Swedish alphabet

The Swedish alphabet (Swedish: Svenska alfabetet) is a basic element of the Latin writing system used for the Swedish language. The 29 letters of this alphabet are the modern 26-letter basic Latin alphabet (A through Z) plus Å, Ä, and Ö, in that order. It contains 20 consonants and 9 vowels (a e i o u y å ä ö). The Latin alphabet was brought to Sweden along with the Christianization of the population, although runes continued in use throughout the first centuries of Christianity, even for ecclesiastic purposes, despite their traditional relation to the Old Norse religion. The runes underwent partial "latinization" in the Middle Ages,[1] when the Latin alphabet was completely accepted as the Swedish script system, but runes still occurred, especially in the countryside, until the 18th century, and were used decoratively until mid 19th century.[1] Popular literacy is thought to have been higher (nearly universal) when exclusively runes were used, than in the first centuries of use of the Latin alphabet.


The pronunciation of the names of the letters (that does not necessarily coincide with the sound it represents) is as follows:

Å, Ä and Ö

In addition to the basic twenty-six letters, A–Z, the Swedish alphabet includes Å, Ä, and Ö at the end. They are distinct letters in Swedish and are sorted after Z as shown above. They do not mark grammatical change, as the umlaut can in German orthography, or separate syllables, as does the diaeresis, so it is not strictly correct to call them umlauts, but this is common.

It can however be argued that it is historically and etymologically correct to call them umlauts because they were borrowed from German. It is also correct to call them letters with diacritics because that is what they are, despite the two dots not indicating the pronunciation separation indicated by the diaerisis mark. The argument is also encountered that they are not variants of the letters a and o with added diacritics because they are separate letters,[2] but this is not logical because there are other languages that have letters with diacritics that treat them as separate letters.

Uncommon letters

The letter Q is rare. Q was common in ordinary words before 1889, when its replacement by K was allowed. Since 1900, only the forms with K are listed in dictionaries.[citation needed] Some proper names kept their Q despite the change to common words: Qvist, Quist, Husqvarna, Quenby, Quinby, Quintus, Quirin and Quirinus. Other uses include some loanwords that retained Q, for example queer, quisling, squash, and quilting; student terms such as gasque and foreign geographic names like Qatar.

The letter W is rare. Before the 19th century, W was interchangeable with V (W was used in Fraktur, V in Antiqua). Official orthographic standards since 1801 use only V for common words. Many family names kept their W despite the change to common words.[citation needed] Foreign words and names bring in uses of W, particularly combinations with webb for (World Wide) Web. Swedish sorting traditionally and officially treated V and W as equivalent, so that users would not have to guess whether the word, or name, they were seeking was spelled with a V or a W. The two letters were often combined in the collating sequence as if they were all V or all W, until 2006 when the 13th edition of Svenska Akademiens ordlista (The Swedish Academy's Orthographic Dictionary) declared a change.[3][4][5][6][7] W was given its own section in the dictionary, and the W = V sorting rule was deprecated.[8] This means Swedish books printed before 2006 would group W with V in the index, and most Swedish software published before 2006 would treat the two as variations of a single character when sorting text.

The letter Z is rare, used in names and a few loanwords such as zon (zone). Z was historically pronounced /ts/. By 1700, this had merged with /s/. As a result, Z was replaced by S in 1700. Z was instead used in loanwords for historical /z/. According to Wikipedia on Letter frequency, Z is the second least used letter in Swedish, before Q.

Foreign letters

Though not in the official alphabet, á is a Swedish (old-fashioned) letter. In native Swedish personal names, ü and è and others are also used.

The umlauted ü is recognised but is only used in names of German origin, and in German loanwords such as müsli. It is otherwise treated as a variant of y and is called a German y. In Swedish, y is a vowel and is pronounced as such (/y:/ as in yta). In a few unchanged English loanwords, the y is used for the consonant /j/ as in English.

The characters à (which is used only in a few rare non-integrated loanwords such as à, from French) and é (used in some integrated loanwords like idé and armé, and in some surnames such as Rosén or Löfvén) are regarded simply as variants of a and e, respectively.

For foreign names, ç, ë, í, õ, and many others might be used, but are usually converted to c, e, i, o, etc.

Swedish newspapers and magazines have a tendency only to use letters available on the keyboard. à, ë, í, etc. are available on Swedish keyboards with a little effort, but usually not æ and ø (used in Danish and Norwegian), so they are usually substituted by ae or ä, and ö. The news agency TT follows this usage because some newspapers have no technical support for æ and ø,[9] although there is a recommendation to use æ and ø. The letter Æ was used in earlier Swedish script systems, when there was in general more similarity between the Scandinavian languages.

The Swedish population register has traditionally only used the letters a–z, å, ä, ö, ü, é, so immigrants with other Latin letters in their names have had their diacritic marks stripped (and æ/ø converted to ä/ö), although recently more diacritics have been allowed.[10]

The difference between the Danish/Norwegian and the Swedish alphabet is that Danish/Norwegian uses the variant Æ instead of Ä, and the variant Ø instead of Ö. Also, the collating order for these three letters is different: Æ, Ø, Å.

Handwritten cursive alphabet

Swedish handwritten alphabet

The Swedish traditional handwritten alphabet is the same as the ordinary latin cursive alphabet, but the letters Ö and Ä are written by connecting the dots with a curved line ~, hence looking like Õ and Ã. In texted handwriting the dots should be clearly separated, but writers frequently replace them with a line: Ō, Ā.

Sound–spelling correspondences

Letter Pronunciation (IPA) Notes
Long Short
a /ɑː/ /a/
e /eː/ /ɛ/ Some speakers distinguish two short sounds: /ɛ/ and /e/. The former sound is usually spelled ⟨ä⟩, but some words exceptionally have ⟨e⟩, among them words with ⟨ej⟩, numerals, proper names and their derivations, and loanwords. Before 1889, ⟨e⟩ for /ɛ/ and /ɛː/ was also used for many other words, in particular words with ⟨je⟩ now spelled ⟨jä⟩.

The sound /eː/ at the end of loanwords and in the last syllable of Swedish surnames is represented by ⟨é⟩.

i /iː/ /ɪ/
o /uː/,


/ɔ/, /ʊ/ The phoneme /ʊ/ is relatively infrequent; short ⟨o⟩ more often represents /ɔ/. Long ⟨o⟩ usually represents /uː/ in native words.
u /ʉː/ /ɵ/
y /yː/ /ʏ/
å /oː/ /ɔ/ Most words with /ɔ/ and some words with /oː/ are spelled with ⟨o⟩.
ä /ɛː/ /ɛ/ Some words with /ɛ/ are spelled with ⟨e⟩.
ö /øː/ /œ/ The short ö is, in some dialects, pronounced as /ɵ/.

Short vowels are followed by two or more consonants; long vowels are followed by a single consonant, by a vowel or are word-final.

Grapheme Sound (IPA) Notes
b /b/
c /k/, /s/ /s/ before front vowels ⟨e i y ä ö⟩, otherwise /k/. The letter ⟨c⟩ alone is used only in loanwords (usually in the /s/ value) and proper names, but ⟨ck⟩ is a normal representation for /kː/ after a short vowel (as in English and German).
ch /ɧ/, /ɕ/ In loanwords. The conjunction 'och' (and) is pronounced /ɔkː/ or /ɔ/.
d /d/
dj /j/
f /f/
g /ɡ/, /j/ /j/ before front vowels ⟨e i y ä ö⟩, otherwise /ɡ/
gj /j/
gn /ɡn/, /ŋn/ /ɡn/ word-initially; /ŋn/ elsewhere
h /h/
hj /j/
j /j/
k /k/, /ɕ/ /ɕ/ before front vowels ⟨e i y ä ö⟩ except for a kör, otherwise /k/
kj /ɕ/
l /l/
lj /j/
m /m/
n /n/
ng /ŋ/, /ŋɡ/, /ng/
p /p/
r /r/ Is pronounced as /ɾ/ in some words. Considerable dialectal variation, often pronounced as an approximant [ɹ] or fricative [ʐ]. Southern dialects are noted for their uvular realization of the /r/ phoneme; that is, a uvular trill [ʀ], a fricative [ʁ] or [χ], or an approximant [ʁ̞].
rs /ɕ/ /rs/ is pronounced as /ɕ/ as in person
s /s/
sj /ɧ/
sk /sk/, /ɧ/ /ɧ/ before front vowels ⟨e i y ä ö⟩ and in the words människa and marskalk, otherwise /sk/
skj /ɧ/
stj /ɧ/
t /t/
tj /ɕ/
v /v/ Before 1906, ⟨fv, hv⟩ and final ⟨f⟩ were also used for /v/. Now these spellings are used in some proper names.
w /v/ Rarely used (loanwords, proper names). In loanwords from English may be pronounced /w/.
x /ks/
z /s/ Used in loanwords and proper names.

The combinations ⟨rd rl rn rs rt⟩ are pronounced [ɖ ɭ ɳ ʂ ʈ] respectively. The /ʂ/ phoneme is a very common variation instead of the /ɧ/ phoneme (below).

Spellings for the sje-phoneme /ɧ/

Due to several phonetic combinations coalescing over recent centuries, the spelling of the Swedish sje-sound is very eclectic. Some estimates claim that there are over 50 possible different spellings of the sound, though this figure is disputed. Garlén (1988) gives a list of 22 spellings (⟨ch⟩, ⟨che⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨ge⟩, ⟨gi⟩, ⟨ige⟩, ⟨j⟩, ⟨je⟩, ⟨sc⟩, ⟨sch⟩, ⟨sh⟩, ⟨shi⟩, ⟨si⟩, ⟨sj⟩, ⟨sk⟩, ⟨skj⟩, ⟨ssi⟩, ⟨ssj⟩, ⟨stg⟩, ⟨sti⟩, ⟨stj⟩, ⟨ti⟩), but many of them are confined to only a few words, often loanwords, and all of them can correspond to other sounds or sound sequences as well. Some spellings of the sje-sound are as follows:

  • ⟨ch⟩ in most French loanwords, but in final position often respelled sch. English loanwords with this spelling usually use the tje-sound
  • ⟨g⟩ in words mainly from French, for example generös (generous) and gentil (generous, posh, stylish)
  • ⟨ge⟩ mostly in the end of the word in many French loanwords, like garage, prestige
  • ⟨gi⟩ in for example religiös (religious)
  • ⟨j⟩ in French loanwords, for example jalusi (jalousie window)
  • ⟨sc⟩ in fascinera (fascinate)
  • ⟨sch⟩ in all positions in many German loanwords, like schack ("chess")
  • ⟨sh⟩ in all positions in many English loanwords
  • ⟨sj⟩ in native Swedish words, before both front (e, i, y, ä, ö) and back vowels (a, o, u, å)
  • ⟨sk⟩ in native Swedish words before the front vowels e, i, y, ä, ö
  • ⟨skj⟩ in five words only, four of which are enumerated in the phrase I bara skjortan skjuter han skjutsen in i skjulet. (In just his shirt he pushes the vehicle into the shed.) The fifth word is skjuva (shear). It is also used in an old word skjura (Eurasian magpie) and dialectic derivations of the same
  • ⟨stg⟩ in three words only: västgöte, östgöte, gästgiveri. These are not common and are often pronounced as /stj/. All of them are compound words: väst+göte (person from Västergötland) öst+göte (person from Östergötland) and gäst+giveri (inn)
  • ⟨sti⟩ occurs only in the place-name Kristianstad and in the pronunciation of the name Christian when used about Danish kings
  • ⟨stj⟩ in five words only, all enumerated in the phrase Det är lättare att stjäla en stjälk än att stjälpa en stjärna med stjärten. (It is easier to steal a stalk than to overturn a star with your behind.)
  • ⟨-tion⟩, ⟨-sion⟩, ⟨-ssion⟩ (pronounced /ɧon/) in many words of Latin origin; in a few of these words, the sje-sound is preceded by a /t/ (e.g. nation, rationell), also in some adjective derivations (pretentiös, infektiös)
  • ⟨xj⟩ for the sequence /kɧ/ occurs only in the place-name Växjö

See also