Level A1
For most Icelandic words, you pronounce all the sounds that are written. But as soon as you start stringing those words together to form sentences, multiple sounds completely disappear.
It takes a significant amount of practice to be able to understand spoken Icelandic when most letters aren’t pronounced at all. Native speakers aren’t aware that they’re skipping over letters, and listeners aren’t aware that their brain is filling in the blanks.
In the examples below, letters that are shown in gray aren’t pronounced at all. Practice pronouncing those sentences.

Vowels at word boundaries

When a word ends in a vowel that doesn’t have an accent mark (a, e, i, o, u, ö) and the next word starts in a vowel, the first vowel disappears.
  • Mamma mín er bakari. Mamma er bakari.
The word er starts in a vowel, and so it “eats” the vowel that comes before it.
This can cause different words to sound the same:
  • Hann er ekki bakari.
  • Þeir eru ekki bakarar.
  • Ég fer heim á eftir.
  • Ég verð heima á eftir.
A native speaker will not notice that the above letters are missing, there is no ambiguity as there’s only one word that can fit given the rest of the sentence.
More examples:
  • ▶ Play Mamma og pabbi eru að koma á eftir.
    • If you pronounce every sound in this sentence ▶ Play, it sounds unnatural.
  • ▶ Play Hvað ertu að gera?
This also happens when the same vowel is side by side:
  • Ég ætla að koma.
This doesn’t happen to vowels that have an accent mark (á, ú, í, ó, é).
  • Ég kem þá á eftir.
  • Strætó er kominn.
  • Þú ert farinn.

Sounds that are so soft that they disappear (Ð and G)

The soft g sound ▶ Play (such as in ég) and the soft ð sound ▶ Play (such as in ) are so soft that they often just disappear.
  • ▶ Play Ég er að koma. [é er a koma]
  • ▶ Play Og hvað með það? [o kva me þa]
  • Það er alveg ágætt. [þa er alve ágætt]
In particular you should remember the following common words:
  • ég – You should always pronounce it as just “é”
  • og – You should always pronounce it as just “o”
  • að – You should always pronounce it as just “a”
  • það – You should always pronounce it as just “þa” (or “ða” in an unstressed position)

Common words starting with Þ, Ð, or H

Level A2

Þ disappearing, or sounding like Ð or H

Þ has a tendancy to become softer, especially when it comes to common words like “this, that, there, it” when they are not the most important word of the sentence. There are four different ways you will hear Þ being pronounced:
  • Þ, such as in Þess vegna.
  • Ð, such as in Ég kem með það. [é kem me ða]
  • H, such as in Það er gott að heyra. [ha e gott]
  • Disappearing, such as in Hvað er þetta? [kva er etta]
Yes, you heard correctly, Þ sounds like H in some contexts. This is quite common at the start of sentences.
Examples of Þ disapperaring:
  • ▶ Play Hvað er þetta? [kva er etta]
  • ▶ Play Eru þessar pítsur ekki tilbúnar? [er essar ...] Notice in this example that since Þ had disappeared, the “e” in the remaining “essar” caused the previous vowel to disappear, as explained in the above section.
  • Ég vil ekki fá þetta. [é vil igyi fá etta]
  • Hvað er barnið þitt eiginlega að gera? [kva e badni itt eiginlea a gera]
Examples of Þ sounding like Ð:
  • Ég vil það. [é vil ða]
  • Ég kem með það. [é kem me ða]
  • Ég vil að þú komir. [é vil a ðú komir]
  • Ég vil að þeir komi. [é vil a ðeir komi]
Examples of Þ sounding like H:
  • Þetta er ekki að virka. [hett er igya virka]
  • Það er bara þannig. You can choose between:
    • [þa e bara þannig], clear speech
    • [ha e bara hannig], slurred speech
How can I know which sound to make?
You can’t know. There are no good rules about when to make a Þ, Ð, H, or no sound, because it all depends on context and whether the speaker is trying to speak clearly. This is something you slowly learn by listening to how Icelandic is spoken and imitating it.