Swedish VS Norwegian: How Close are the Two Scandinavian Languages?

avatarMille Larsen
10 mins read

The Scandinavian languages are known for being extremely close. With little effort, A Swede would understand both Danish and Norwegian. Some dialects are harder to understand, and some people might not have the same knack for understanding the fellow Scandinavians, but the languages do have a lot in common.

How similar are Norwegian and Swedish actually, though? In the following, I'm going to try and compare the two languages in terms of alphabets, how they're pronounced, their grammar, and vocabulary.

Let's get started!

Swedish and Norwegian Alphabets and How They're Pronounced

Swedish and Norwegian are really close in terms of pronunciation, and they have almost the same alphabets (with the exception of a few letters with almost similar sounds, but a different form).

Still, each language has its specificities when it comes to pronouncing certain letters, and in the following, I'll try and compare the two alphabets in order to give you an idea.

For each letter, I'm going to try and describe the equivalent sound in English. There can't always be an equivalent sound, though, so you'll have to take the comparison with a grain of salt.

I also can't cover all diphthongs, and letter combinations that form specific sounds, so keep that in mind!

But without further ado, let's look at the alphabets:

Norwegian Pronunciation in English Swedish Pronunciation in English
Aa "A" as in "father" Aa "A" as in "father" or "A" as in "can" or "U" as in "but"
Bb "B" as in "brown" Bb "B" as in "brown"
Cc "K" as in "kid" or "S" as in "silly" Cc "K" as in "kid" or "S" as in "silly"
Dd "D" as in "duck" Dd "D" as in "duck"
Ee "E" as in get" Ee "E" as in get" or "AY" in "day"
Ff "F" as in "first" Ff "F" as in "first"
Gg "G" as in "good" Gg "G" as in "good" or "Y" in "yes"
Hh "H" as in "hello" Hh "H" as in "hello"
Ii "EE" as in "sleep" Ii "EE" as in "sleep"
Jj "Y" as in "yeast" Jj "Y" as in "yeast"
Kk "K" as in "kid" Kk "K" as in "kid", or when combined KJ as "SH" in "shop"
Ll "L" as in "last" Ll "L" as in "last"
The "L" is silent when combined "LJ")
Mm "M" as in "most" Mm "M" as in "most"
Nn "N" as in "no" Nn "N" as in "no"
Oo Like "OO" in "soot", but pronounced in a short form. Similar to the beginning of the "W" in "where".
Like "OO" in "soot" or "O" in "lot"
Pp "P" as in "pan" Pp "P" as in "pan"
Qq Always followed by "u" and pronounced "KV" Qq Always followed by "u" and pronounced "KV"
Rr Like a thrilled "R" as in Scottish or Indian English (rulle-r), or as a guttoral "R" as in French or German, pronounced by vibrating the back palate. (example of both) Rr Like a thrilled "R" as in Scottish or Indian English (example)
Ss "S" as in "silly" Ss "S" as in "silly", but when combined "RS" it is pronounced "SH" an in "shop".
when combined "SJ", "SKJ", "STJ", or "SK" is is pronounced as special "CH" sound. (example)
Tt "T" as in "time" Tt "T" as in "time" but when combined "TJ" it is pronounced "SH" as in "ship"
Uu Like a French "U" or a German "Ü" (no equivalent in English)
Uu Like a French "U" or a German "Ü" (no equivalent in English)
Vv "V" in "vast" Vv "V" in "vast"
Ww "V" in "vast" Ww "V" in "vast"
Xx "KS" in "locks" Xx "KS" in "locks"
Yy Like the Norwegian "U" but with a more open mouth. (No equivalent in English)
Yy Like the Swedish "U" but with a more open mouth. (No equivalent in English)
Zz "S" as in "silly" Zz "S" as in "silly"
Ææ Somewhat similar to "A" as in "can" (example) Ää Like "E" in "get" but pronounced further from the back of the throat.
Øø Somewhat similar to "EA" in "earn" Öö Somewhat similar to "EA" in "earn"
Åå "AW" as in "awful" Åå Somewhere between the "AW" in "awful" and "O" in "oat"

So as you can see, the alphabets in Norwegian and Swedish are pronounced relatively similarly. There are differences, though. Some of the differences in the above comparison are:

  • "A" has several common pronunciations in Swedish, whereas Norwegian mostly pronounces it like the "A" in "father".
  • "E" can be pronounced both as in "get" and as "day" in Swedish, whereas Norwegian pronounces it mostly as the "E" in "get".
  • "G" is pronounced only as "good" in Norwegian, but in Swedish, it can be pronounced like the "Y" in "yes" as well.
  • "K" is pronounced as "kid" in Norwegian and Swedish, but in Swedish it becomes "SH" as in "shop" when combined "KJ".
  • "L" is pronounced similarly as "last" in both languages, but in Swedish it becomes silent when combined "LJ".
  • "O" has similar pronunciations, such as "OO" in "soot", but in both languages it can be pronounced in different ways, which aren't always the same. Norwegian tends to pronounce it like the vowel-sound in the beginning of an English "W" and Swedish often pronounces it like the "O" in "lot".
  • "R" is thrilled in both languages, but some Norwegian speakers will sometimes pronounce it like a French or German guttural R.
  • "S" is pronounced like the "S" in "silly" in both languages, but in Swedish, when combined "RS" it becomes a "SH" sound like in "shop" and when combined "SJ", "SKJ", "STJ", or "SK" it turns into a unique "CH" sound.
  • "T" is pronounced like "time" in both languages, but in Swedish, when combined "TJ" it is pronounced "SH" as in "ship".
  • "Æ" and "Ä" are not entirely similar. The Norwegian "Æ" is closer to the "A" in "can" whereas the Swedish "Ä" is closer to the "E" in "get" pronounced from the back of the throat.
  • "Å" is pronounced like the "AW" in "awful" in Norwegian, but in Swedish it a little closer to the "O" in "oats".

Okay, these are quite a few differences, given that Swedish and Norwegian are known for their similarity. As you might have noticed, many of the differences are exceptions in Swedish pronunciation, meaning that while the two languages pronounce letters similarly, Swedish has additional ways of pronouncing them, depending on circumstances.

So how close are the Swedish and Norwegian alphabets and pronunciations?

Close, but Swedish seems to have quite a few exceptions that make it different.

How Does Swedish and Norwegian Grammar Compare?

So what are the differences between the two languages in terms of grammar?

Well, there almost aren't any. Norwegian and Swedish are extremely close in terms of grammar, and the differences are very minor.

One of the few differences worth mentioning, however, is that Norwegian, in some cases, has three genders, whereas Swedish only has two. While the "neuter" and "masculine" gender is something the two have in common, Norwegian sometimes uses a "feminine" gender as well, but mostly in writing, and not always!

Norwegian also tends to have a lot more dialectical variation than Swedish, which means that you might come upon slight differences in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary depending on which region your Norwegian conversation partner is from. Swedish used to have a wealth of dialects as well, but today, most Swedes speak the "official" variant.

Despite the Norwegian language's third gender, it might be slightly simpler in terms of grammar compared to Swedish, in that it's more regular.

But comparing the grammar of the two is almost pointless. They're really very similar.

Swedish and Norwegian Vocabulary

Swedish and Norwegian are very close in terms of vocabulary. Both languages have the vast majority of words from their common North-Germanic ancestor, or in other words, "Old Norse". Most of the differences in vocabulary come from later historical influences.

Norwegian, for example, might have a few more words of West-Germanic origin. These have come through the Danish language, which in turn got them from the Low-German languages historically spoken in the modern-day Netherlands and Northern Germany. (Swedish does have a little less in common with a language like German than Norwegian does, even though they're close).

More modern influences on the two languages include French, Latin, and English. Like it's the case with most languages in Europe, French has had a huge influence on Swedish and Norwegian, which reflects in the loan-words present today.

While the words are often the same basic words, they're often spelled and pronounced a bit differently. Swedish tends to follow the original word in spelling a little more closely than Norwegian, which adapts the spelling a bit more to how they actually pronounce the words.

Latin and Greek loan-words go further back and are mostly for words for scientific, philosophic, medical, or technical topics.

English, as one of the more modern influences, is common in both Swedish and Norwegian, and in many cases, English loan-words are pronounced almost like in English.

So how different are Swedish and Norwegian really vocabulary-wise?

Not a lot actually.

But to better compare the two, let's try and come up with a couple of sentences and translate them into both languages:

First in English:

A very hungry man went to the baker's one day and asked for ten loaves of bread. However, since there had been a mishap with the deliveries the previous day, the baker was out of flour, so he told the man that he could only serve him an omelet.

Now let's try and translate that into Norwegian:

En veldig sulten mann gikk til bakeren en dag og ba om ti brød. Men siden det hadde skjedd et uhell med leveransene dagen før, var bakeren tom for mel, så han fortalte mannen at han bare kunne servere ham en omelett.

And now Swedish:

En mycket hungrig man gick till bagaren en dag och bad om tio bröd. Men eftersom det hade skett ett missöde med leveranserna föregående dag var bagaren slut på mjöl, så han sa till mannen att han bara kunde servera honom en omelett.

As you might notice, the two texts, although spelled slightly differently, are very similar.

In terms of different vocabulary, the only differences seem to be the following words:

  • veldig / mycket
  • sulten / hungrig
  • siden / eftersom
  • uhell / missöde
  • dagen før / föregående dag
  • tom / slut
  • fortalte / sa

Those are 7 different words out of a text of 43 words! Add to that that almost all of them are synonyms in either language, meaning that you could write both texts using the same words.

I think that it's petty obvious that Swedish and Norwegian are very close!

Conclusion: How Similar are Swedish and Norwegian?

So we've looked at alphabets, pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

What's the conclusion? How similar are Swedish and Norwegian really?

The answer is that they're very similar. Grammatically and in terms of vocabulary, they're practically identical.

Sure, they do have some differences in spelling, but these aren't major, and once you start recognizing patterns in each language, you very quickly figure out what the word corresponds to.

The pronunciation, at times, can be pretty different. There are things that the two languages have in common pronunciation-wise, but some words seem almost unrecognizable to the untrained ear when you can't compare the spelling.

This is the main obstacle for complete mutual intelligibility between the two languages. But if you speak either one, with a little exposure to the other, you'll quickly pick up on it.