G is a difficult letter in Icelandic, since it can represent 6 different sounds depending on which letters surround it. It can represent:
- a hard G in the throat
- a hard G in the roof of the mouth
- a soft G with the voice
- a soft throaty G
- a J
- no sound
The name of the letter is “gé”.
1. Hard G in the throat
This is the basic G. It is similar to the g in English, except that you don’t use your voice. It’s the same sound as in the English word sky.
This G sound appears in the following situations:
- At the beginning of words (see next section for the exceptions)
- gaman, glaður, glas, gott
- If the next letter is l or n
- rafmagn, sögn
- regla, fugl
- In double Gs.
- liggur, þriggja
2. Hard G in the roof of the mouth
Instead of being pronounced by closing the throat like a normal g, this sound is pronounced by having the most backwards part of your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. It is very similar to the English skew.
This sound appears if the next letter after the G is e, i, í, j, y, ý, æ, ei or ey.
- gítar, gefa, giska, gær, geyma, leggjast, herbergi, ógeðslega, ágæt, Belgía,
Many learners have difficulties with this sound, so it can be helpful to imagine gær being written as “gyær”, and gefa written as “gyefa”.
3. Soft G with the voice
This sound is pronounced by constricting your throat a little bit but not closing it completely. If you are an English speaker, start with the g sound in gun, but don’t stop the air completely, let some air through while using your voice. It is a softer version of the sound in the Spanish amigo.
This sound appears in the middle of words when g is surrounded by vowels, and at the end of a word when it’s not the last word in a sentence:
- laga, aðallega, saga, þetta lag er fínt, ég, og
It is important to not overpronounce this sound, it is just a very soft constriction.
So soft that it disappears
In fact, this sound is so soft that it very often just disappears, especially when speaking quickly:
- Og er alveg hægt að laga það? [o er alve hægt a la-a ða]
In particular you have to remember to not pronounce the g in the following words:
- ég – You should always pronounce it as just “é”
- og – You should always pronounce it as just “o”
4. Soft throaty G (soft G without the voice)
This sound is a soft throaty breath. It is the same sound as the English loch or Bach. It is the same as the sound in the above section (the soft G sound) except without using the voice.
- At the end of sentences where the word otherwise used a soft G sound
- lag, falleg, Kópavog
- Before a t:
- rólegt, sagt
If the letter is between a vowel and j or i, it sounds like the Icelandic j or the English yes:
- magi, allt í lagi, félagið, boginn, föstudaginn, sundlaugin, segja, sleginn
6. No sound
If the letter is between á, ó, ú, and a, u, then there is no sound:
- fljúga, skógur, ljúga, plága
The word for God is “Guð”. For historical reasons, this word is pronounced [Gvuð]. Names that are derived from the term for God also follow this pattern: Guðmundur ([Gvuðmundur]), Guðlaug ([Gvuðlaug]), but no other words do.