The phonology of Danish is similar to that of the other Scandinavian languages such as Swedish and Norwegian,[citation needed] but it also has distinct features setting it apart from the phonologies of its most closely related languages. For example Danish has a suprasegmental feature known as stød which is a kind of laryngeal phonation that is used phonemically. It also exhibits extensive lenition of plosives, which is noticeably more common than in the neighboring languages. Because of that and a few other things, spoken Danish is rather hard to understand for Norwegians and Swedes, although they can easily read it.


In distinct pronunciation it is possible to distinguish at least 20 consonants in most variants of Danish:[1][2]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal
Nasal m n [ŋ]
Plosive aspirated p t [t͡ɕ] k
unaspirated b d ɡ
Continuant voiceless f s [ɕ] h
voiced v [ð] j ʕ
lateral l
Vocoid [ʊ̯] [ɪ̯] [ɐ̯]
Table of allophones
Phoneme Pronunciation
in syllable onset in syllable coda
/p/ [pʰ] [b̥]
/b/ [b̥] [b̥]
/t/ [tˢ] [d̥]
/d/ [d̥] [ð̞ˠ̠]
/k/ [kʰ] [ɡ̊]
/ɡ/ [ɡ̊] [ɪ̯] after front vowels,

[ʊ̯] after back vowels

/f/ [f] [f]
/s/ [s] [s]
/h/ [h]  
/v/ [ʋ] [ʊ̯]
/j/ [j], [ɕ] after [s] or [tˢ] [ɪ̯]
/ʕ/ [ʁ] [ɐ̯]
/l/ [l] [l]
/m/ [m] [m]
/n/ [n] [n], [ŋ] before k/

The Danish allophones can be analyzed into 15 distinctive consonant phonemes, /p t k b d ɡ m n f s h v j ʕ l/, where /p t k d ɡ v j ʕ/ have different pronunciation in syllable onset vs. syllable coda.[40]

Instances of [ŋ] can be analyzed as /n/ as it only occurs before /ɡ/ or /k/ and does not contrast with [n]. This makes it unnecessary to postulate an /ŋ/-phoneme in Danish.[41]


Monophthongs of Danish, from Grønnum (1998:100). Unstressed [ɪ, ʊ, ə, ɐ] are not shown.

Modern Standard Danish has around 20 different vowel qualities. These vowels are shown here in a narrow transcription. In the rest of the article and in IPA transcriptions of Danish in Wikipedia the diacritics are usually omitted.

The vowel system is unstable, and the contemporary spoken language is experiencing a merger of several of these phonemes. The following vowel pairs may be merged:

The following vowels are allophones. Phonemes are discussed below.

Some vowel allophones[58][59]
Phoneme Pronunciation
default before /r/ after /r/
/iː/ [iː]
/i/ [i]
/eː/ [eː] [ɛː] ~ [æː]
/e/ [e] [ɛ] ~ [æ]
/ɛː/ [ɛː] [æː] [æː] / [ɑ][a]
/ɛ/ [ɛ] [æ] ~ [a] [a] / [ɑ][b]
/aː/ [æː] [ɑː]
/a/ [a] ~ [æ] / [ɑ][c] [ɑ]
/yː/ [yː]
/y/ [y]
/øː/ [øː] [œː]
/ø/ [ø] [œ] / [ɶ][d]
/œː/ [œː] ~ [ɶː] [œː]
/œ/ [œ] [ɶ] ~ [ʌ] [œ] ~ [ɶ]
/uː/ [uː] [uː] ~ [oː]
/u/ [u] [u] ~ [o]
/oː/ [oː]
/o/ [o][e] / [ɔ] [o] [o][e] / [ɔ]
/ɔː/ [ɔː] [ɒː] [ɔː]
/ɔ/ [ʌ] / [ɒ][d] [ɒ] [ʌ] / [ɒ][d]
/ə/ [ə] [ɐ]
a. ^ Before /d/
b. ^ Before labials and alveolars
c. ^ Before labials and velars
d. ^ ^ ^ Before /v/
e. ^ ^ In open syllables

[ə] and [ɐ] occur only in unstressed syllables. With the exception of [a], [ʌ], [ə] and [ɐ] all vowels may be either long and short. Long vowels may have stød, thus making it possible to distinguish 30 different vowels in stressed syllables. However, vowel length and stød are most likely features of the syllable rather than features of the vowel.

These allophones can be analyzed into 11 distinctive vowels, where allophonic alternation mainly depends on whether the vowel occurs before or after /r/. The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables. All other phonemes may occur both stressed and unstressed.

Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
Close i y u
Close-mid e ø o
Mid ɛ œ ə ɔ
Open a

The three way distinction in front rounded vowels /y ø œ/ is upheld only before nasals, e.g. /syns sønˀs sœns/ synes, synds, søns ('seems', 'sin's', 'son's'). Furthermore, there are only three words where /y/ occurs before a nasal in a stressed syllable: synes, brynje, hymne ('seems, armor, hymn').[60][failed verification]

[a] and [ɑ] are largely in complementary distribution. However, a two-phoneme interpretation can be justified with reference to the unexpected vowel quality in words like andre [ˈɑndʁɐ] 'others' or anderledes [ˈɑnɐˌleːð̩s] 'different', and an increasing number of loanwords.[61]



Unlike the neighboring Mainland Scandinavian languages Swedish and Norwegian, the prosody of Danish does not have phonemic pitch. Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words like billigst [ˈb̥ilisd̥] ('cheapest') and bilist [b̥iˈlisd̥] ('car driver'). Verbs lose their stress (and stød, if any) in certain positions:

  • With an object without a definite or indefinite article: e.g. ˈJens ˈspiser et ˈbrød [ˈjɛns ˈsb̥iːˀsɐ ed̥ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] ('Jens eats a loaf') ~ ˈJens spiser ˈbrød [ˈjɛns sb̥isɐ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] ('Jens eats bread').[62]
  • In names, only the surname is stressed, e.g. [johanə luiːsə ˈhɑɪ̯b̥æɐ̯ˀ] Johanne Luise Heiberg.[62]


Main article: Stød

In a number of words with stress on the final syllable, long vowels and sonorants may exhibit a prosodic feature called stød ('thrust').[63] Acoustically, vowels with stød tend to be a little shorter[63] and feature creaky voice.[64] Historically, this feature operated as a redundant aspect of stress on monosyllabic words that had either a long vowel or final voiced consonant. Since the creation of new monosyllabic words, this association with monosyllables is no longer as strong. Some other tendencies include:

Diphthongs with an underlying long vowel always have stød. These are [eɪ̯ˀ, ɛɪ̯ˀ, æɪ̯ˀ, øɪ̯ˀ, iʊ̯ˀ, eʊ̯ˀ, ɛʊ̯ˀ, æʊ̯ˀ, yʊ̯ˀ, øʊ̯ˀ, œʊ̯ˀ, oʊ̯ˀ, ɔʊ̯ˀ, iɐ̯ˀ, eɐ̯ˀ, æɐ̯ˀ, yɐ̯ˀ, øɐ̯ˀ, ɶɐ̯ˀ, uɐ̯ˀ, oɐ̯ˀ]. Out of these, all but [eɪ̯ˀ, ɛɪ̯ˀ, æɪ̯ˀ, øɪ̯ˀ, æʊ̯ˀ, oʊ̯ˀ, ɔʊ̯ˀ] have a corresponding stødless variant, i.e. with an underlying short vowel. Conversely, there are diphthongs that appear only without stød, which are [ɑɪ̯, ʌɪ̯, uɪ̯, ɑʊ̯, ɒʊ̯]. This means that neither [ɑ] nor [ʌ] can start a diphthong with stød (in case of the latter vowel it is because it is inherently short), whereas [ɔ] cannot start a diphthong without stød. All of the diphthongs ending with [ɐ̯] appear both with and without stød.[65]

Text sample

The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun. [ɐ̯] is transcribed [ʌ̯], whereas the distinction between [ɐ] and [ʌ] is not made.

Orthographic version

Nordenvinden og solen kom engang i strid om, hvem af dem der var den stærkeste.[62]

Broad phonetic transcription

[ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ʌ ˈsoːˀl̩n kʰʌm eŋˈɡ̊ɑŋˀ i ˈsd̥ʁiðˀ ˈʌmˀ ˈvɛmˀ ˈa b̥m̩ d̥ɑ d̥n̩ ˈsd̥æʌ̯ɡ̊əsd̥ə][62]


  1. ^ a b Basbøll (2005:60–63)
  2. ^ Grønnum (2005:300)
  3. ^ Thorborg (2003:64, 66, 68, 70, 78)
  4. ^ a b Basbøll (2005:60–63, 131). The author states that /n, t, d, s, l/ are apical alveolar.
  5. ^ Thorborg (2003:58, 73, 75). The author states that /n, t, d, l/ are pronounced with "the tip of the tongue behind upper teeth." This is confirmed by the accompanying images.
  6. ^ a b Grønnum (2005:157)
  7. ^ Basbøll (2005:126)
  8. ^ Grønnum (2005:120)
  9. ^ Grønnum (2005:303–305)
  10. ^ Grønnum (2005:303)
  11. ^ Grønnum (2005:316–318)
  12. ^ Basbøll (2005:213)
  13. ^ Krech et al. (2009:135)
  14. ^ Grønnum (2005:123–124)
  15. ^ a b Basbøll (2005:61–62)
  16. ^ a b Thorborg (2003:80). The author states that /s/ is pronounced with "the tip of the tongue right behind upper teeth, but without touching them." This is confirmed by the accompanying image.
  17. ^ Grønnum (2005:144). Only this author mentions both alveolar and dental realizations.
  18. ^ Grønnum (2005:125)
  19. ^ Grønnum (2005:305–306)
  20. ^ a b c Basbøll (2005:63)
  21. ^ Basbøll (2005:27, 62, 66)
  22. ^ Basbøll (2005:59, 63)
  23. ^ a b Grønnum (2003:121)
  24. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144)
  25. ^ Bauer et al. (1980:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144): "Only in a very distinct Danish - as from the stage of the Royal Theater - do we get a fricative."
  26. ^ a b "John Wells's phonetic blog: Danish". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  27. ^ Haberland (1994:320)
  28. ^ Maddieson et al. (1993:34)
  29. ^ Basbøll (2005:62, 212)
  30. ^ a b c d Basbøll (2005:211–212)
  31. ^ Grønnum (2005:123)
  32. ^ a b Basbøll (2005:62)
  33. ^ Basbøll (2005:66)
  34. ^ Grønnum (1998:99–100)
  35. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:323)
  36. ^ Torp (2001:78)
  37. ^ Basbøll (2005:218)
  38. ^ Basbøll (2005:65–66)
  39. ^ Grønnum (2005:148)
  40. ^ Grønnum (2005:300–329)
  41. ^ Grønnum (2005:307–310)
  42. ^ a b c d e f g Ejstrup & Hansen (2004)
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Grønnum (1998:100)
  44. ^ a b c d e Basbøll (2005:45)
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Uldall (1933:?)
  46. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)
  47. ^ a b c d Basbøll (2005:46)
  48. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ejstrup & Hansen (2004:4)
  49. ^ a b c Basbøll (2005:47)
  50. ^ Grønnum (2003:?)
  51. ^ Basbøll (2005:32)
  52. ^ Basbøll (2005:47). Only this author states the roundedness of [ʌ] explicitly.
  53. ^ a b c d Basbøll (2005:58)
  54. ^ Basbøll (2005:57, 143)
  55. ^ Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011:11)
  56. ^ Basbøll (2005:48, 58)
  57. ^ Basbøll (2005:48, 63)
  58. ^ Basbøll (2005:52)
  59. ^ Grønnum (2005:287–288)
  60. ^ Basbøll (2005:51)
  61. ^ Basbøll (2005:50–51)
  62. ^ a b c d Grønnum (1998:104)
  63. ^ a b c d Haberland (1994), p. 318.
  64. ^ Basbøll (2005), p. 83.
  65. ^ Grønnum (2005), p. 294.


Further reading

  • Basbøll, Hans (1985), "Stød in modern Danish", Folia Linguistica, 19, De Gruyter: 1–50
  • Brink, Lars; Lund, Jørn (1975), Dansk rigsmål 1–2, Copenhagen: Gyldendal
  • Brink, Lars; Lund, Jørn (1974), Udtaleforskelle i Danmark, Copenhagen: Gjellerup, ISBN 978-8713019465
  • Brink, Lars (1991), Den store danske udtaleordbog, Copenhagen: Munksgaard, ISBN 978-87-16-06649-7
  • Fischer-Jørgensen, Eli (1972), "Formant Frequencies of Long and Short Danish Vowels", in Scherabon Firchow, Evelyn (ed.), Studies for Einar Haugen, The Hague: Mouton Publishers, pp. 189–200, ASIN B0037F3D1S
  • Grønnum, Nina (1992), The groundworks of Danish intonation, Copenhagen: Museum Tuscalanum Press, ISBN 978-8772891699
  • Grønnum, Nina (1996), "Danish vowels: Scratching the recent surface in a phonological experiment", Acta Linguistica Hafniensia, 28, Taylor & Francis: 5–63, doi:10.1080/03740463.1996.10416062
  • Grønnum, Nina (2007), Rødgrød med fløde – En lille bog om dansk fonetik, Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, ISBN 978-87-500-3918-1
  • Hansen, Peter Molbæk (1990), Dansk udtale, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, ISBN 978-87-02-05895-6
  • Heger, Steffen (2003), Sprog & lyd: Elementær dansk fonetik, Copenhagen: Gjellerup, ISBN 87-500-3089-2
  • Lundskær-Nielsen, Tom; Barnes, Michael; Lindskog, Annika (2005), Introduction to Scandinavian phonetics: Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, Alfabeta, ISBN 978-8763600095
  • Molbæk Hansen, Peter (1990), Udtaleordbog, Gyldendal, ISBN 978-87-00-77942-6