation needed]

As the adjacent table shows, this process is not limited by word boundaries, though there is still some sensitivity to the type of boundary between the /r/ and the dental in that retroflexion is less likely with boundaries higher up in the prosodic hierarchy.[56] In the southern varieties, which use a uvular /r/,[57] retroflex realizations don't occur.[58] For example, /²kɑːrta/ ('map') is realized as [²kʰɑʁta], etc.[59] A double sequence /rr/ usually won't trigger retroflexion so that spärrnät ('anti-sub net') is pronounced [²spærːˌnɛːt].[60] The process of retroflexion is not limited to just one dental, and e.g. först is pronounced [fœ̞ʂʈ].[58]

Variations of /l/ are not as common, though some phonetic variation exists, such as a retroflex flap [ɽ] that exists as an allophone in proximity to a labial or velar consonant (e.g. glad, 'glad') or after most long vowels.[61]

In casual speech, the nasals tend to assimilate to the place of articulation of a following obstruent so that, for example, han kom ('he came') is pronounced [haŋ ˈkʰɔmː].[62]

/v/ and /j/ are pronounced with weak friction and function phonotactically with the sonorants.[58]

Stress and pitch[edit]

Map of the major tonal dialects of Norwegian and Swedish, from Riad (2014).
• Dark areas have a low tone in accent 2, whereas the light areas have a high tone in accent 2.
• The isogloss marks the boundary between connective and non-connective dialects. East and north of it, all of the compounds get accent 2, whereas west and south of the isogloss, compounds vary in accent.

As in English, there are many Swedish word pairs that are differentiated by stress:

  • formel [ˈfɔrːmɛl] — 'formula'
  • formell [fɔrˈmɛlː] — 'formal'

Stressed syllables differentiate two tones,[63] often described as pitch accents, or tonal word accents by Scandinavian linguists.[64] They are called acute and grave accent, tone/accent 1 and tone/accent 2, or Single Tone and Double Tone. The actual realizations of these two tones varies from dialect to dialect.[65] In the central Swedish dialect of Stockholm, accent 1 is an LHL contour and accent 2 is an HLHL contour (with the second peak in the second syllable).[66] Generally, the grave accent is characterized by a later timing of the intonational pitch rise as compared with the acute accent; the so-called two-peaked dialects (such as Central and Western Swedish) also have another, earlier pitch peak in the grave accent, hence the term "two-peaked".

The phonemicity of this tonal system is demonstrated in the nearly 300 pairs of two-syllable words differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent. Outside of these pairs, the main tendency for tone is that the acute accent appears in monosyllables (since the grave accent cannot appear in monosyllabic words) while the grave accent appears in polysyllabic words.[67] Polysyllabic forms resulting from declension or derivation also tend to have a grave accent except when it is the definite article that is added. This tonal distinction has been present in Scandinavian dialects at least since Old Norse though a greater number of polysyllables now have an acute accent. These are mostly words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, but have subsequently become disyllabic, as have many loanwords.[68] For example, Old Norse kømr ('comes') has become kommer in Swedish (with an acute accent).[67]

  • Acute accent: anden [ˈa᷇ndɛ̀n] or [ˈan˥˧dɛn˩] — 'the duck' (from and 'duck')

In Central Swedish, this is a high, slightly falling tone followed by a low tone; that is, a single drop from high to low pitch spread over two syllables.

  • Grave accent: anden [ˈa᷆ndɛ̂n] or [ˈan˧˩dɛn˥˩] — 'the spirit' (from ande 'spirit')

In Central Swedish, a mid falling tone followed by a high falling tone; that is, a double falling tone.

The exact realization of the tones also depends on the syllable's position in an utterance. For instance, at the beginning of an utterance, the acute accent may have a rising rather than slightly falling pitch on the first syllable. Also, these are word tones that are spread across the syllables of the word. In trisyllabic words with the grave accent, the second fall in pitch is distributed across the second and third syllables, with the result that the pitches are mid–low falling, high–mid falling, and low, respectively:[clarification needed]

  • Grave-accent trisyllable: flickorna [ˈflɪ᷆kːʊ᷇ɳà] or [ˈflɪ˧˩kːʊ˥˧ɳa˩] — 'the girls'

The position of the tone is dependent upon stress: The first stressed syllable has a high or falling tone, as does the following syllable(s) in grave-accented words.

In most Finland-Swedish varieties, however, the distinction between grave and acute accent is missing.

A reasonably complete list of uncontroversial so-called minimal pairs can be seen below.[69][circular reference] The two words in each pair are distinguished solely by having different tone (acute vs. grave). In those cases where both words are nouns it would have been possible to list the genitive forms of the words as well, thereby creating another word pair, but this has been avoided. A few word pairs where one of the words is a plural form with the suffix -or have been included. This is due to the fact that a vast majority of Swedish-speakers in all parts of Sweden pronounce the suffix -or the same way as -er.

Acute accent (accent I) Grave accent (accent II) Translation acute Translation grave
akter akter stern (of boat/ship) acts
almen allmän the elm public, general
A:na ana the A's suspect
anden anden the duck the spirit
backen backen the reverse gear, the crate the slope
balen balen the ball (dance event) the nest
ballen ballen the bulb (on horse) the dick (slang for penis)
B:na bena the B's parting (hair)
binder bindor binds sanitary towels
biten biten the piece bitten
boken boken the book overripe, spoilt (of fruit)
bona bona the nests polish
bonas bonas the nests' (genitive of 'bona') be polished (passive of 'bona')
borsten borsten the bristles the brush, the broom
brassen brassen the brace (sailing) the Brazilian
breven brevvän the letters pen pal
brister brister breaks (present tense of 'brista') flaws
brunnen brunnen the well burnt (past participle of 'brinna')
brynen brynen the edges (of for example forest) whetstones
brynet brynet the edge (of for example forest) the whetstone
buren buren the cage carried (past participle of 'bära')
busen busen the pranks the hooligan
dragen dragen the trolling spoons drawn (past participle of 'dra'), tipsy
draget draget the draught, the trolling spoon drawn (past participle of 'dra')
drivet drivet the speed, the energy drifted, driven (past participle of 'driva')
E:na ena the E's unite, unify
Enar enar male name junipers
fallen fallen the falls fallen (past participle of 'falla')
fallet fallet the fall fallen (past participle of 'falla')
fäster fester fastens parties
fisken fisken the fish acts of fishing
F:en FN the F's The UN
fonen fånen the phone (in phonetics) the idiot
fången fången the armfuls the prisoner
fånget fånget the armful caught (past particple of 'fånga')
fällen fällen the rug places where trees have been felled
fäller fällor fells, cuts down traps (plural of the noun 'fälla')
festen fästen the party, the feast places where something has been attached
fören fören the bow (on ship/boat) conditions of the ground for travelling (plural of 'före')
förut förut towards the bow (on ship/boat) before, earlier
gifter gifter marries poisons (plural of 'gift')
giftet giftet the poison the marriage
J:na gina the J's tackle (sailing), take a shortcut
given given the deal (in card games) given
ljusen gjusen the candles the osprey
gripen gripen the griffin grabbed, gripped (past participle of 'gripa')
gången gången the walkway gone (past participle of 'gå')
heden heden the heath heathen (adjective)
hinner hinnor has the time to do something coatings
huggen huggen the cuts (made with a heavy object like an axe) chopped (past participle of 'hugga')
hållen hållen the directions held (past participle of 'hålla')
hållet hållet the direction held (past participle of 'hålla')
H:na håna the H's mock, taunt
högre högre higher the man to the right (as in 'den högre')
iden iden the ide bears' dens for hibernation
I:na Ina the I's female name
inför inför ahead of, in front of introduces, introduce (present tense or imperative of 'införa')
ljuden juden the sounds the Jew
karaten karaten the carat the karate
katten katten the cat a profanity (as in for example 'Katten också!')
knallen knallen the bang the small hill, the pedlar
knuten knuten the knot tied (past participle of 'knyta')
kubben kubben the bowler hat the chopping block (for wood)
kullen kullen the litter (group of newborn animals) the hill
kåren kåren the corps the breeze
laven laven the lichen the headframe
leder leder leads (present tense of 'leda') joints (anatomy)
lumpen lumpen the military service contemptible, lousy
malen malen the moth ground, milled (past participle of 'mala')
mjölken mjölken the milk the fish seed
modet modet the courage the fashion
moppen moppen the mop the moped
namnen namnen the names the namesake
normen norrmän the norm Norwegians
nubben nubben the tack the shot (alcohol)
nyper nypor pinches (present tense of 'nypa') Grips made with the thumb against one or more of the other fingers (plural noun)
Oden oden name of a Norse God odes
oret orätt the mite injustice
packen packen the rabble (definite plural of 'pack') the bale
pajas pajas clown be destroyed (passive of 'paja')
panter panter panther deposits
perser pärser Persians ordeals
Polen pålen Poland the pole (thick wooden stick)
pollen pållen pollen the horsey
radar radar radar present tense of 'rada', as in 'rada upp' (=list something)
raster raster grid breaks (in school or at a workplace, i.e. for example coffee breaks)
regel regel rule latch
reser resor travels (present tense of 'resa') journeys, trips
rivet rivet the melee, the fighting torn
roller roller cylinder that rotates and is used for painting roles
ruter rutor diamonds (in card games) squares, (window) panes
rutten rutten the route rotten
rågen rågen the rye the overmeasure
råna råna the nymphs rob
räcken räcken the horizontal bars (gymnastics) railings
räcket räcket the horizontal bar (gymnastics) the railing
ränner rännor runs chutes
sabbat sabbat sabbath destroyed, sabotaged (past participle of 'sabba')
ceder seder cedar customs (traditions)
C:na sena the C's late (plural of 'sen'), sinew
cider sidor cider pages
sikten sikten the view sights (on rifles, plural of 'sikte')
skallen skallen the barks (dog sounds) the skull
skeden skeden the spoon stages (of time)
skiftet skiftet the shift the change
skiften skiften the shifts changes
skjuten skjuten the ejaculations shot (past participle of 'skjuta')
skjutet skjutet the speed, the ejaculation shot (past participle of 'skjuta')
skotten skotten the shots the Scotsman
skuren skuren the (rain) shower cut (past participle of 'skära')
skytten skytten the gunner acts of shooting
slagen slagen the battles, the hits beaten
slaget slaget the battle, the hit beaten
slitet slitet the toil worn
sluten sluten the ends closed (past participle of 'sluta')
slutet slutet the end closed (past participle of 'sluta')
släkten släkten the (extended) family genera (biology)
snuten snuten the cop past participle of 'snyta' (=blow one's nose)
zoona sona the zoos expiate
spaden spaden the stocks (cooking) the spade
spana spana the spas watch, observe, search
spricker sprickor bursts, cracks (present tense of the verb 'spricka') cracks (plural of the noun 'spricka')
stegen stegen the steps the ladder
strider strider fights (present tense of 'strida') fights, battles (plural of the noun 'strid')
stråken stråken the moving patches/bands (of something) the bow (for a violin)
stubben stubben the stubble the tree stump
ställen ställen the racks places (locations)
stället stället the rack the place
sugen sugen the sucking device sucked (past participle of 'suga'), in the mood for something
suget suget the urge sucked (past participle of 'suga'), in the mood for something
säden säden the seed, the grain things intended for sowing (plural of 'säde')
cellen sällen the cell the brute
tagen tagen the grips taken
taget taget the grip taken
tanken tanken the tank the thought
toner toner toner tones
traven traven the trot the pile, the stack
tomten tomten the plot (of land) Santa Claus, the gnome
tummen tummen the inch the thumb
tecken täcken sign bed covers
udden udden the point, the cusp the headland
uppför uppför uphill present tense or imperative of 'uppföra' (=set up a theatre play, behave)
utför utför downhill present tense or imperative of 'utföra' (=carry out)
vaken vaken the hole in the ice awake
valen valen the whale stiff, numb
vanten vanten the shrouds (sailing) the mitten
vasen vasen the vase the bundle of brushwood
viken viken the bay folded (past participle of 'vika')
viner viner makes a whistling sound (of for example wind) wines
vreden vreden the knobs the rage, the wrath
värden/världen värden the host/the world values
Oskar åskar male name present tense of 'åska' (=thunder)
ören ören the gravel pennies (plural of the monetary unit 'öre' used when no numeral immediately precedes the word)
öret öret the gravel the penny (1/100 of a Swedish krona)

Note that karaten/karaten is the only pair with more than two syllables (although we would get a second one if we used the definite forms of the pair perser/pärser, i.e. perserna/pärserna). The word pair länder (=countries, plural of land) and länder (=loins, plural of länd) could have been included, but this one is controversial.[70][circular reference] For those speakers who have grave accent in the plural of länd, the definite plural forms will also constitute a three-syllable minimal pair: länderna (acute accent, =the countries) vs. länderna (grave accent, =the loins). Although examples with more than two syllables are very few in Standard Swedish, it is possible to find other three-syllable pairs in regional dialects, such as Värmländska: hunnera (acute, =the Huns) vs. hunnera (grave, =the dogs), ändera/ännera (acute, =the ducks) vs. ändera/ännera (grave, =the ends), etc.

Prosody in Swedish often varies substantially between different dialects including the spoken varieties of Standard Swedish. As in most languages, stress can be applied to emphasize certain words in a sentence. To some degree prosody may indicate questions, although less so than in English.


At a minimum, a syllable must consist of either a long vowel or a short vowel and a long consonant.[71] Like many other Germanic languages, Swedish has a tendency for closed syllables with a relatively large number of consonant clusters in initial as well as final position. Though not as complex as that of most Slavic languages, examples of up to 7 consecutive consonants can occur when adding Swedish inflections to some foreign loanwords or names, and especially when combined with the tendency of Swedish to make long compound nouns. The syllable structure of Swedish can therefore be described with the following formula:


This means that a Swedish one-syllable morpheme can have up to three consonants preceding the vowel that forms the nucleus of the syllable, and three consonants following it. Examples: skrämts [skrɛmːts] (verb 'scare' past participle, passive voice) or sprängts [sprɛŋːts] (verb 'explode' past participle, passive voice). All but one of the consonant phonemes, /ŋ/, can occur at the beginning of a morpheme, though there are only 6 possible three-consonant combinations, all of which begin with /s/, and a total of 31 initial two-consonant combinations. All consonants except for /h/ and /ɕ/ can occur finally, and the total number of possible final two-consonant clusters is 62.

In some cases this can result in near-unpronounceable combinations, such as in västkustskt /²vɛstkɵstskt/, consisting of västkust ('west coast') with the adjective suffix -sk and the neuter suffix -t.[72]

Central Standard Swedish and most other Swedish dialects feature a rare "complementary quantity" feature[73] wherein a phonologically short consonant follows a long vowel and a long consonant follows a short vowel; this is true only for stressed syllables and all segments are short in unstressed syllables.[34][74] This arose from the historical shift away from a system with a four-way contrast (that is, VːCː, VC, VːC and VCː were all possible) inherited from Proto-Germanic to a three-way one (VC, VːC and VCː), and finally the present two-way one; certain Swedish dialects have not undergone these shifts and exhibit one of the other two phonotactic systems instead.[75] In literature on Swedish phonology, there are a number of ways to transcribe complementary relationship, including:[76]

  • A length mark ː for either the vowel (/viːt/),[77] the consonant (/vitː/),[78] or both.
  • Gemination of the consonant (/vit/ vs. /vitt/)
  • Diphthongization of the vowel (/vijt/ vs. /vit/)
  • The position of the stress marker (/viˈt/ vs. /vitˈ/)

With the conventional assumption that medial long consonants are ambisyllabic (that is, penna, 'pen', is syllabified as [²pɛn.na]), all stressed syllables are thus "heavy".[79] In unstressed syllables, the distinction is lost between /u/ and /o/ or between /e/ /ɛ/.[20] With each successive post-stress syllable, the number of contrasting vowels decreases gradually with distance from the point of stress; at three syllables from stress, only [a] and [ə] occur.[72]


The sample text is a reading of The North Wind and the Sun. The transcriptions are based on the section on Swedish found in The Handbook on the International Phonetic Association. The broad transcription is phonemic while the narrow is phonetic.

Broad transcription[edit]

/nuːrdanvɪndɛn ɔ suːlɛn tvɪstadɛ ɛn ɡoŋ ɔm vɛm ɑv dɔm sɔm vɑr starkast || jɵst do kɔm ɛn vandrarɛ vɛːɡɛn fram ɪnsveːpt ɪ ɛn varm kapa || dɔm kɔm doː øvɛrɛns ɔm at dɛn sɔm fœrst kɵndɛ fo vandrarɛn at ta ɑv sɛj kapan | han skɵlɛ anseːs vɑra starkarɛ ɛn dɛn andra || doː bloːstɛ nuːrdanvɪndɛn sɔ hoːrt han nɔnsɪn kɵndɛ | mɛn jʉ hoːrdarɛ han bloːstɛ dɛstʊ tɛːtarɛ sveːptɛ vandrarɛn kapan ɔm sɛj | ɔ tɪ slʉːt ɡɑv nuːrdanvɪndɛn ɵp fœrsøːkɛt || doː lɛːt suːlɛn sɪna stroːlar ɧiːna helt varmt ɔ jènast tuːɡ vandrarɛn ɑv sɛj kapan ɔ so vɑ nuːrdanvɪndɛn tvɵŋɛn atː eːrɕɛna at suːlɛn vɑː dɛn stàrkastɛ ɑv dɔm tvoː/

Narrow transcription[edit]

[ˈnuːɖaɱˌvɪnːdən ɔ ˈsuːlən ˈtv̥ɪsːtadə ɛŋ ɡɔŋː ɔɱ ˈvɛmˑ ɑˑv ˈdɔmˑ sɔɱ vɑː ˈstaɹːkʲast || ˈjɵst ˈd̥oː ˈkʰɔm ɛɱ ˈvanːdɾaɾə ˈvɛːɡəɱ fɾamˑ ˈɪnːˌsv̥eə̯pt iˑ ɛɱ vaɹˑm ˈkʲʰapːa || dɔm kʰɔm ˈdoː øə̯vəˈɾɛnːs ˈɔmˑ at d̥ɛnˑ sɔmˑ fɵʂˑʈ kʰɵndə fo ˈvanˑdɹaɹən at tʰɑː ˈɑːv sɛj ˈkʲʰapːan | hanˑ skɵlːə ˈanˑˌseːs ˈvɑ ˈstarːkʲaɾə ɛn dɛn ˈanˑdɾa || doː ˈbloə̯stə ˈnuwɖaɱˌvɪnˑdən soː hoə̯ʈ han ˈnɔnˑsɪn ˈkʰɵnːdə | mɛn jɵ ˈhoːɖaɾə ham ˈbloə̯stə dɛstʊ ˈtʰɛːtaɾə ˈsv̥eə̯ptə ˈvanˑdɹaɹəŋ ˈkʲʰapːan ˈɔmˑ sɛj | ɔ tɪ slʏ̹ːt ɡɑːv ˈnuːɖaɱˌvɪnˑdən ɵpː fœ̞ˈʂøə̯kət || doː lɛːt ˈsuːlən sɪna ˈstɾoːlaɹ ˈɧiːna heːlt vaɹːmt ɔ ˈʝeːnast tʰuːɡ ˈvanˑdɹ̝aɹən ˈɑːv sɛj ˈkʲʰapːan ɔ soː vɑ ˈnuːɖaɱˌvɪnˑdən ˈtv̥ɵŋːːən at ˈeːɹˌɕɛnːa atˑ ˈsuːləɱ vɑː ɖɛn ˈstaɹːkʲastə ɑːv dɔmˑ tv̥oə̯]

Orthographic version[edit]

Nordanvinden och solen tvistade en gång om vem av dem som var starkast. Just då kom en vandrare vägen fram insvept i en varm kappa. De kom då överens om att den som först kunde få vandraren att ta av sig kappan, han skulle anses vara starkare än den andra. Då blåste nordanvinden så hårt han nånsin kunde, men ju hårdare han blåste desto tätare svepte vandraren kappan om sig, och till slut gav nordanvinden upp försöket. Då lät solen sina strålar skina helt varmt och genast tog vandraren av sig kappan och så var nordanvinden tvungen att erkänna att solen var den starkaste av de två.


  1. ^ a b c Andersson (2002:272)
  2. ^ Schaeffler (2005:26), citing Elert (1964), Gårding (1974), and Bannert (1976)
  3. ^ Schaeffler (2005:7–8)
  4. ^ a b c Engstrand (1999:140)
  5. ^ Thorén & Petterson (1992:15)
  6. ^ a b Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:295–296)
  7. ^ a b c d e f Engstrand (1999:141)
  8. ^ Elmquist (1915:31)
  9. ^ Thorén & Petterson (1992:11–12, 14–15 and 17–18)
  10. ^ a b Riad (2014:27)
  11. ^ Elmquist (1915:33)
  12. ^ Thorén & Petterson (1992:8–11, 13–14 and 16–17)
  13. ^ Eliasson (1986:273)
  14. ^ Thorén & Petterson (1992:13–15)
  15. ^ a b c d e Riad (2014:38)
  16. ^ Engstrand (2004:115–116)
  17. ^ Riad (2014:29 and 38–39)
  18. ^ Riad (2014:22, 48–49)
  19. ^ Fant (1983:2)
  20. ^ a b c d e Andersson (2002:273)
  21. ^ a b Riad (2014:35–36)
  22. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:292). The symbols "i" and "e" used in the original citation were changed to /iː/ and /eː/ to keep this article consistent.
  23. ^ cited in Schaeffler (2005:8)
  24. ^ a b McAllister, Lubker & Carlson (1974), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:295)
  25. ^ Elert (2000:38–43)
  26. ^ Table adapted from Engstrand (2004:167)
  27. ^ Riad (2014:46 and 67)
  28. ^ Riad (2014:46 and 58)
  29. ^ a b Riad (2014:46)
  30. ^ Engstrand (1999:141)
  31. ^ a b Helgason (1998:53)
  32. ^ Ringen & Helgason (2004:56)
  33. ^ a b c Helgason (1999a:80)
  34. ^ a b Tronnier (2002:33)
  35. ^ Helgason (1999b:1851)
  36. ^ Helgason (1999b:1854)
  37. ^ Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002:703), citing Helgason (1999a)
  38. ^ Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002:706)
  39. ^ Helgason (1999b:1853)
  40. ^ Ringen & Helgason (2004:59)
  41. ^ Petrova et al. (2006:20), citing Ringen & Helgason (2004)
  42. ^ a b Liberman (1978:64ff)
  43. ^ Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002:704)
  44. ^ Helgason (1999b:1852–1853)
  45. ^ Engstrand (1999:140–141)
  46. ^ Engstrand (2004:167)
  47. ^ a b c d Adams (1975:289)
  48. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:171–172, 329–330)
  49. ^ Garlén (1988:71–72)
  50. ^ a b Elert, Claes-Christian. 1998. Allmän och svensk fonetik
  51. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:225–226)
  52. ^ Grønnum (1998:100)
  53. ^ Table modified from Hamann (2003:84), citing Eliasson (1986).
  54. ^ Eliasson (1986:278–279). "postalveolarization" and "supradentalization" are also common terms.
  55. ^ Eliasson (1986:279)
  56. ^ Hamann (2003:84) citing Eliasson (1986:282)
  57. ^ Those south of Kalmar, Jönköping and Falkenberg; a little north of these cities, a uvular rhotic appears in initial position and as a long consonant ((Andersson 2002:273))
  58. ^ a b c Andersson (2002:274)
  59. ^ Garlén (1988:73–74)
  60. ^ Eliasson (1986:281)
  61. ^ Andersson (2002:273–274)
  62. ^ Eliasson (1986:276)
  63. ^ Schaeffler (2005:4)
  64. ^ Thorén (1997)
  65. ^ Liberman (1982:3)
  66. ^ Tomas Riad "Scandinavian accent typology". Sprachtypol. Univ. Forsch. (STUF), Berlin 59 (2006) 1, 36–55; pp. 38–9.
  67. ^ a b Liberman (1982:13)
  68. ^ Engstrand (2004:186–190)
  69. ^ Translated from a Swedish-only Wikipedia article
  70. ^ From the Discussion section of the Swedish article
  71. ^ Schaeffler (2005:7)
  72. ^ a b Garlén (1988:101–114)
  73. ^ Schaeffler (2005:9)
  74. ^ Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002:703)
  75. ^ Schaeffler (2005:39)
  76. ^ Schaeffler (2005:8), citing Elert (1964)
  77. ^ for example, Elert (1964:43)
  78. ^ for example, Eliasson & La Pelle (1973) and Riad (1992)
  79. ^ Schaeffler (2005:8)


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  • Helgason, Pétur (1999a), "Preaspiration and sonorant devoicing in the Gräsö dialect: preliminary findings.", Proceedings of the Swedish Phonetics Conference 1999, Gothenburg Papers in Theoretical Linguistics, Göteborg University, pp. 77–80
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  • Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Bolander, Maria (2001), Funktionell svensk grammatik (1st ed.), Liber AB, ISBN 9789147050543
  • Dahlstedt, Karl-Hampus (1967), Svårigheter i svenskans uttal, Modersmålslärarnas förening
  • Garlén, Claes (2003), Svenska Spraknamndens Uttalsordbok, Svenska Spraknamnden, ISBN 978-9172273092
  • Hedelin, Per (1997), Norstedts Svenska Uttalslexikon, Norstedts Ordbok, ISBN 9789119711229
  • Lundskær-Nielsen, Tom; Barnes, Michael; Lindskog, Annika (2005), Introduction to Scandinavian phonetics: Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, Alfabeta, ISBN 978-8763600095
  • Rosenqvist, Håkan (2007), Uttalsboken: svenskt uttal i praktik och teori, Stockholm: Natur & Kultur, ISBN 978-91-27-40645-2
  • Torp, Arne (2001), "Retroflex consonants and dorsal /r/: mutually excluding innovations? On the diffusion of dorsal /r/ in Scandinavian", in van de Velde, Hans; van Hout, Roeland (eds.), 'r-atics, Brussels: Etudes & Travaux, pp. 75–90, ISSN 0777-3692

External links[edit]