Icelandic orthography

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A handwriting extract; the Icelandic letters ⟨ð⟩ & ⟨þ⟩ are visible.

The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters. Missing, as compared with the 26 letters of English, are C, Q, W and Z. Missing from English are the Icelandic Ð, Þ, Æ and Ö. Six letters are duplicated with acute accents to produce Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú and Ý, for the net gain of six overall.

Icelandic orthography uses a Latin-script alphabet. The letters Eth (⟨ð⟩, capital ⟨Ð⟩), transliterated as ⟨d⟩, and Thorn (⟨þ⟩, capital ⟨Þ⟩), transliterated as ⟨th⟩, are widely known characteristics of the Icelandic language (and are pictured here). Icelanders claim them to be "specifically" or "uniquely" Icelandic, but Eth is also used in Faroese and Elfdalian, while Thorn was used in many historical languages such as Old English. The letters ⟨æ⟩ (capital ⟨Æ⟩) and ⟨ö⟩ (capital ⟨Ö⟩) exist in their own right in Icelandic and are not ligatures or diacritical versions of other letters.

Icelandic words never start with ⟨ð⟩, which means its capital ⟨Ð⟩ occurs only when words are spelled in all capitals. The alphabet is as follows:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a á b d ð e é f g h i í j k l m n o ó p r s t u ú v x y ý þ æ ö
Names of letters
Letter Name IPA Frequency[1]
Aa a [aː] 10.11%
Áá á [auː] 1.8%
Bb [pjɛː] 1.04%
Dd [tjɛː] 1.58%
Ðð [ɛːθ] 4.39%
Ee e [ɛː] 6.42%
Éé é [jɛː] 0.65%
Ff eff [ɛfː] 3.01%
Gg ge [cɛː] 4.24%
Hh [hauː] 1.87%
Ii i [ɪː] 7.58%
Íí í [iː] 1.57%
Jj joð [jɔːθ] 1.14%
Kk [kʰauː] 3.31%
Ll ell [ɛtːl̥] 4.53%
Mm emm [ɛmː] 4.04%
Nn enn [ɛnː] 7.71%
Oo o [ɔː] 2.17%
Óó ó [ouː] 0.99%
Pp [pʰjɛː] 0.79%
Rr err [ɛr̥ː] 8.58%
Ss ess [ɛsː] 5.63%
Tt [tʰjɛː] 4.95%
Uu u [ʏː] 4.56%
Úú ú [uː] 0.61%
Vv vaff [vafː] 2.44%
Xx ex [ɛks] 0.05%
Yy y [ɪː] 0.9%
Ýý ý [iː] 0.23%
Þþ þorn [θɔrtn̥] 1.45%
Ææ æ [aiː] 0.87%
Öö ö [œː] 0.78%
Obsolete letter
Letter Name IPA Frequency
Zz seta [ˈsɛːta]

The names of the letters are grammatically neuter (except the now obsolete ⟨z⟩ which is grammatically feminine).

The letters ⟨a⟩, ⟨á⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨é⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨í⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ó⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨ú⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨ý⟩, ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨ö⟩ are considered vowels, and the remainder are consonants.

⟨c⟩ (, [sjɛː]), ⟨q⟩ (, [kʰuː]) and ⟨w⟩ (tvöfalt vaff, [ˈtʰvœːfal̥t ˌvafː]) are only used in Icelandic in words of foreign origin and some proper names that are also of foreign origin. Otherwise, ⟨c⟩, ⟨qu⟩, and ⟨w⟩ are replaced by ⟨k/s/ts⟩, ⟨hv⟩, and ⟨v⟩ respectively. (In fact, ⟨hv⟩ etymologically corresponds to Latin ⟨qu⟩ and English ⟨wh⟩ in words inherited from Proto-Indo-European: Icelandic hvað, Latin quod, English what.)

⟨z⟩ (seta, [ˈsɛːta]) was used until 1973, when it was abolished, as it was only an etymological detail. It originally represented an affricate [t͡s], which arose from the combinations ⟨t⟩+⟨s⟩, ⟨d⟩+⟨s⟩, ⟨ð⟩+⟨s⟩; however, in modern Icelandic it came to be pronounced [s], and since it was a letter that was not commonly used, it was decided in 1973 to replace all instances of ⟨z⟩ with ⟨s⟩.[2] However, one of the most important newspapers in Iceland, Morgunblaðið, still uses it sometimes (although very rarely), a hot-dog chain, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and a secondary school, Verzlunarskóli Íslands have it in their names. It is also found in some proper names (e.g. Zakarías, Haralz, Zoëga), and loanwords such as pizza (also written pítsa). Older people who were educated before the abolition of the ⟨z⟩ sometimes also use it.

While ⟨c⟩, ⟨q⟩, ⟨w⟩, and ⟨z⟩ are found on the Icelandic keyboard, they are rarely used in Icelandic; they are used in some proper names of Icelanders, mainly family names (family names are the exception in Iceland). ⟨c⟩ is used on road signs (to indicate city centre) according to European regulation, and cm is used for the centimetre according to the international SI system (while it may be written out as sentimetri). Many[who?] believe these letters should be included in the alphabet, as its purpose is a tool to collate (sort into the correct order), and practically that is done, i.e. computers treat the alphabet as a superset of the English alphabet. The alphabet as taught in schools up to about 1980[citation needed] has these 36 letters (and computers still order this way): a, á, b, c, d, ð, e, é, f, g, h, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, o, ó, p, q, r, s, t, u, ú, v, w, x, y, ý, z, þ, æ, ö.


The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century, by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask primarily. It is ultimately based heavily on an orthographic standard created in the early 12th century by a document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise, author unknown. The standard was intended for the common North Germanic language, Old Norse. It did not have much influence, however, at the time.

The most defining characteristics of the alphabet were established in the old treatise:

The later Rasmus Rask standard was basically a re-enactment of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent North Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of ⟨k⟩ rather than ⟨c⟩. Various old features, like ⟨ð⟩, had actually not seen much use in the later centuries, so Rask's standard constituted a major change in practice.

Later 20th century changes are most notably the adoption of ⟨é⟩, which had previously been written as ⟨je⟩ (reflecting the modern pronunciation), and the replacement of ⟨z⟩ with ⟨s⟩ in 1973.[3]

Spelling-to-sound correspondence[edit]

This section lists Icelandic letters and letter combinations and their phonemic representation in the International Phonetic Alphabet.[4][5]


Icelandic vowels may be either long or short, but this distinction is only relevant in stressed syllables: unstressed vowels are neutral in quantitative aspect. The vowel length is determined by the consonants that follow the vowel: if there is only one consonant before another vowel or at the end of a word (i.e., CVCV or CVC# syllable structure), the vowel is long; if there are more than one (CVCCV), counting geminates and pre-aspirated stops as CC, the vowel is short. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule:

  1. A vowel is long when the first consonant following it is [p t k s] and the second [v j r], e.g. esja, vepja, akrar, vökvar, tvisvar.
  2. A vowel is also long in monosyllabic substantives with a genitive -s whose stem ends in a single [p t k] following a vowel (e.g. ráps, skaks), except if the final [p t k] is assimilated into the [s], e.g. báts.
  3. The first word of a compound term preserves its long vowel if its following consonant is one of the group [p t k s], e.g. matmál.
  4. The non-compound verbs vitkast and litka have long vowels.
Grapheme Sound (IPA) Examples
Long Short Before
⟨gi⟩ [jɪ][6]
⟨ng⟩ or ⟨nk⟩
a [aː] [a] [ai] [au] taska [ˈtʰaska] "handbag"
kaka [ˈkʰaːka] "cake"
svangur [ˈsvauŋkʏr̥] "hungry"
á [auː] [au] fár [fauːr̥] "disaster"
au [œyː] [œy] þau [θœyː] "they"
e [ɛː] [ɛ] [ei] skera [ˈscɛːra] "to cut"
drekka [ˈtrɛʰka] "to drink"
drengur [ˈtreiŋkʏr̥] "boy"
é [jɛː] [jɛ] ég [jɛːx] "I"
ei, ey [eiː] [ei] skeið [sceiːθ] "spoon"
hey [heiː] "hay"
i, y [ɪː] [ɪ] [i] sin [sɪːn] "sinew"
syngja [ˈsiɲca] "to sing"
í, ý [iː] [i] íslenska [ˈistlɛnska] "Icelandic"
o [ɔː] [ɔ] [ɔi] [ou] lofa [ˈlɔːva] "to promise"
dolla [ˈtɔtla] "pot"
ó [ouː] [ou] rós [rouːs] "rose"
u [ʏː] [ʏ] [ʏi] [u] hundur [ˈhʏntʏr̥] "dog"
munkur [ˈmuŋ̊kʏr̥] "monk"
ú [uː] [u] þú [θuː] "you"
æ [aiː] [ai] læsa [ˈlaiːsa] "lock"
ö [œː] [œ] [œy] ör [œːr] "scar"
hnöttur [ˈn̥œʰtʏr̥] "globe"
öngull [ˈœyŋkʏtl̥] "hook"


Grapheme Phonetic realization (IPA) Examples
b between ⟨m⟩ and ⟨d, t, s, g⟩:
kembt [cʰɛm̥t] "combed [past participle]"
in most cases:
[p] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
bær [paiːr̥] "town"
d between ⟨l⟩ or ⟨n⟩ and ⟨g, n, l, k, s⟩:
lands [lans] "land's [genitive]"
in most cases:
[t] unaspirated voiceless dental stop
dalur [ˈtaːlʏr̥] "valley"
ð between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, word finally:
[ð̠] voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative
eða [ˈɛːða] "or"
bað [paːð] "bath"
before a voiceless consonant and before a pause:
[θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative
maðkur [ˈmaθkʏr̥] "worm"
between ⟨r⟩ and ⟨n⟩, and between ⟨g⟩ and ⟨s⟩:
harðna [ˈhartna] "to harden"
bragðs [praxs] "trick's [genitive], flavour's [genitive]"
f word initially or before a voiceless consonant, and when doubled:
fundur [ˈfʏntʏr̥] "meeting"
haft [haft] "had [past participle]"
between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or word finally:
lofa [ˈlɔːva] "to promise"
horfa [ˈhɔrva] "look"
between ⟨ó⟩ and a vowel:
prófa [ˈpʰr̥ou.a] "test"
gulrófa [ˈkʏlˌrou.a] "rutabaga"
before ⟨l⟩ or ⟨n⟩:
Keflavík [ˈcʰɛplaˌviːk] "Keflavík"
fnd [mt] hefnd [hɛmt] "revenge"
fnt [m̥t] (voiceless) nefnt [nɛm̥t] "named"
g word initially, before a consonant or ⟨a⟩, ⟨á⟩, ⟨é⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ó⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨ú⟩ or ⟨ö⟩; or between vowel and ⟨l⟩ or ⟨n⟩:
[k] unaspirated voiceless velar stop
glápa [ˈklauːpa] "to stare"
logn [lɔkn̥] "windstill"
word initially, before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨í⟩, ⟨j⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨ý⟩, ⟨æ⟩, ⟨ei⟩ or ⟨ey⟩:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
geta [ˈcɛːta] "to be able"
between a vowel and ⟨a, u, ð, l, r⟩; or word finally:
[ɣ] voiced velar fricative
fluga [ˈflʏːɣa] "fly"
lag [laːɣ] "layer"
before ⟨t⟩ or ⟨s⟩ or before a pause:
[x] voiceless velar fricative
dragt [traxt] "suit"
between a vowel and ⟨j⟩ or ⟨i⟩:
[j] palatal approximant
segja [ˈsɛjːa] "to say"
between ⟨á, ó, ú⟩, and ⟨a, o, u⟩:
fljúga [ˈfljuː.a] "to fly"
gj [c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop gjalda [ˈcalta] "to pay"
h [h] voiceless glottal fricative hár [hauːr̥] "hair"
hj [ç] voiceless palatal fricative hjá [çauː] "next to"
hl [l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant hlýr [l̥iːr̥] "warm"
hn [n̥] voiceless alveolar nasal hné [n̥jɛː] "knee"
hr [r̥] voiceless alveolar trill hratt [r̥aʰt] "fast"
hv [kʰv] ([xv] among some older speakers in southern Iceland) hvað [kʰvaːθ] "what"
j [j] [jauː] "yes"
k word initially, before a consonant or ⟨a⟩, ⟨á⟩, ⟨é⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ó⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨ú⟩ or ⟨ö⟩:
kaka [ˈkʰaːka] "cake"
word initially, before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨í⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨ý⟩, ⟨æ⟩, ⟨ei⟩ or ⟨ey⟩:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
keyra [ˈcʰeiːra] "to drive"
other contexts, before ⟨a⟩, ⟨á⟩, ⟨é⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ó⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨ú⟩ or ⟨ö⟩:
skarfur [ˈskarvʏr̥] "cormorant"
haka [ˈhaːka] "chin"
other contexts, before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨í⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨ý⟩, ⟨æ⟩, ⟨ei⟩ or ⟨ey⟩:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
skip [ˈscɪːp] "boat"
hroki [ˈr̥ɔːcɪ] "arrogance"
before ⟨l, m, n⟩:
miklir [mɪʰklɪr̥] "great (pl.)"
vakna [vaʰkna] "wake up"
before ⟨t⟩:
[x] voiceless velar fricative
október [ˈɔxtouːpɛr̥] "October"
kj word initially:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
kjöt [cʰœːt] "meat"
other contexts:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
þykja [ˈθɪːca] "to regard"
kk [ʰk], [ʰc] þakka [ˈθaʰka] "to thank"
ekki [ˈɛʰcɪ] "not"
l word finally, or next to a voiceless consonant:
[l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant
sól [souːl̥] "sun"
stúlka [ˈstul̥ka] "girl"
in most cases:
lás [lauːs] "lock"
ll in loan words and pet names:
bolla [ˈpɔlːa] "bun, bread roll"
mylla [ˈmɪlːa] "mill"
in most cases:
bolli [ˈpɔtlɪ] "cup"
milli [ˈmɪtlɪ] "between"
m after and before voiceless consonants:
lampi [ˈlam̥pɪ] "lamp"
in most cases:
mamma [ˈmamːa] "mum"
n after and before voiceless consonants:
planta [ˈpʰlan̥ta] "plant"
hnífur [ˈn̥iːvʏr] "knife"
in most cases:
nafn [napn̥] "name"
ng before ⟨d, l, s⟩:
kringla [ˈkʰriŋla] "disc"
gangs [ˈkauŋs] "movement's [genitive]"
in most cases:
[ŋk], [ɲc]
vængur [ˈvaiŋkʏr̥] "wing"
engi [ˈeiɲcɪ] "meadow"
nk [ŋ̊k], [ɲ̊c] hönk [ˈhœyŋ̊k] "coil, loop"
banki [ˈpauɲ̊cɪ] "bank"
nn after accented vowels or diphthongs:
steinn [steitn̥] "rock"
fínn [fitn̥] "fine"
finna [ˈfɪnːa] "to find"
p word initially:
[pʰ] aspirated voiceless bilabial stop
par [pʰaːr̥] "pair"
other contexts:
[p] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
spara [ˈspaːra] "to save"
kápa [ˈkʰauːpa] "coat"
before ⟨s, k, t⟩:
[f] voiceless labiodental fricative
September [ˈsɛftɛmpɛr̥] "September"
skips [scɪfs] "ship's [genitive]"
before ⟨l, m, n⟩:
epli [ɛʰplɪ] "apple(s)"
vopn [vɔʰpn̥] "weapon(s)"
pp [ʰp] stoppa [ˈstɔʰpa] "to stop"
r word initially and between vowels:
[r] (voiced alveolar trill or tap)
rigna [ˈrɪkna] "to rain"
læra [ˈlaiːra] "to learn"
before and after voiceless consonants and before a pause:
[r̥] (voiceless alveolar trill or tap)
svartur [ˈsvar̥tʏr̥] "black"
rl [tl̥], occasionally [rtl̥][note 1] karlmaður [ˈkʰatl̥ˌmaːðʏr̥] "man"
rn [tn̥], occasionally [rtn̥][note 1] þorn [θɔtn̥] "the name of the letter Þ"
before ⟨d⟩:
vernd [vɛrnt] "protection"
s [s] sósa [ˈsouːsa] "sauce"
sl [stl̥] rusl [rʏstl̥] "garbage"
sn [stn̥] býsna [ˈpistn̥a] "extremes"
t word initially:
[tʰ] aspirated voiceless dental stop
taka [ˈtʰaːka] "take"
before ⟨l, m, n⟩:
Atli [aʰtlɪ] "Attila"
rytmi [rɪʰtmɪ] "rhythm"
vatn [vaʰtn̥] "water"
[t] unaspirated voiceless dental stop
stela [ˈstɛːla] "to steal"
skutur [ˈskʏːtʏr̥] "stern"
tt [ʰt] detta [ˈtɛʰta] "to fall"
v [v] vera [ˈvɛːra] "to be"
x [ks] lax [laks] "salmon"
z [s] beztur [ˈpɛstʏr̥] "the best" (former orthography)
Zakarías [ˈsaːkʰariːas] "Zachary"
þ [θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative þú [θuː] "you"
Aþena [ˈaːθɛna] "Athens"

Code pages[edit]

Besides the alphabet being part of Unicode, which is much used in Iceland, ISO 8859-1 has historically been the most used code page and then Windows-1252 that also supports Icelandic and extends it with e.g. the euro sign. ISO 8859-15 also extends it, but with the euro in a different place.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The pronunciation change rl→[tl̥] and rn→[tn̥] occurred in the 14th century, pronouncing them as [rtl̥] and [rtn̥] is a more recent development that may have been influenced by the orthography.[7]


  1. ^ "Icelandic Letter Frequencies". Practical cryptography. Archived from the original on 2023-05-31.
  2. ^ Kvaran, Guðrún (2000-03-07). "Hvers vegna var bókstafurinn z svona mikið notaður á Íslandi en því svo hætt?" [Why was the letter z used so much in Iceland but then stopped?]. Vísindavefurinn (in Icelandic). Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  3. ^ Rögnvaldsson, Eiríkur. "Stafsetning og greinarmerkjasetning" [Spelling and punctuation] (in Icelandic). Archived from the original on 2021-04-23. 2. og 3. grein fjalla um bókstafinn z, brottnám hans úr íslensku, og ýmsar afleiðingar þess. z var numin brott úr íslensku ritmáli með auglýsingu menntamálaráðuneytisins í september 1973 (ekki 1974, eins og oft er haldið fram).
  4. ^ Þráinsson, Höskuldur (2002) [1994]. "Icelandic". In König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan (eds.). The Germanic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. pp. 142–152. ISBN 0-415-05768-X.
  5. ^ Einarsson, Stefán (2001) [1949]. Icelandic: Grammar, Texts, Glossary. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 1–25. ISBN 9780801863578.
  6. ^ Rögnvaldsson, Eiríkur (2020). "A Short Overview of the Icelandic Sound System Pronunciation Variants and Phonetic Transcription: IPA Version" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-03-14.
  7. ^ Óskarsson, Vesturliði (2001). "Íslensk málsaga" [Icelandic language history]. Málsgreinar (in Icelandic). Archived from the original on 2023-03-02.

External links[edit]