A Guide to Icelandic Pronunciation Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Guide to Icelandic Pronunciation

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Iceland is a wonderful country to visit, but many tourists are baffled by the long Icelandic place names. In fact, Icelandic has a very simple phonetic pronunciation system, so you can learn to pronounce the language very quickly, even if you haven't a clue what you are saying. This is handy for saying the place names, if for nothing else.

Icelandic has three extra letters which do not exist in modern English, although they did more than a thousand years ago:

  • þ is called 'Thorn'.
  • ð is called 'Eth'. The upper case version is Ð.
  • æ is called 'Aye'.


There are seven vowels, a, e, i, o, u, y and æ. Five of these can take an acute accent (´), which changes the pronunciation, and o can have an umlaut (¨) over it.

aas in pat (as pronounced by natives of the North of England)
áow as in howl
eas in pet
ias in pit
íee as in peel
oas in pot
óas in pole
öuh sound as in German möbel or French meuble
uas in put
úas in pool
ýee as in feet
æi as in fight

Note that e is always pronounced, even at the end of a word.


The basic pronunciation of the letters, when not in a special combination:

b, d, f, k, l, m, n, p, t, v, xas in English
galways hard g as in get
hsounded as a separate letter, even after p.
jy sound as in yellow
rslightly trilled
sas in sit, not a z sound as in toys
þth as in thin
­ðth as in the
c, q, w and zThese letters do not exist in Icelandic, but are used in imported 'international' words, such as 'pizza'.

Special Combinations

While most letters are pronounced individually, there are a few combinations with special pronunciations:

hvas kv
flas pl
fnas p
llas tl
sjas sh in English
ngas nk at the end of a word, as ng in the middle
eyas a in pale
eias a in pale
auas o in pole

Some Examples

  • Ísland = Eess-land - the Icelandic for Iceland
  • Reykjavík = Rake-ya-veek - the capital
  • Snæfell = Snigh-fetl - Snow Mountain
  • Vatnajökull = Vatna-yuhktl - the big glacier that gives Iceland its name
  • Geysir = Gace-ir - the original Geyser
  • Þingvellir = Thing-vetlir - the site of the original Icelandic parliament
  • Eyjafjallajökull = Ay-ya-fyatla-yuhktl - that pesky volcano

Further Reading on Iceland

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