The letter K can represent several different sounds.
K in the throat (with a breath)
This sound is the same as the English kite, with a slightly stronger breath of air going out (exhaling) after the letter.
- At the beginning of words
- kaka, kók, kaffi, kalt, kaupa
- In some loan words
Doing the small breath of air (exhaling) after the letter is necessary. It is better to exaggerate the strength of the breath rather than to do to little. Native speakers of Spanish and Dutch in particular have a harder time making this breathy sound. If you forget to do the exhalation, the letter will sound like a G.
K in the throat (without a breath)
This sound is the same as the above, just without the breath that comes after it. It is the same sound as the Icelandic G (“gaman, glas”), and is the same sound as in the English sky.
It appears in the middle of words when surrounded by vowels and at the end of words:
- kaka, kók, ríkur, bækur, lok
K in the roof of the mouth (with a breath)
This sound is similar to the English cute. Instead of being pronounced by closing the throat like a normal k, this sound is pronounced by having the most backwards part of your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. You have to give out a small breath of air (exhaling) after this letter.
It appears at the beginning of word, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
- kennari, kind, kíló, kynnast, kærasti, kirkja, Keflavík,
Many learners have difficulties with this sound, so it can be helpful to imagine kennari being written as “kyennari”, and kærasti written as “kyærasti”.
K in the roof of the mouth (without a breath)
This sound is similar to the English skew. It is pronounced by having the most backwards part of your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. It is the same sound as the Icelandic g in the words “gítar, gær, ógeð”, and is the same as in “kennari” but without the small breath of air.
It appears in the middle of a word, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
- tæki, ólíkir, poki, banki
Soft throaty breath
This sound is a soft throaty breath. It is the same sound as the English loch or Bach. It is the same sound as the g in the word “rólegt”.
This sound appears if the next letter is a t:
- október, Viktor, kaktus, rækta, kíktu, doktor, lykt
Small exhalation before the K
There are several situations where you have to breathe out (exhale) a little bit before the K. The situations are:
- Before a double K
- ekki ([e(h)ki]), dekk ([de(h)k]), bakka ([ba(h)ka])
- Before a kn:
- vakna ([va(h)kna]), undantekning ([undante(h)kning]), reknir ([re(h)knir])
- Before a kl:
- jöklar ([jö(h)klar]), sjúklingur ([sjú(h)klingur]), Hekla ([he(h)kla])
This small breath is extremely important, without it it’s almost impossible to understand you. It is better to exaggerate it rather than to do too little of it.
The name of the letter is “ká”.