Icelandic Words, Letters & Pronunciation Guide

|March 13, 2019
Anthropologist, social media guru, Icelandic nature and food enthusiast.

At first glance, the Icelandic language can be a little intimidating. Some words seem to trail on for miles. And many letters in the Icelandic alphabet are strangers to English speakers. However, it’s not as tricky as it first appears. Read the full guide for more information.


Indeed, Icelandic is quite a fair language. Words are spelled phonetically compared to other languages. And it’s more consistent than some others: It won’t try to cheat you like English does, with words spelled similarly and sounding different (we’re looking at you, “plough” and “cough”!).

So, let’s get started with a few letters, and then get more ambitious with place names and then – for the truly courageous – phrases…

Icelandic Letters

Þ

You might’ve seen this little guy before. It’s a good place to start because it’s easier to understand and pronounce than it looks. While it’s daunting because it doesn’t resemble a letter you might know, “thorn” (for that is the letter’s name) is a simple “th”, similar to the sound of thank you.

Thorn (or Þ) has been used in Old English and Old Norse, but Icelandic is the only modern language to still use it commonly.

Ð

This one is like a cousin to the word above. It’s a similar “th” sound but never appears at the start of a word, similar to the sound of that.

Á

Another slightly tricky one, but again, easy if you know it: “A” with an accent can have a few pronunciations depending on where you see it. In Gaelic, it’s “aw”, for instance. But in Icelandic, it’s “ow”, as in rhyming with “cow” or indeed, “plough”.

É

Very easy: If you can say “yeah” you can say this letter.

Ú

Ú follows the same rule as many European languages: Namely, that it has the same effect as a double “o” – making an “oo” sound.

Au

The best way to pronounce this sound is to channel your inner town crier (those people that shout and ring a bell when giving public announcements). “Oyez, Oyez” 

Ey

Rhymes with “say”.

Í

An “I” with an accent is pronounced “ee”.

How to Pronounce Iceland’s Place Names

Okay, are you ready to try out your newfound skills? We’ll kick off with Iceland’s capital.

Reykjavík

Ray-kya-veek. The only new information might be the “j” here is pronounced as an English “y”. But for anyone who studied German, that variation will be familiar.

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