How to Write in Old Norse With Futhark Runes: The Ultimate Guide

Old Norse runic inscriptionI often receive requests to write in runes an Old Norse word or phrase. People naturally tend to expect that nothing could be easier, since runes were initially created for the Old Norse language. There should be rules as for how to write with runes in that language. There should be some kind of table. However, tables that give Younger Futhark runes along with letters, usually do the opposite: they explain how to transform runes into letters. Those tables are of no use if you are interested in the reverse process.

Moreover, a mere table would not be enough to write in Old Norse with runes, it takes a whole tutorial to learn how to do that the way it might have been done on a Viking Age runestone ca. AD 1000.

1. Have Your Text in Old Norse

The first step is to make sure your text is in Old Norse. Note that modern Icelandic is very close to Old Norse. Icelanders usually have no difficulty in understanding texts that were written a thousand years ago, because their language changed very little since the time. Also note that a lot of Old Norse texts are available online in modern Icelandic orthography. Thus we have to make sure which of the three possible options we actually have:

  • Modern Icelandic text
  • Old Norse text in modern Icelandic orthography
  • Old Norse text in Old Norse orthography

It is important to know if we want to do the inscription the way it might have been done in the Viking Age. A simple rule of thumb is as follows:

  • If you see words ég (‘I’) and og (‘and’), it’s modern Icelandic.
  • If you see ek and ok instead, but also words að (‘to’) and það (‘that’), and the letter ö in any word, it’s Old Norse in modern Icelandic orthography.
  • If you see ek, ok, at, and þat, and also letters ø or ǫ, it’s Old Norse in Old Norse orthography.

2. Choose Your Version of the Futhark Runic Alphabet

People sometimes want to write in Old Norse with the Elder Futhark runes, simply because they are visually more appealing. Why not. However, the standard runic alphabet for the Viking Age runic inscriptions was the Younger Futhark. It had three variants:

  • Long Branch: Danish runes (also often considered as the standard Younger Futhark set).
  • Short Twig: Norwegian-Swedish or Rök runes (more minimalistic variant).
  • Staveless or Hålsinge runes (triumph of minimalism).

Long Branch runes originated in Denmark but eventually were used more or less throughout Scandinavia (and wherever Vikings pillaged, traded and drank). Staveless runes were used only locally. (By the way, if you wish to emphasize your Norwegian or Swedish descent, I don’t think your choice is limited by the Short Twig option alone.)

3. Discriminate Between the Runes Where Necessary

3.1. Use of either reið or ýr rune for r.

In Proto-Norse and Old Norse (up to a certain time) there were two phonemes for r: /r/ (reið rune) and /R/ (ýr rune). The first one had always been /r/, since the Indo-European times. The second one, /R/, had been /s/ in Indo-European, and then /z/ in Proto-Germanic. Viking Age runic inscriptions differentiate between the two. Old Norse literature written down in the 13th century (and Old Norse orthography, which is based on it) does not. Bad news: we are to know the etymology of the word in order to write it in Viking Age runes correctly. Good news: there is a rule of thumb that covers most cases. It is enough to make an authentic runic inscription, since Viking Age runecarvers were not ideal at differentiating between the two: they often put ýr where reið was needed and vice versa.

Rule of thumb: Nearly any r that is in a case and number ending (for nouns) or in a person and number ending (for regular verbs) is /R/, not /r/.


kallar ‘he calls’ (present indicative 3rd person singular) -r < -R < -z

armr ‘hand’ (nominative singular): -r < -aR < -az

skildir ‘shields’ (nominative plural): -ir < -juR < -juz < -iwiz

heiðar ‘of the wasteland’ (genitive singular): -ar < -ioR < -ioz

Note, however, that r at the end of the words faðir ‘father’, bróðir ‘brother’, móðir ‘mother’, dóttir ‘daughter’ and systir ‘sister’ belongs to the stem and not the ending, so all these words have reið rune at the end.

The word Thor also has reið, since r + R gave r: Þórr (þur) < Þonar < ÞunraR < Þunraz

3.2. Use of either ár or ą́ss rune for a.

The rune ą́ss < ansuz was used for a nasalized /ã/, that is for groups an + consonant in standard Old Norse orthography. Example: England was spelt ikląt in runic inscriptions:

The rune ár was used for a and á in all other positions (but sometimes for /ã/, too).

3.3. Use of either nauð rune or nothing for n; maðr rune or nothing for m

All the other nasalized vowels did not have special runes for them, so whenever you have a group of vowel + n + g, d, render it as vowel + g, d (without nauð rune). Use nauð for n in all other cases. Example: konung was spelt kunukR in runic inscriptions:

The same applies to groups vowel + m + b: render it as vowel + b (without maðr rune). Use maðr for m in all other cases.

3.4. Use of either fé or úr rune for v.

Before vowels v was spelt with úr rune. Example: viking (in the sense of raid, not person) was spelt uikik in runic inscriptions:

The rune fé was used for v in all other positions.

3.5. Use of either úr or ár + úr for o.

O and ó are usually spelt as úr in runic inscriptions and only occasionally as ár+úr. Note, however, that ok ‘and’ was nearly always spelt auk:

4. Refer to This General Table

Rune variants that go first appear more frequently in the Viking Age runic inscriptions. If there is a reference to a paragraph above, the use of variants depends on a rule.

a, á or (3.2) p, b, mb
b, mb, p r or (3.1)
d, nd, t s
e, é or , rarely

t, d, nd
f, v u, ú
g, ng, k v or (3.4)
h x
i , í y, ý or
j z
k, g, ng ø, ǿ (œ) or
l ǫ, ǫ́ or , rarely

m æ , rarely
n ei
o, ó or

þ, ð

5. Do Not Use Double Runes

Viking Age runic inscriptions normally do not have two identical runes in a row. This is valid even for two runes that belong to two different words, one at the end of a previous one, the other at the beginning of a following one (if no separators are used). Cf. raþu for rað þu below.

6. Use Dots or x Signs as Spaces

Viking Age runic inscriptions either do not have separators between words at all, or use dots, combinations of dots or x signs as separators.

7. (Optional) Begin Your Inscription With a Traditional Formula

Some runestone inscriptions begin with words Rað þu (Interpret!) or Rað þu runar (Interpret the runes!):

Runic inscription U 29 (Hillersjö stone) has the word raþu in the eye of a dragon (see the image above left).

This tutorial is © copyright. No part of it may be copied or reproduced.

219 comments… add one
  • Lloyd

    I was wondering how you would simply write Ullr, as in the god of the hunt, would it be:
    I’m an avid huntsman and would love to get this tattooed in tribute, but would kinda like it to be correct before it’s etched into my flesh.
    Thank you in advance!

    • Viking Rune

      Correct, but ýr not reið rune at the end.

  • Mike

    How would the names of the nine worlds be written in younger futhark runes? I found a website giving the old norse words, but I am having trouble using your guide to turn them into runes.

    Midgard – Miðgarðr
    Asgard – Ásgarðr
    Vanaheim – Vanaheimr
    Jotunheim – Jötunheimr
    Niflheim – Niflheimr
    Muspellheim – Múspellsheimr
    Alfheim – Álfheimr
    Nidavellir – Niðavellir
    Svartalfheim – Svartálfaheimr
    Hel – Hel

    • Sigurd

      Miðgarðr -> -miþkarþR-
      Ásgarðr -> -askarþR-
      Vanaheimr -> -uanahaimR-
      Jötunheimr -> -iutunhaimR-
      Niflheimr -> -niflhaimR-
      Múspellsheimr -> -musbelhaimR-
      Álfheimr -> -alfhaimR-
      Niðavellir -> -niþauiliR-
      Svartálfaheimr -> -suartalfahaimR-
      Hel -> -hil-

      • Viking Rune

        Sigurd, Múspellsheimr -> -musbelshaimR- not -musbelhaimR-

      • Viking Rune

        Capital R stands for ýr rune here.

  • Clement

    What is a valhalla word in futhark ?

  • Virginia


    Your guide is really useful!

    I translated verse 45 of the Völuspá from the Old Norse version I found, could you possibly check if any errors stand out if you have the time?

    Thank you!

    Brø̄þr munu berjask
    ok at bǫnum verþask,
    munu systrungar
    sifjum spilla;
    hart’s ī heimi,
    hōrdōmr mikill;
    [skeggjǫld, skalmǫld,
    skildir ro klofnir,
    vindǫld, vargǫld,
    āþr verǫld steypisk;]
    mun engi maþr
    ǫþrum þyrma.

    • Sigurd

      Mostly ‘correct’ (since there’s no set manner to write it) only:
      -Isn’t it ”Hart er í heimi” ? (-hart-ir-i-haimi-)
      -skildir would be -skiltiR- (normally but it’s not per se wrong i think to write -skiltir-)
      -engi would be -iki- but i suppose that was a typo since you did combine NG to k in systrungar :)

      • Virginia

        Sigurd, thanks for the reply!

        I used the only text I found in Old Norse orthography, so I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be ‘hart’s ī heimi’ or ‘Hart er í heimi’.

        Thanks for the other corrections =)

        • Sigurd

          I would think the latter one.
          And no problem !

  • Jacob

    Hello, i read your guide, and it is by far the most info ive found on the subject. I am no linguist by any means though. I was hoping you could help me transcribe “vargr” the old norse for wolf into younger futhark runes. It seems every letter has a special case or alternate rune, and i didnt understand all your syntax. Thank you so much in advance!

    • Sigurd

      You would write it like -uarkR- or -farkR- (-uærkR- and -færkR- could also be but i don’t think many would have written it that way cause of the short ‘a’ in the word) but i think the first one would be a more common way of writing it, although would both be right.

  • Kyle K

    Hey was needing help on translating from Icelandic to Old Norse Runes,
    if i could get some guide to help me with it that would be appreciated.
    I have got “My Family is my strength and my weakness”(english)
    “Fjölskyldan mín er styrkur minn og veikleiki minn” (Icelandic)

    • Sigurd

      Sorry i don’t know how to write runes down here, but i can give you possible transcription. -fjulskultan-min-ir-sturkr-min-auk-vaiklaiki-min-
      Styrkur loses it’s ‘u’ cause in Old Norse it would be Styrkr (declension -ur is a later development)
      ‘og’ becomes ‘ok’ also because it is the Old Norse version of the word, but is transcribed as -auk-, -au- was in some cases a substitute for ‘o’ but mostly in the word ‘ok’ as found on many runestones.

  • Angel

    I’ve learned that my ancestors came from Scandinavia and I’ve been doing a lot of research pertaining to the history and of course pertaining to Vikings – I wanted to get a simple tattoo to symbolize my ancestry, but almost every website I find dedicated to Vikings and runes, the runes vary. It’s been very difficult to find a solid foundation to get the most accurate transliteration. I know there is no ‘one size fits all’ chart, but what is the best way to ensure the best possible transliteration with younger futhark?

    The word I’m attempting to transliterate is –
    Óreiða (Chaos, icelandic), and each table I find have small differences with how it should go.

    I’m utterly lost.

    Thanks for any help you can offer. Great site, by the way.

  • Marnel

    Is there a way I could send you a picture of an inscription in rune and have you translate it for me? I think it is three words. It is on a pendant given to me about 40 years ago, when my uncle travelled to Norway.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Marnel. Feel free to share it via our Facebook page.

  • Julian

    I’m trying to write “sun shines, sun burns”. I translated to “sól skínr, sól brennr”, would that be correct?
    These are the runes i came up with:
    Sól: “sól” “úr” “lögr”
    Brennr: “bjarkan” “reið” “iss” “nauð” “ýr”
    Skínr: “sól” “kaun” “iss” “nauð” “ýr”
    Just double-checking with you since you are obviously more capable than I’ll ever be. Thank you!

    • Viking Rune

      Julian, yes, it’s the right way to write it.

      • Julian

        Thank you! I’m glad I got it right.

  • Kevin

    Me and my brothers are looking at getting tattoos and we want eather brothers or brotherhood written in Viking rune as we are tru Vikings

    • Viking Rune

      Okay, so you have to find out which is the Old Norse word for brothers or brotherhood and then follow the tutorial above.

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