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.

258 comments… add one
  • Camilo

    Hi. I’m very enthusiastic about learning about Old Norse but I’m having problems with the English word SON. I have found that the correct translation is SONR, but I’m not sure about the last R letter if I need to use the reið rune or ýr rune. I believe that I need to use the reið rune.
    Thanks a lot for your help. Love your work!
    Greetings from Chile!

  • Pat Kniesner

    Thank you very much for your excellent explanations. I’ve been trying to transcribe a phrase in Old Norse into Younger Futhark for my grandson, and couldn’t have begun to do it without the instructions you’ve provided. I expect I’ve got a few things wrong, and a Viking might laugh at it, but he could probably understand it. Thanks again!

  • Victor

    Hi! This tutorial is amazing!

    I looked in some places for the words “justice” and “change” in Old Norse. “jafnaðr” is justice, but i haven’t found the right word for “Change”. I understood a lot of the tutorial, but i’m not a native speaker of English so it gets harder hahah

    Can you help me to translate jafnaðr to Younger Futhark? I would also like to know if there is any word that represents something like “spirit of change”, like being malleable, something like that.

    I’m using a translator right now, so forgive me for anything: D

  • Frida

    Dear Vikingrune,

    thanks a lot for this extensive guide, the work and knowledge that went into it really show. I was thinking of translating a rather silly quote:
    “pants are an illusion, and so is death” to longbranch runes for fun and this is what i have now:
    “broekr eru ein glamsýni ok hael er it sama”
    ᛒᚱᚢᚴᛦ ᛁᚱᚢ ᛁᚾ ᚴᛚᚬᛘᛋᛁᚾᛁ ᛅᚢᚴ ᚼᛁᛚ ᛁᚱ ᛁᛏ ᛋᛅᛘᛅ
    ᛒᚱᚢᚴᛦ ᛁᚱᚢ ᛁᚾ ᚴᛚᚬᛘᛋᛁᚾᛁ ᛅᚢᚴ ᚦᛅᛏ ᛁᚱ ᚼᛁᛚ ᛁᛏ ᛋᛅᛘᛅ
    i havent found an old norse equivalent for the word “also” or “too” so i was thinking of saying it sama, does that make sense grammatically?


  • Sïđ Dalton

    Hi, great site and easy to use guide! I’m trying to transcribe some old norse verse into younger futhark runes to inscribe the gunnels of the boat I’m building. Question, when a word starts with f (e.g fiska) do you apply the same rule as for a v and use the úr rune, or use the fé rune? Becomes tricky when transcribing the word ‘fold’! Appreciate any of your wisdom. Thanks!

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Sïđ. Fé rune in this case, because it’s f not v before vowel.

  • Aaron

    Hi I want this passage of the Gylfaginning for a tattoo and found the passage on Old Norse.
    This is my atempt to convert it to long branch runes using your script.
    I’m just not quite shure were to use
    ᛅ or ᚬ for a, i’ve always put an ᚬ for a-n it’s hard to tell if an a is nasalized,
    ᚱ or ᛦ for r, I guess this should be ok (double r gives an ᚱ right? as in berr) and
    were to use ᛅ or ᛁ for e.

    Þórr berr banaorð af Miðgarðsormi ok stígr þaðan braut níu fet. Þá fellr hann dauðr til jarðar fyrir eitri því, er ormrinn blæss á hann.


    Thank you for this great website!

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Aaron. A is nasalized in groups an + consonant. As a rule of thumb, use ár whenever you’re not sure. Around the year 1000 Norsemen did the same.

  • Alex Buckberry

    I was trying to translate the word rekkr to younger futhark, using the guide i have come up with:
    But was unsure about whether to use the r or R rune at the end as was mentioned in section 3.1?
    The site has been extremely helpful and any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

  • Amir Yahyazadeh

    Hi Viking Rune,
    Awesome website learned a lot from it for sure!
    I found this Icelandic proverb that you had posted on your site also
    “Árinni kennir illur ræðari”
    “A bad rower blames the oar”
    Using your guide, I ended up with this in runes however I am unsure as to the r part you mentioned in section 3.1 and for the Á rune mentioned in 3.2. Is this writing correct?
    ᛅᚱᛁᚾᛁ ᛫ ᚴᛁᚾᛁᚱ ᛫ ᛁᛚᚢᚱ ᛫ ᚱᛅᚦᛅᚱᛁ

    • Rick

      A simple but not always accurate rule of thumb for the r is that, except for the exceptions in 3.1, r’s at the end of words are almost always going to be yr, and not reið. The trick is learning enough to tell whether r is part of the stem or root of the word (use reið), or part of a grammatical inflection at the end of the word (use yr). In “Árinni kennir illur ræðari” arinni is the oar being called out or blamed (kennir) by the bad rower, so the r’s which mark case on the adjective and verb, illur and kennir, are definitely yr. Ræðari is the rower and I’m unsure in this case if the last r marks case or is part of the stem, the word is Icelandic from the 18th century and the whole proverb is written in modern Icelandic. So other than changing the R’s on the two middle words your transcription looks fine. Since the phrase is Icelandic “illur” is transcribed fine with “u” but Icelandic “illur” would be “illr” in old norse, with no rune for “u”

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Amir.

      Old Norse ár is from Proto-Germanic *airō, so reið rune.

      The ending -ir in kennir is Present 3rd person singular, it’s always ýr rune (-r < -R).

      The ending -r in illr (not illur, as Rick already noted) is nominative case singular, it’s always ýr rune (-r < -R).

      Suffix -ari in ræðari is a Common Germanic loan from the Latin -arius, so this -r- cannot derive from -R-, so reið rune, not ýr rune.

      Old Norse verb róa (‘to row’) is from the Proto-Germanic *rōaną, this r has always been r, so the first r in ræðari is reið rune, not ýr rune.

      Only etymology can help us tell whether we have to use r or R, reið or ýr rune. However, Norsemen themselves might confound them.

  • Breanna

    I am wondering what “W” would translate to in Long Branch? Is there a translation? If not, how would I go about translating English words with a “w” into Long Branch?

    Also, even after reading this tutorial many times, I am still having a hard time figuring out the rules for “V” in Long Branch.


    • Viking Rune

      There is no w in Old Norse.

    • Aaron

      You can substitute the rune for f/v for any w’s.

  • Dorian


    I’m absolutely impressed with your website and the time nad effort it took you guys to make such a compilation. Having tried to recreate a somewhat cheesy battlecry from English to Old Norse I would gladly accept any critique of my translation and perhaps of the way I have spelt it.

    English: War-time! Blood and death!
    Old Norse attempted translation: Orrustu timi! Bloth og dauthi!
    ᚢᚱᚢᛋᛏᚢ ᛏᛁᛘᛁ ᛒᛚᚬᚦ ᛅᚢK ᛏᛅᚢᚦᛁ
    (I couldn’t find a “k” to copy-paste, sorry)

    Any feedback is welcome!
    Thank you kindly.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Dorian.

      I find the word orrostutimi in Trójumanna saga only, so even if it existed, it seems to emerge rather late and to be rather rare.

      The word blóð should be written with the úr rune, not ą́ss rune (the latter was used for o later in the Middle Ages).

Leave a Comment