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I've been reading answers to the question asking how "Smaug" should be pronounced and I was wondering, is there an authoritative answer to the pronunciation of "Gandalf"?

I first read The Hobbit when I was eight years old and I instinctively thought the name should be pronounced "Gan-dolf", the "-al-" being as in the word "salt". But in the films (especially the 1970s cartoon version) they pronounced it "Gan-dalf" with the "-al" pronounced as in "pal". This always sounded like an Americanism to me.

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    I never heard of salt being pronounced "solt", although I am an American and not a speaker of whatever your dialect is. I always thought that Gandalf was pronounced "gand-alf". I think that you might be influenced by Castle Gandolfo in Italy. Apr 19, 2018 at 15:03
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    I mean "salt" as rhyming with "malt", halt" or "Walt". I've only visited the US a few times but I'm sure Mr. Disney's first name didn't have the same vowel sound as the first syllable of "fallacy".
    – Wallnut
    Apr 19, 2018 at 15:14
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    In the first British audiobook versions of LOTR (a roommate had 'em), they pronounced Gandalf as Gan-daff, as in "half." I refused to believe that was correct, and will continue to do so. With my fingers in my ears if necessary.
    – docwebhead
    Apr 19, 2018 at 17:28
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    @M.A.Golding I never heard of salt being pronounced "solt". Really? Then how do you pronounce it?
    – RonJohn
    Apr 20, 2018 at 14:49
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    +1 to pronounced "Gan-dolf", the "-al-" being as in the word "salt".
    – RonJohn
    Apr 20, 2018 at 14:50

3 Answers 3

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Who better to ask than the professor himself, here he is reading the opening to the Fellowship of the Ring. At 00:23 he says "'No' said Gandalf..."

Tolkien seems to pronounce it as most would expect (or at least as always seemed obvious to me), "gand" as in gander and "alf" as in Alfred or alpha. However, Tolkien seems to split the two syllables as "gan" and "dalf", with the syllable break on the 'd' as opposed to the 'a'.

According to the UK IPA (taken from the words Gander and alpha) it would be something like /’ɡæn.dælf/ (Source for lettering from here)

Similarly, this clip from an interview with Sir Christopher Lee (who had met with Tolkien) shows that he pronounces it the same.


Wikipedia claims the IPA to be /ˈɡændɑːlf/, however this seems to be taken from Appendix E - "Writing and Spelling". Which people have identified as not necessarily being accurate because they refer mostly to the ancient scripts as opposed to Westron. However from there it would suggest the following pronunciation:

“has only the sound of g in give, get”

NB: The below has been amended due to a massive oversight by myself and the help from @Emil in the comments.

For the vowels they would've been pronounced as the 'a' in machine father which wikitionary suggest is an /ə/ /ɑ/ (note these are still purely for Sindarin names):

That is, the sounds were approximately those represented by i, e, a, o, u in English machine, were, father, for, brute, irrespective of quantity.

As for the "L"

represents more or less the sound of English initial l, as in let.

The suggestion for "F" has been proven wrong by Tolkien as well as Sir Christopher and most other accounts.

represents f, except at the end of words, where it is used to represent the sound of v (as in English of): Nindalf, Fladrif.

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    I think you are misreading the quote. You are supposed to pronounce “i” as in “machine”, and “a” as in “father”, not “a” as in “machine”. Apr 19, 2018 at 16:29
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    If you want to stress the second syllable, write it like /ɡæn'dælf/. Most people I know pronounce it as /'ɡæn.dælf/, with the stress /'/ on the first syllable.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 20, 2018 at 4:26
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    The appendix is not very relevant, because Gandalf is not in a Middle-Earth language, neither Elvish nor Westron. As the other answer shows, Gandalf is a Nordic name. The "explanation" is that it's a translated version of whatever the Hobbits actually called him.
    – Javier
    Apr 20, 2018 at 15:09
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    AFAIK the Rohan language is also "translated". The problem is that mannish languages never appear directly in Lord of the Rings, only translated to their equivalents. Gandalf, much like Sam, Merry, Rivendell, Isengard and many others, is an European name and should be pronounced as such.
    – Javier
    Apr 20, 2018 at 15:15
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    Funnily, Sir Christopher Lee pronounces it, in your video, just like a native German speaker would... certainly not at all like "Gander". Did I mention that I find Lee absolutely adorable, even (or especially) at the age of that clip...
    – AnoE
    Apr 20, 2018 at 22:29
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Tolkien took the name of Gandalf from Gandalfr in the list of dwarves in the Voluspa in the Elder Edda.

Since Gandalf means "cane/staff/wand elf", one can assume that "alf" might be pronounced like in Alfred which comes from Old English *aelfraed *or "elf counsel". So I guess that Gandalf might be pronounced "gand alf" or "gand elf".

Here are discussions of how Gandalf should be pronounced:

http://forums.theonering.com/viewtopic.php?t=212923

http://entmoot.tolkientrail.com/archive/index.php?t-569.html4

In this Quora question one answer says that Gandalf should be pronounced "gand-olv".

Some of the other answers to the Quora question have links to video and audio clips with Gandalf pronounced.

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-correct-pronunciation-of-Gandalf1

Here is a link to another clip:

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  • Nice answer. I thought of "alf" meaning "elf", too.
    – mbomb007
    Apr 19, 2018 at 21:28
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    The clip of Tolkien reading bits and pieces of LotR directly contradicts any /olf/ pronunciation: he clearly pronounces both a's the same way, and it's not like an /o/ at all.
    – Martha
    Apr 20, 2018 at 5:08
  • I believe Gandalf is old Norse for "half-elven". Apr 20, 2018 at 8:54
  • @Martha But it's very much like an /o/. The problem is that English has many /o/'s (and many /a/'s). The /a/ in Gandalf is much closer to the /o/ in pot than the /a/ in pat (at least in dialects affected by the cot–caught merger).
    – Wlerin
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:57
  • @KlausÆ.Mogensen Why? It doesn't.
    – chepner
    Sep 18, 2019 at 19:55
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According to the pronunciation section in Appendix E of Return of the King, it's said that "F represents f, except at the end of words, where it is used to represent the sound of v (as in English "of"): Nindalf, Fladrif.

Now I'm not sure to what the pronunciation guide applies, if it's just elvish stuff or if it's all names in the book, but if it's the latter, then Gandalf should at least be pronounced as if it was spelled Gandalv

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is noted in the first answer, as well as the fact this disagrees with the way Tolkien himself actually pronounced it. Please only post a new answer if you have substantial new information to contribute, like another canon source that reinforces this pronunciation.
    – DavidW
    Nov 12, 2021 at 23:15

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