This is a question I get asked so much that I decided to write my definitive explanation to how to pronounce the word ‘hygge’. If you’re not sure what hygge is, then start with my guide then come back to learn how to say it so you can tell everyone (and also, of course, know how to ask for my book ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge, available in all good bookshops now).
So, hygge. A simple word – five letters. And it causes so much confusion! Danish isn’t the easiest of languages to understand if it isn’t your native tongue, so we aren’t starting on a firm foundation unfortunately.
After playing around with transliteration for the word, my friend David and I decided that ‘who-guh’ was the most accessible way to explain it to English speakers. It works for about 90% of the word, but not quite. That was in response to seeing some bizarre explanations in the press – ‘hoo-gah’, ‘higgy’, ‘hig’ and ‘hooj-ah’ being some of the most frustrating. The problem is that hygge contains a sound and a syllable not normally found in English, so even ‘hue-guh’ doesn’t work, because ‘hue’ is a diphthong in English.
If you know the International Phonetic Alphabet (it’s so handy for situations like this), then hygge written as:
So let’s start at the beginning – the easy bit.
The ‘h’ is the same as in English – huh. But you do have to include it – if you have a tendency to lop off your h’s then you won’t get it spot on.
The ‘y’ is the tricky bit. Some people explain it using French – like the ‘u’ sound in ‘tu’ and ‘rue’. That’s absolutely fine as long as you speak French. If you don’t, here’s my trick.
Danish is a vowel-rich language – a Dane’s mouth has to accommodate 12 different basic vowel sounds (not including modifications for length and our famous glottal stop, but that’s for another day). The ‘y’ sound is lurking in the top middle bit of your mouth, and you can find it by doing a simple exercise.
Start by saying ‘i’ (eeh), then turn it into a ‘u’ (ooh) sound, so you should feel it start at the front (eeh) then move backwards (ooh) towards your throat. Try it again and stop in the middle. That’s your Danish ‘y’ sound right there! Keep practising.
Once you’ve mastered the ‘y’, the two g’s are simple when put together with the final ‘e’, which is like a little noise added to the end as an ‘uh!’ sound. Many languages are full of these, but English avoids them for the most part. So the ‘gge’ is a sharp ‘guh!’ sound.
So, your emphasis is on the first ‘hy’, finishing with the ‘guh’ at the end.
Listen to these Danes talking about ‘hygge’ for inspiration, then come in to the shop and practise on us!