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

There is no uniform nationwide spoken Standard Swedish. 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.

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.

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


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]

  • ära /ˇɛːra/[ˇæːra]; ('honor') listen 
  • ärt: /ˈɛrt/[ˈæʈː] ('pea') listen 
  • öra /ˇøːra/[ˇœːra]; ('ear') listen 
  • dörr: /ˈdœr/[ˈdœrː] ('door') listen 

The low allophones are becoming unmarked in younger speakers of Stockholm Swedish, so that läsa ('to read') and köpa ('to buy') are pronounced [ˇlæːsa] and [ˇɕœːpa] instead of standard [ˇlɛːsa] and [ˇɕøːpa].[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 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 [t̪, ],[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]


Phoneme Example

Initial fortis stops (/p, t, k/) are aspirated in stressed position, but unaspirated when preceded by /s/ within the same morpheme.[7] Hence ko ('cow') is [kʰuː], but sko ('shoe') becomes [skuː]. Compare English [kʰuːɫ] ('cool') vs [skuːɫ] ('school'). In Finland Swedish, aspiration does not occur and initial lenis stops /b, d, ɡ/ are usually voiced throughout.[20][30] Word-medial lenis stops are sometimes voiceless in Finland, a likely influence from Finnish.[30]

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]


Phoneme Example

/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 sh-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" – [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').


Phoneme Example

/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]. In Finland, /r/ is usually an apical trill [r], and may be an approximant [ɹ] postvocalically.[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/ [ˇfœ̞ːʈʰʉ̟ːr] förtur 'priority'
/før–sal/ [ˇfœ̞ːʂɑːl] 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][55] Thus, /ˇkɑːrta/ ('map') is realized as [ˇkʰɑːʈa], /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].[56]

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].

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.[57] In the southern varieties, which use a uvular /r/,[58] retroflex realizations do not occur.[59] For example, /ˇkɑːrta/ ('map') is realized as [ˇkʰɑʁta], etc.[60] A double sequence /rr/ usually will not trigger retroflexion so that spärrnät ('anti-sub net') is pronounced [ˇspærːnɛːt].[61] The process of retroflexion is not limited to just one dental, and e.g. först is pronounced [fœ̞ʂʈ].[59] Retroflexion also does not usually occur in Finland.[62][63]

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.[64]

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].[65]

/v/ and /j/ are pronounced with weak friction and function phonotactically with the sonorants.[59]

Stress and pitch

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,[66] often described as pitch accents, or tonal word accents by Scandinavian linguists.[67] 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.[68] 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).[69] 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.[70] 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.[71] For example, Old Norse kømr ('comes') has become kommer in Swedish (with an acute accent).[70]

The distinction can be shown with the minimal pair anden 'the duck' (tone 1) and anden 'the spirit' (tone 2). Here a simple accent mark, {{IPA|̍/}/}, will be used to indicate tone 1, and an old tone mark, /ˇ/ (once specified for this purpose), will be placed before the first tonic syllable for tone 2.

  • Acute accent: /ˈanden/ (realized [ˈa᷇ndɛ̀n] = [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: /ˇanden/ (realized [ˈa᷆ndɛ̂n] = [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:

  • Grave-accent trisyllable: flickorna /ˇflɪkːʊɳa/ (realized [ˈflɪ᷆kːʊ᷇ɳà] = [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.[72] 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 acuteTranslation grave
akterakterstern (of boat/ship)acts
almenallmänthe elmpublic, general
A:naanathe A'ssuspect
andenandenthe duckthe spirit
backenbackenthe reverse gear, the cratethe slope
balenbalenthe ball (dance event)the nest
ballenballenthe bulb (on horse)the dick (slang for penis)
B:nabenathe B'sparting (hair)
binderbindorbindssanitary towels
bitenbitenthe piecebitten
bokenbokenthe bookoverripe, spoilt (of fruit)
bonabonathe nestspolish
bonasbonasthe nests' (genitive of 'bona')be polished (passive of 'bona')
borstenborstenthe bristlesthe brush, the broom
brassenbrassenthe brace (sailing)the Brazilian
brevenbrevvänthe letterspen pal
bristerbristerbreaks (present tense of 'brista')flaws
brunnenbrunnenthe wellburnt (past participle of 'brinna')
brynenbrynenthe edges (of for example forest)whetstones
brynetbrynetthe edge (of for example forest)the whetstone
burenburenthe cagecarried (past participle of 'bära')
busenbusenthe pranksthe hooligan
dragendragenthe trolling spoonsdrawn (past participle of 'dra'), tipsy
dragetdragetthe draught, the trolling spoondrawn (past participle of 'dra')
drivetdrivetthe speed, the energydrifted, driven (past participle of 'driva')
E:naenathe E'sunite, unify
Enarenarmale namejunipers
fallenfallenthe fallsfallen (past participle of 'falla')
falletfalletthe fallfallen (past participle of 'falla')
fiskenfiskenthe fishacts of fishing
F:enFNthe F'sThe UN
fonenfånenthe phone (in phonetics)the idiot
fångenfångenthe armfulsthe prisoner
fångetfångetthe armfulcaught (past particple of 'fånga')
fällenfällenthe rugplaces where trees have been felled
fällerfällorfells, cuts downtraps (plural of the noun 'fälla')
festenfästenthe party, the feastplaces where something has been attached
förenförenthe bow (on ship/boat)conditions of the ground for travelling (plural of 'före')
förutföruttowards the bow (on ship/boat)before, earlier
giftergiftermarriespoisons (plural of 'gift')
giftetgiftetthe poisonthe marriage
J:naginathe J'stackle (sailing), take a shortcut
givengiventhe deal (in card games)given
ljusengjusenthe candlesthe osprey
gripengripenthe griffingrabbed, gripped (past participle of 'gripa')
gångengångenthe walkwaygone (past participle of 'gå')
hedenhedenthe heathheathen (adjective)
hinnerhinnorhas the time to do somethingcoatings
huggenhuggenthe cuts (made with a heavy object like an axe)chopped (past participle of 'hugga')
hållenhållenthe directionsheld (past participle of 'hålla')
hållethålletthe directionheld (past participle of 'hålla')
H:nahånathe H'smock, taunt
högrehögrehigherthe man to the right (as in 'den högre')
idenidenthe idebears' dens for hibernation
I:naInathe I'sfemale name
införinförahead of, in front ofintroduces, introduce (present tense or imperative of 'införa')
ljudenjudenthe soundsthe Jew
karatenkaratenthe caratthe karate
kattenkattenthe cata profanity (as in for example 'Katten också!')
knallenknallenthe bangthe small hill, the pedlar
knutenknutenthe knottied (past participle of 'knyta')
kubbenkubbenthe bowler hatthe chopping block (for wood)
kullenkullenthe litter (group of newborn animals)the hill
kårenkårenthe corpsthe breeze
lavenlaventhe lichenthe headframe
lederlederleads (present tense of 'leda')joints (anatomy)
lumpenlumpenthe military servicecontemptible, lousy
malenmalenthe mothground, milled (past participle of 'mala')
mjölkenmjölkenthe milkthe fish seed
modetmodetthe couragethe fashion
moppenmoppenthe mopthe moped
namnennamnenthe namesthe namesake
normennorrmänthe normNorwegians
nubbennubbenthe tackthe shot (alcohol)
nypernyporpinches (present tense of 'nypa')Grips made with the thumb against one or more of the other fingers (plural noun)
Odenodenname of a Norse Gododes
oretorättthe miteinjustice
packenpackenthe rabble (definite plural of 'pack')the bale
pajaspajasclownbe destroyed (passive of 'paja')
PolenpålenPolandthe pole (thick wooden stick)
pollenpållenpollenthe horsey
radarradarradarpresent tense of 'rada', as in 'rada upp' (=list something)
rasterrastergridbreaks (in school or at a workplace, i.e. for example coffee breaks)
reserresortravels (present tense of 'resa')journeys, trips
rivetrivetthe melee, the fightingtorn
rollerrollercylinder that rotates and is used for paintingroles
ruterrutordiamonds (in card games)squares, (window) panes
ruttenruttenthe routerotten
rågenrågenthe ryethe overmeasure
rånarånathe nymphsrob
räckenräckenthe horizontal bars (gymnastics)railings
räcketräcketthe horizontal bar (gymnastics)the railing
sabbatsabbatsabbathdestroyed, sabotaged (past participle of 'sabba')
cedersedercedarcustoms (traditions)
C:nasenathe C'slate (plural of 'sen'), sinew
siktensiktenthe viewsights (on rifles, plural of 'sikte')
skallenskallenthe barks (dog sounds)the skull
skedenskedenthe spoonstages (of time)
skiftetskiftetthe shiftthe change
skiftenskiftenthe shiftschanges
skjutenskjutenthe ejaculationsshot (past participle of 'skjuta')
skjutetskjutetthe speed, the ejaculationshot (past participle of 'skjuta')
skottenskottenthe shotsthe Scotsman
skurenskurenthe (rain) showercut (past participle of 'skära')
skyttenskyttenthe gunneracts of shooting
slagenslagenthe battles, the hitsbeaten
slagetslagetthe battle, the hitbeaten
slitetslitetthe toilworn
slutenslutenthe endsclosed (past participle of 'sluta')
slutetslutetthe endclosed (past participle of 'sluta')
släktensläktenthe (extended) familygenera (biology)
snutensnutenthe coppast participle of 'snyta' (=blow one's nose)
zoonasonathe zoosexpiate
spadenspadenthe stocks (cooking)the spade
spanaspanathe spaswatch, observe, search
sprickersprickorbursts, cracks (present tense of the verb 'spricka')cracks (plural of the noun 'spricka')
stegenstegenthe stepsthe ladder
striderstriderfights (present tense of 'strida')fights, battles (plural of the noun 'strid')
stråkenstråkenthe moving patches/bands (of something)the bow (for a violin)
stubbenstubbenthe stubblethe tree stump
ställenställenthe racksplaces (locations)
ställetställetthe rackthe place
sugensugenthe sucking devicesucked (past participle of 'suga'), in the mood for something
sugetsugetthe urgesucked (past participle of 'suga'), in the mood for something
sädensädenthe seed, the grainthings intended for sowing (plural of 'säde')
cellensällenthe cellthe brute
tagentagenthe gripstaken
tagettagetthe griptaken
tankentankenthe tankthe thought
toner toner toner tones
traventraventhe trotthe pile, the stack
tomtentomtenthe plot (of land)Santa Claus, the gnome
tummentummenthe inchthe thumb
teckentäckensignbed covers
uddenuddenthe point, the cuspthe headland
uppföruppföruphillpresent tense or imperative of 'uppföra' (=set up a theatre play, behave)
utförutfördownhillpresent tense or imperative of 'utföra' (=carry out)
vakenvakenthe hole in the iceawake
valenvalenthe whalestiff, numb
vantenvantenthe shrouds (sailing)the mitten
vasenvasenthe vasethe bundle of brushwood
viken viken the bay folded (past participle of 'vika')
vinervinermakes a whistling sound (of for example wind)wines
vredenvredenthe knobsthe rage, the wrath
värden/världenvärdenthe host/the worldvalues
Oskaråskarmale namepresent tense of 'åska' (=thunder)
örenörenthe gravelpennies (plural of the monetary unit 'öre' used when no numeral immediately precedes the word)
öretöretthe gravelthe 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.[73] 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 stressed syllable must consist of either a long vowel or a short vowel and a long consonant.[74] 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 /ˇvɛstkɵstskt/, consisting of västkust ('west coast') with the adjective suffix -sk and the neuter suffix -t.[75]

Central Standard Swedish and most other Swedish dialects feature a rare "complementary quantity" feature[76] 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][37] 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.[77] In literature on Swedish phonology, there are a number of ways to transcribe complementary relationship, including:[78]

  • A length mark ː for either the vowel (/viːt/),[79] the consonant (/vitː/),[80] 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 [ˇpɛn.na]), all stressed syllables are thus "heavy".[78] 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.[75]


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

/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

[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

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. Andersson (2002), p. 272.
  2. Schaeffler (2005), p. 26; citing Elert (1964), Gårding (1974), and Bannert (1976).
  3. Schaeffler (2005), pp. 7–8.
  4. Engstrand (1999), p. 140.
  5. Thorén & Petterson (1992), p. 15.
  6. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 295–6.
  7. Engstrand (1999), p. 141.
  8. Elmquist (1915), p. 31.
  9. Thorén & Petterson (1992), pp. 11–2, 14–5, 17–8.
  10. Riad (2014), p. 27.
  11. Elmquist (1915), p. 33.
  12. Thorén & Petterson (1992), pp. 8–11, 13–4, 16–7.
  13. Eliasson (1986), p. 273.
  14. Thorén & Petterson (1992), pp. 13–5.
  15. Riad (2014), p. 38.
  16. Engstrand (2004), pp. 115–6.
  17. Riad (2014), pp. 29, 38–9.
  18. Riad (2014), pp. 22, 48–9.
  19. Fant (1983), p. 2.
  20. Andersson (2002), p. 273.
  21. Riad (2014), pp. 35–6.
  22. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 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, p. 8).
  24. McAllister, Lubker & Carlson (1974); cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996, p. 295).
  25. Elert (2000), pp. 38–43.
  26. Table adapted from Engstrand (2004, p. 167).
  27. Riad (2014), pp. 46, 67.
  28. Riad (2014), pp. 46, 58.
  29. Riad (2014), p. 46.
  30. Ringen & Suomi (2012).
  31. Helgason (1998), p. 53.
  32. Ringen & Helgason (2004), p. 56.
  33. Helgason (1999a), p. 80.
  34. Tronnier (2002), p. 33.
  35. Helgason (1999b), p. 1851.
  36. Helgason (1999b), p. 1854.
  37. Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002), p. 703; citing Helgason (1999a).
  38. Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002), p. 706.
  39. Helgason (1999b), p. 1853.
  40. Ringen & Helgason (2004), p. 59.
  41. Petrova et al. (2006), p. 20; citing Ringen & Helgason (2004).
  42. Liberman (1978), pp. 64ff.
  43. Wretling, Strangert & Schaeffler (2002), p. 704.
  44. Helgason (1999b), pp. 1852–3.
  45. Engstrand (1999), pp. 140–1.
  46. Engstrand (2004), p. 167.
  47. Adams (1975), p. 289.
  48. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 171–2, 329–30.
  49. Garlén (1988), pp. 71–2.
  50. Elert (2000).
  51. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 225–6.
  52. Riad (2014), pp. 68, 75.
  53. Table modified from Hamann (2003, p. 84), citing Eliasson (1986).
  54. Eliasson (1986), pp. 278–9.
  55. "Postalveolarization" and "supradentalization" are also common terms.
  56. Eliasson (1986), p. 279.
  57. Hamann (2003), p. 84; citing Eliasson (1986, p. 282).
  58. 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, p. 273).
  59. Andersson (2002), p. 274.
  60. Garlén (1988), pp. 73–4.
  61. Eliasson (1986), p. 281.
  62. Riad (2014), p. 73.
  63. Reuter (1992), p. 108.
  64. Andersson (2002), pp. 273–4.
  65. Eliasson (1986), p. 276.
  66. Schaeffler (2005), p. 4.
  67. Thorén (1997).
  68. Liberman (1982), p. 3.
  69. Riad (2006), pp. 38–9.
  70. Liberman (1982), p. 13.
  71. Engstrand (2004), pp. 186–90.
  72. Translated from a Swedish-only Wikipedia article.
  73. From the Discussion section of the Swedish article.
  74. Schaeffler (2005), p. 7.
  75. Garlén (1988), pp. 101–14.
  76. Schaeffler (2005), p. 9.
  77. Schaeffler (2005), p. 39.
  78. Schaeffler (2005), p. 8; citing Elert (1964).
  79. E.g. Elert (1964, p. 43).
  80. E.g. Eliasson & La Pelle (1973) and Riad (1992).


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  • Gårding, E. (1974), Kontrastiv prosodi, Lund: Gleerup
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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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  • Petrova, Olga; Plapp, Rosemary; Ringen, Ringen; Szentgyörgyi, Szilárd (2006), "Voice and aspiration: Evidence from Russian, Hungarian, German, Swedish, and Turkish", The Linguistic Review, 23: 1–35, doi:10.1515/tlr.2006.001
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Further reading

  • 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
  • Kuronen, Mikko (2000), Vokaluttalets akustik i sverigesvenska, finlandssvenska och finska (PDF), University of Jyväskylä, ISBN 978-951-39-4093-5
  • Kuronen, Mikko (2001), "Acoustic character of vowel pronunciation in Sweden-Swedish and Finland-Swedish" (PDF), Lund University Department of Linguistics Working Papers (49): 94–97
  • Leinonen, Therese (2010), An Acoustic Analysis of Vowel Pronunciation in Swedish Dialects (PDF), University of Groningen, ISBN 978-90-367-4450-8
  • 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
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