Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.?
The German alphabet uses the same 26 letters as English, plus the additional character "ß" and three umlaut vowels, "ä", "ü" and "ö". This article is the most comprehensive guide to the German alphabet that you will find on the Internet. I will explain everything you need to know to read, write and pronounce the German alphabet.
Unlike English, German spelling is generally consistent. Once you learn the German spelling rules, it becomes easy to spell and pronounce most German words.
First, let's look at the 26 "normal" German letters. Just like in English, each letter has a name. The name does not always indicate how the letter is pronounced, in the same way that the "w" sound in English does not appear in the name of this letter ("double-u").
This table gives the name of each letter and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation of each name:
|BED AND BREAKFAST||beh||/to be/|
If you don't know how to read the IPA, see thefluent guide in 3 monthsto read API.
Do you know how the letter "z" is called "zee" in America and "zed" in Britain? Something similar happens with some of the German letters. The table above gives the names of the letters.In Germany. The Austrians do things a bit differently:
- “j” is called “jeh” (/jeː/)
- “q” is pronounced “queh” (/kveː/)
- “y” is still called “ypsilon”, but is pronounced /ʏˈpsiːlɔn/ (the difference is that the emphasis is on the second syllable instead of the first).
Next, we'll also cover four "special" German letters ("ß" and umlaut vowels), but first, let's look at how the 26 letters above are pronounced.
Before we begin, a quick reminder: in German,all nouns are always written with the first letter capitalized.
How to pronounce the German alphabet
As I said before, the German pronunciation is generally consistent. It is usually clear how a word should be pronounced from its spelling. The problem is that some letters have more than one pronunciation, depending on their position in the word. There are also many special letter combinations to remember, like how the English "sh" sounds different than an "s" followed by an "h."
German is a diverse language with many different dialects, but the following rules apply in most places, most of the time.
How to pronounce German consonants
Let's start with the easy stuff.”f”, ”h”, ”k”, ”m”, ”n” and ”p” are pronounced the same as in English."L" and "t" are also basically the same thing, with one small difference: in both cases, the tongue should be slightly further forward in the mouth, touching both the upper teeth and the gums.
The following consonants are also easy:
- The "c" rarely appears outside of letter combinations such as "sch", but when alone, it is pronounced like a German "z" (see below) before "e", "i", "y", " ä", "O". Before any other vowel it is pronounced “hard”, like a “k”. (Usually when an English word has a "hard c", the German cognate is written with a "k", e.g. "the music" vs. "to music”.)
- “j” is pronounced like an English “y” – as in the wordmi("yes"), pronounced "of".
- “q”, as in English, is always followed by a “u”. The difference is that in English, “qu” is pronounced “kw”, but in German it is pronounced “kv”.
- The "v" is pronounced like an "f" in English.
- "w" is pronounced like a "v" in English. (Volkswagenin German it is pronounced “folks-vagon”.)
- "x" is always pronounced "ks", even at the beginning of a word.
- "z" is pronounced "ts."
(Note: It's very stereotypical for native German speakers to pronounce "w" like "v" when speaking English, for example, "vat does Vill vant?" But if you spend time with Germans whose English is intermediate, you'll notice that they often make the opposite mistake: pronouncing a "v" in English as a "w", for example, "the wan is wery waluable" This is a great example ofhypercorrection; these speakers try so hard not to pronounce the "w" in the German stereotype that they change the "v" to "w" even when they shouldn't).
Some consonants change pronunciation depending on their position in the word:
- "b", "d" and "g" are pronounced the same as in English, except at the end of a word, where they become "p", "t" and "k" respectively. Also note that "d" is "indented" in the same way as "t"; your tongue should be a little further forward in your mouth than in English.
- The "s" is pronounced like an English "z" at the beginning of a word or between two vowels, and like an English "s" elsewhere. (In Austria, an "s" at the beginning of a word is pronounced like an "s" in English.)
The only remaining consonant is "r". This has two main pronunciations, depending on the dialect, and both are quite complicated for a native English speaker. In "Standard German", it is a throaty, throaty sound that comes from the back of the throat, like the "ch" in Scottish "loch". Some people pronounce it astrinado uvular.
In Switzerland, Australia, and Bavaria, the "r" is pronounced as a "honeycomb trill," the famous "rolled R" sound found in many other languages, including Spanish. Take a look at Fi3Mguide to pronouncing the rolled rfor more details about it.
How to pronounce German consonant combinations
In English, certain letter combinations like "ch," "th," and "sh" have special pronunciations that need to be learned separately. German has its own set of combinations, but they're really no more difficult than English.
The most complicated for English speakers is "ch", which has two pronunciations. After an “i”, “e”, “ä', “ü” or “ö” there is a sound calledsouthern palatal fricative(/ç/ in IPA), which is a kind of thin sibilant sound that uses a tongue position close to “sh”. In fact, in English we use, for example, the “h” in “hue”. Another way to listen: Say "cute" slowly and watch what your tongue does between the "c" and "u." This sound appears in many common German words such asUE,miguelmiNo(“I”, “my”, “no”) so that you can practice a lot as your German progresses.
(In some German dialects, this sound is pronounced like an English "sh," which is likepronounced JFKin his famous quote “I am a Berliner”.)
After any other vowel, "ch" is pronounced like a slightly stronger "h." Say "h," but contract the back of your throat a little more to make the sound darker and louder (but not as harsh or guttural as a full German "r"). You'll hear it in words likeBesidesoto do.
This rule is not about the written letter, but about the position of your tongue. "I", "e", "eu" and umlaut vowels bring the tongue closer to the teeth, making the whistling "ch" a closer, more natural place for the tongue to go next. "A", "u", and "au" all come from the back of the mouth, so the more guttural "ch" is the natural sound to follow.
Here are the other consonant clusters:
- “tsch” is pronounced like an English “ch”, as inGoodbye("goodbye").
- “sch” is pronounced like “sh” in English.
- In “sp” and “st”, the “s” is pronounced like a “sh” in English. afterSpanielmiStudent, which have the expected meaning, are pronounced “shpaniel” and “shtudent” respectively.
- The suffix “-ng” is pronounced the same as in English.
- “-ig” at the end of the word is pronounced like the German “ich”.
- “pf” is a strange sound that we don't have in English. As the spelling suggests, it's like a cross between "p" and "f". Try pronouncing both consonants at the same time by saying the word "cup" quickly. Make sure you pronounce the "p" and the "f" simultaneously, not like "puh-fuh."
How to pronounce German vowels
Most of the German vowel sounds exist in English, but there are some tricky ones that require practice. Vowel sounds tend to vary more between different dialects than consonant sounds, but the following guidelines will work fine in most places.
If you really want to master vowel pronunciation, I recommend studying theInternational Phonetic Alphabetand learn the basics of vowel phonetics to understand what terms like "vowel height" and "vowel rounding" mean. You don't need a linguistics degree, but understanding these concepts makes knowing where to place your tongue to pronounce a difficult vowel much easier.
I will avoid technical phonetic material in my descriptions as much as possible, but will include the IPA symbol for each vowel sound, written in square brackets, eg [a].
- ait is [a], like an English "a" as in "hat". This sound is also writtenah(Number, "number") orAA(brackets, "Express").
- mi. Before a double consonant as inbet(“cama”), that is, [ɛ], like the “e” in English “get” or “bed”. Otherwise, it's usually [e], which is like the first half of the English "ay" sound in "way". Note that when you say English "ouch," your tongue starts at the bottom of your mouth and moves toward your teeth. The sound [e] is the vowel you get when you place your tongue in the position where "path" starts, sonomove your tongue The sound [e] can also be writteneh(the more, "more orsimulator(Army, "Army").
At the end of a word, for example inYou are welcome("please"),miis aschwa, a neutral "uh" sound, like the final syllable in the English pronunciation of "Canada".
- UEit's usually [ɪ], the English "i" as in "sit" (or "set" if you're from New Zealand). It can also be an [i], the "ee" sound in English as in "see". [i] can also be writtenI mean(No, "Never"),UE(dele, "the orI mean(It is, "It is").
- oit is [ɔ], the vowel found in American "thought" or British "not."
- Udsbefore a double consonant, as inmurmur(“mother”), is [ʊ], the vowel of English “put” or “wood”. Elsewhere, it is usually [u], the "oo" sound in English "shoot" or "food". [u] can also be writtenoh(quiet, "quiet").
- yis considered a vowel. It is usually only used on words of Greek origin likePsychology, where it is pronounced the same as a “ü” with a German umlaut. I will explain vowels with umlauts below. You will also see "and" in some English loanwords such asHobbyoDrinks, where the pronunciation does not change from English.
There are three “diphthongs” (double vowels) in German:
- UE, like inGerman, is pronounced like an English “oy” as in “boy” or “toy”… more or less. This is the advice most German pronunciation guides will give you, and if you pronounce “eu” like that, it will be understood, but the true German sound is subtly different. In English "oy," your lips start out small and round for the "o," but they break out into a smile when you get to the "y." To pronounce the German "I" sound like a native speaker,keep your lips rounded throughout the vowel. Your tongue should move, but your lips shouldn't.
- noIt is pronounced like the English “eye”. just think aboutNonownonorth. This sound is also writtenai,no, oThat.
- es, like inBesides("also"), is similar to English "ow" as in "wow". The difference is that English "ow" ends in a [u] sound ("oo" as in "shoot"), with the tongue at the top and front of the mouth. In German “au” your tongue doesn't move as much and stops at the [ʊ] position (“u” as in “put”).
How do you pronounce umlauts (Ä, Ü, Ö) in German?
Three vowels in German, “A”, “U” and “O”, can be written with umlauts: “Ä”, “Ü” and “Ö”. (You will never see an umlaut on an "E" or "I" in German, except very rarely in some place names or personal names.)
Umlaut vowels represent the "front" versions of the letters without an umlaut, which means that, for example, "ä" is like "a", but with the tongue further forward in the mouth. Just remember that:
- apronounced [ɛ] or [e] – see description of “e” above.
- ois [ø], one of the most difficult German vowels for English speakers to master. says the germanehsound, [and] feel where your tongue is and notice that your lips are parted in a smile. (Note that your tongue should be still while you say this vowel, unlike the English "ouch!"). to pronounceo, put the tongue in the position ofehbut say it with your lipsroundly wrinkled, did not spread.
- Udsis [y], another sound that we don't have in English. (It exists in French, where it is written asUds.) As well asois a "german"miwith rounded lips,Udsit is the round-lipped version of the English "ee" sound as in "see". Say "ee" but with your lips pursed for a kiss instead of open for a smile, and you'll produce perfect German.Uds.
Umlauts usually indicate a grammatical change:
- An umlaut often distinguishes the singular and plural forms of a noun:Garbagemeans "apple" andapplesmeans "apples". (You can see echoes of this in English irregular plurals like “pie/feet.”)
- Some German verbs have an umlaut vowel in their second and third person forms. For example:I'm starting("Start"),you start("you begin").
- Adding diminutive suffixes-cheno-lineto a noun, if the last syllable of the original word is stressed, the vowel becomes an umlaut, for examplebread("bread"),bread("the bun").
The diphthong with diaeresistu(for example.young woman) is pronounced identically to GermanUE.
Sometimes, "ä", "ü" and "ö" are written as "ae", "ue" and "oe" For example,I can("to be able") can be writtenI can. This is the standard way to write umlaut vowels if, for example, the computer you're typing on doesn't have a way to write umlauts.
How to pronounce “ß” in German
The short answer: like an "s" in English.
The full story: “ß”, calledThoughtoS sharp("sharpS”), is a strange character not found in any language except German. It originated as a combination of the characters "s" and "z" (actually from the archaic "long s" "ſ" and "tailed z" "ʒ"), and looks like a "B". (Not to be confused with β, the Greek letter beta.) NameThoughtit's a simple combination of the names "s" and "z" - look up these two letters in the alphabetical chart above and you'll see what I mean.
“ß” is not used in Switzerland or Liechtenstein. In these countries, it is always replaced by “ss”.
In Germany and Austria, “ß” is one of three ways to write the /s/ sound; the other two are "s" and "ss".
The important point is that “ß” is pronounced like an “s”. Just remember which spelling is used for which word as you learn the vocabulary; the pattern is more intuitive than the technical description seems.
Traditionally, "ß" was not considered to be capitalized; if you want to put it in upper case, you would write "SS", for exampleestrada(“street”) can be translated asSTRASSE. Some printers, however, would use "ẞ", and there was a long debate as to whether this was a "real" letter. But in 2017, theGerman spelling tips(German Spelling Board, the international body that regulates the German language) determined that "ẞ" is acceptable, officially resolving this pedantic question.
The previous spelling rules have only been in place since 1996. In that year, the Council signed an agreement toupdate and modernize the German spelling, and one of the main changes was the rules around "ß".
For example, the spelling of the wordEs("that") has been changed toEs. Thus it is possible that he still sees obsolete spellings in older German texts.
What is the difference between -e and -er in German?
When a word ends in "-er", the "r" is silent in most (but not all) dialects. In dialects where the "r" is silent, it takes a bit of practice to tell it apart from an "-e".
Remember that "-e" at the end of a word is pronounced as schwa. The difference between this and the “-er” sound is subtle, and is the difference between, for example,MiamiMia, different grammatical forms of the word "mi".
In IPA, "-e" is [ə] and "-er" is [ɐ]. Hear how both are pronounced in this video:
Watch out for non-silent cards!
In English, many words have "silent letters," such as the "k" in "knee." Don't be fooled by speaking German, because German silent letters are extremely rare.
In particular, remember:
- Say the "k" out loud in words beginning with "kn-" likeKnee("knee").
- Say the "p" out loud in words beginning with "ps-" likePsychology("psychology").
- Do not remove the trailing “-e”; for example.No("middle") is pronounced "MITT-uh," not "mitt."
Loans are often exceptions to the rule.
German, like every other major language in the world, has many loanwords, words borrowed from other languages. Often, but not always, the spelling and pronunciation do not change when these words are borrowed, making them exceptions to the normal German rules.
For example, the German wordDeskis pronounced as in English, whileSkipronounced "shee", as in Norwegian from which it was borrowed.
Not all loans are left unchanged. For exampleSoftwarepronounced “zoft-see.” But keep in mind that the loans are not necessarily pronounced according to the normal German rules. In ourSoftwareFor example, "s" is pronounced like "z" and "w" like "v" like normal German words, but the final "-e" is pronouncednopronounced as schwa.
compound words in german
German is famous for its long words likespeed limit, "speed limit". These words sound intimidating, but we actually do something similar in English.
In English, you can combine two or more nouns to get a new noun or noun phrase. Sometimes we write the words separately ("music festival," "flight attendant"), and sometimes we write them as one word ("warlord," "stockbroker").
German does this too, but more often. For example, where we write “music festival”, the Germans write “Musikfestival”. And where an English speaker would write “the Captain of the Danube Steamship Navigation Company”, a German would write “der Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän”. Curse!
Compound words are sometimes written with a connecting element. So, for example, the combination ofmausoleum("mouse") mycases("trap") isMousetrap, with an additional "e" in the middle.see hereto get a list of possible connection elements.
One strange thing about German composition is that it can create words that have "triple letters", the same letter three times in a row. For example:Shipment("transport", literally "ship trip") orback(“nettle”, literally “burnt nettle”).
quotes in german
When writing a quoted speech in German, the opening quotation mark should be written at the end of the line, not at the top like in English:
Arnold said, "I'll be back"
Arnold said, "I'll be back."
One final note on pronunciation.
To help you learn the names of the letters in German, I recommend listening to the German alphabet song:
The word "jucchee!" in this song it means "yippee!" or "hooray!". the lineit's never too early to learnmeans "it is never too early to learn".
Now you know the German alphabet!
The above information should cover everything you need to know to read and write the German alphabet and pronounce its letters accurately. It's a lot to take in, so don't feel like you have to learn it all at once. Just use it as a reference that you can come back to when you need a reminder of any of the rules.
Founder, fluent in 3 months
Fun-loving Irishman, full-time globetrotter, and international best-selling author. Benny believes that the best approach to language learning istalk from day one.
He speaks:Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish
See all posts from Benny Lewis