Icelandic alphabet

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The modern Icelandic alphabet consists of the following 32 letters:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
A handwriting extract; the special Icelandic letters ð, þ, and í are visible

It is a Latin alphabet including some letters duplicated with acute accents, in addition it includes the letter eth Ðð, transliterated to d, and the runic letter thorn Þþ, transliterated to th, (pictured to the right); Ææ and Öö are considered letters in their own right and not a ligature or diacritical version of their respective letters. Icelanders call the nine extra letters (not in the English alphabet), especially thorn and eth, séríslenskur ("specifically Icelandic, uniquely Icelandic"), although they aren't. Eth is also used in Faroese language, while thorn is no longer used in any other living language. Icelandic words never start with ð, which means the capital version Ð is mainly just used when words are spelled using all capitals.

Sometimes the glyphs are simplified when handwritten, for example the æ (considered a separate letter, originally a ligature) may be written as ae, which can make it easier to write cursively.


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 abolition of z in 1973.[1]

Letter names[edit]

The names of the letters are:

LetterNameIPATypical sound value[2]
Aaa[a][a]between English "father" and "cat"
Ááá[au̯][au̯]the "ow" in "cow"
Bb[pjɛ][p]"p" with no puff of air
Dd[tjɛ][t]"t" with no puff of air
Ðð[ɛð̠][ð̠]similar to the "th" in "the" (always medially, not initially).
Eee[ɛ][ɛ]"eh" like the "e" in "end"
Ééé[jɛ][]"yes" with the s deleted
Ffeff[ɛfː][f](same as in English sometimes)
Gg[cɛ][k]"k" with no puff of air sometimes
Hh[hau̯][h](same as in English)
Iii[ɪ][ɪ]the "i" in "win"
Ííí[i][i]the "e" in "we"
Jjjoð[jɔð̠][j]said as a "y" or an aspirated "y" (see notes)
Kk[kʰau̯][]"k" with a puff of air
Llell[ɛtl̥][l](same as in English)
Mmemm[ɛmː][m](same as in English)
Nnenn[ɛnː][n](same as in English)
Ooo[ɔ][ɔ]the "aw" in saw
Pp[pʰjɛ][]"p" with a puff of air
Rrerr[ɛr][r]rolled, as in Spanish, but slightly more delicately
Ssess[ɛs][s]always an unvoiced "s" never a voiced "z" sound
Tt[tʰjɛ][]"t" with a puff of air
Uuu[ʏ][ʏ]"i" in "in" but rounded
Úúú[u][u]like the "ou" in "you"
Vvvaff[vafː][v]similar to English "v"
Xxex[ɛxs][xs]like the hard German "ch" followed by an s
Yyypsilon y[ʏfsɪlɔn ɪ][ɪ]same as "i"
Ýýypsilon ý[ʏfsɪlɔn i][i]same as "í"
Þþþorn[θ̠ɔrtn̥][Error using {{IPA symbol}}: "θ̱" not found in list]similar to "th" as in "thing" (commonly initially, with some exceptions)
Ööö[œ][œ]similar to "ur" as in murder

Deleted letter[edit]

LetterNameIPATypical sound value
Zzseta[sɛta]like English s, but never like z


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An Icelandic speaker reciting the alphabet in Icelandic

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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.

The letters C (, [sjɛ]), Q (, [kʰu]) and W (tvöfalt vaff, [ˈtʰvœfal̥t 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 substituted with k/s/ts, hv, and v respectively. (And in fact, hv is a direct cognate of Latin qu and English "wh": Icelandic hvað, Latin quod, English "what".)

The letter Z (seta, [ˈsɛta]) was used until 1973, when it was abolished, as it was only an etymological detail. However, one of the most important newspapers in Iceland, Morgunblaðið, still uses it sometimes (although very rarely), and a secondary school, Verzlunarskóli Íslands has it in its name. It is also found in some proper names of people. Older people, who were educated before the abolition of the z sometimes also use it.

While the letters 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). Many consider the letters should be part of the Icelandic alphabet, as the alphabet is first and foremost a tool to collate words/proper nouns. Not having these letters in the alphabet makes it impossible to alphabetize names like Carl and Walter that are well known in Iceland. The alphabet, as taught in Icelandic schools until c. 1980, consisted of 36 letters: 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.

Letter frequencies[edit]

The list below shows the letter frequencies in order of descending frequency.[3]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson. "Stafsetning og greinarmerkjasetning" (in Icelandic). Retrieved 9 May 2014. "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)." 
  2. ^ Roche, Daniel. "Icelandic Tutorial". Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Icelandic Letter Frequencies". Practical cryptography. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 

External links[edit]