German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (2024)

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Lessons: Level I Level II Level III Level IV Level V
GrammarAppendicesAbout (including print versions) •

Planning

Contents

  • 1 The Alphabet
    • 1.1 Unique German Letters
      • 1.1.1 Umlaut Letters
      • 1.1.2 The ss-Ligature, ß
      • 1.1.3 Combined Letters
    • 1.2 Konsonanten ~ Consonants
    • 1.3 German Sounds not found in English
    • 1.4 Syllable Stress

The Alphabet

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Like English, the German alphabet consists of 26 basic letters. However, there are also combined letters and three umlauted forms. An umlaut is the pair of dots placed over certain vowels; in German, Umlaut describes the dotted letter, not just the dots.

As in English, letters may be pronounced differently depending on word and location. The first column is the German letter, the second describes the IPA pronunciation and rough English approximation of the letter name. The third gives an English word that matches or approximates the German letter sound.

Reading down this column and pronouncing the "English" words will recite the alphabet auf Deutsch ("in German"). Note that letter order is exactly the same as in English, but pronunciation is not for many of the letters. In the list of pronunciation notes, no entry means essentially "pronounced as in English".

Pronunciation: The alphabet — Das Alphabet
A(a) /aː/

U as in up but short, and with spread out lips, just like the A in Spanish. All vowels except for the A can be long or short: This one is always short, except in diphthongs, see below.

B(be) /beː/Pronounced like 'p' when at the end of a word or before a consonant (except a liquid)
C(ce) /tseː/See combination letter forms;

without a following 'h': before 'e', 'i', 'y', 'ä', 'ö', 'ü', like the German letter 'z' elsewhere like 'k'

D(de) /deː/Pronounced like 't' when at the end of a word or before a consonant (except for a liquid)
E(e) /eː/Long 'e': as 'a' in 'late' (ay) without the y, like the E in the Received Pronunciation of bed

Short 'e': as 'e' in 'pet'.E is also short in unstressed syllables, when it sounds like 'a' in 'about' or 'e' in 'garden'

F(ef) /ɛf/
G(ge) /geː/Pronounced like 'g' in 'get'; pronounced like 'k' when at the end of a word or before a consonant (except a liquid)

pronounced like the German word "ich" (see below) in the suffix '-ig' at the end of words, and in words of French origin when followed by E or I, like the "S" in vision.

gn≠n
H(ha) /haː/Pronounced like 'h' in 'house' only at the beginning of words.After a vowel, it is silent.See combinations with " H".The letter H can show up anywhere in a German word, just like in English.
I(i) /iː/Long 'i' as 'e' in 'seen' (ee); short 'i' as 'i' in 'pit'
J(jot) /jot/Pronounced like 'j' in juice at the beginning of words with English origin, and the "S" in vision at the beginning of words with French origin, the same as the J in English but without the initial D, and otherwise the English y as in yogurt.
K(ka) /kaː/kn≠n
L(el) /ɛl/Pronounced like 'l' but is always light. Not appɫe but ApfelNot miɫk, but Milch
M(em) /ɛm/
N(en) /ɛn/Slightly more "dental";

Before a vowel

O(o) /oː/Long 'o': as 'o' in 'open' (oh), without the "W", similar to the O in American English cold.

Short 'o': as 'o' in 'pot'.

P(pe) /peː/
Q(ku) /kuː/Pronounced like 'k'; only occurs in the combination 'qu', which is pronounced like 'kv', not like 'kw'.
R(er) /ɛʁ/, /er/At the end of a word or before a consonant, like the U in up.Before a vowel, after a consonant or when doubled, like the G in the Spanish amigo.
S(es) /ɛs/Pronounced like the English 'z':

•Before a vowel at the beginning of a word•Between two vowels.•Pronounced like 'sh' in the beginning of a word or syllable before 'p' or 't'Like English 's' everywhere else.

T(te) /teː/Pronounced like 't' but with the tongue touching the teeth (dental). Sometimes, this letter sounds like a ts, just like the German z. It happens in these endings: TION, TIE, TUAL, TIAL, TIO.
U(u) /uː/Long 'u' as 'oo' in 'moon' (oo); short 'u' as 'u' in 'put'
V(vau) /faʊ/Can be soft (like the german f) or hard (like the German w).

I can do three tricks.If a word starts with Ver- followed by a consonant, use the hard V, unless the Ver- is the prefix, if it appears at the end of a word, use the soft V, and if you need to guess, listen to the audio, for example, November sounds like:

W(ve) /veː/Pronounced like 'v', but again, if it is the last letter of a word, do not pronounce it.
X(iks) /ɪks/Pronounced like 'ks', like in English
Y(üpsilon) /ʏpsɪlon/Pronounced like 'ü' (see below), 'i' at the end and 'j' at the beginning.
Z(zet) /tsɛt/Pronounced like 'ts'

Unique German Letters

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Umlaut Letters

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  • Umlauts were originally written as 'ae', 'oe', and 'ue'.
Ä(ä), /ɛː/ or

(a Umlaut), /aː 'ʊmlaʊt/

Long ä /ɛː/: pronounced as 'e' in 'pet', but longer.

Short ä /ɛ/: pronounced as 'e' in 'pet'.

Ö(ö), /øː/ or

(o Umlaut), /oː 'ʊmlaʊt/

No English equivalent sound (see below).

Long ö /øː/: somewhat similar to vowel in 'jerk', 'turn', or 'third',but it is critical to note that there is no 'r' sound that is pronounced in conjunction with the ö.

Short ö /œ/: somewhat like 'ur' as in 'hurt', without the 'r' sound.

Ü(ü), /yː/ or

(u Umlaut), /uː 'ʊmlaʊt/

No English equivalent sound (see below).

Long ü /yː/: similar to 'ew' as in 'stew' or 'new', but with lips rounded.

Short ü /ʏ/: similar to 'u' as in 'cute'.

The ss-Ligature, ß

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Pronunciation: ß-ligature — Eszett
(missing file: File:German Pronunciation - ß-ligature.ogg, how to upload audio)
ß(es-zet or scharfes es) /ɛsˈtsɛt/Pronounced like 's' in 'set' or 'c' in 'nice'; see below for uses.

Combined Letters

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eu and äu both sound like the oy in b"oy"

Pronunciation: Combined letters — Buchstabenkombinationen
(missing file: File:German Pronunciation - Combined letters.ogg, how to upload audio)
ch(ce-ha) //Pronounced like h in huge:

At the beginning of a word, after e i y ä ö ü l n r eu äu, in chenS as in sugar after s (see below)Spanish x in México elsewhere

ck(ce-ka) //

K sound after a short vowel.

tz(te-zet) //

Z sound after a short vowel.

ie(i-e) //pronounced like the 'ee' in the English word 'meet'.

Here long I, silent E.

ei, ai, ay, and ey are pronounced 'eye', just like the letter I, but ay (as in Paraguay) and ey (as in Aubrey) are rare, mostly used in proper nouns.
au(a-u) //Pronounced like the 'ow' in the English word cow
dt(de-te) //

Like b, if d appears at the end of a word or right before any consonant except for L or R, it will be pronounced as a t. DT is thus pronounced as a T.

st(es-te) //Pronounced like English 'sh' followed by 't' when at the beginning of words or a syllable, like in washed, or the Bulgarian letter Щ.
sp(es-pe) //Pronounced like English 'sh' followed by 'p' when at the beginning of words or a syllable.
sch, shPronounced like English 'sh'
tschPronounced like English 'ch', like you word expect. The sound is made of a t sound (spelled t in German) and then an sh sound (spelled sch or sh in German), so that makes sense.
ph(pe-ha) //Pronounced like 'f'.

However, words in German that contain a Ph in them are always borrowed from English or Greek, because these words are always of foreign origin.

pf(pe-ef) //Difficult pronunciation for non-speakers. Both letters are pronounced. It sounds similar to the 'pef' in typeface. But it:
  • Can appear anywhere.
  • Can't follow any consonant.
  • Cannot be divided into Syllables

e. g. Apf|el, not Ap|fel, and Tropf|en, not Trop|fen.

qu(ku-u) //Pronounced like 'kv'.
  • q is always followed by u.
  • Audio: OGG (305KB) ~ Das Alphabet oder Das ABC
  • Audio: OGG (114KB) ~ Die Umlaute
th(te-ha)Pronounced like the English T. Note that the two English th sounds, /θ/ and /ð/, which are always spelled with a "TH", in English, do not exist in German at all.

E. g. Feather, Feder. And, Brother, Bruder. Yep, again, the H is silent.

Notes:•There is no uppercase ß.•All vowels (withot umlauts) are pronounced like those in Spanish, but in Spanish the long ones are pronounced much shorter in Spanish.•In German you capitalize these:

  1. Nouns (and words used as nouns)*
  2. Beginning of a sentence.
  3. The word "Sie", but only meaning you in the formal sense, and its forms.

•Modern German, Luxembourgish, and Bavarian are the only languages in the world that capitalizes every noun.•Also, the only English word that is always capitalized whose German translation (unless it starts a sentence) is not capitalized is the pronoun "I".•in a title, like in Spanish only the first word and other "always" capitalized words are capitalized

  • Expect names of italicized letters: das a or das A.

The silent letters in German appear in five situations:• H after a vowel or T• First letter of double consonants, ck, and tz*• E after I, in which I is always long• Final W.• D before the TVowels are long with one consonant after it, and short with two.But…A is always shortDiphthongs are longCompound words are broken up: Weg|weiserBorrowed and short words may break this rule.Any following H's: Tuch, John, Sohn, Joshua, Buch have a long vowel sound.In French loanwords, if a vowel is followed by a nasal consonant in the same syllable, then the nasal consonant will be silent and the vowel will be nasal. A nasal vowel produces air through your mouth and your nose.

A double vowel is long, except for AA (see above)

Konsonanten ~ Consonants

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Most German consonants are pronounced similarly to the way they are pronounced in English, with exceptions noted in column 3 above. Details of certain consonant sounds and uses are discussed further here.

  • d, t, l, and n – In German, these letters are pronounced with the tongue extended up to the back of the base of the teeth, creating a more dental sound. As noted above, 'd' is a 'dental d' except at the end of a word or before a consonant (except an R), where it becomes a 'dental t'.

Note that as above, L only uses the front of your tongue, just like in Spanish or French, which is similar to the L in Laugh.

  • sch – this combination is pronounced like 'sh' /ʃ/, not 'sk' as in English. A German example is Schüler /ˈʃyːlɐ/ (student).
  • sp and st – Where these combinations appear at the beginning of a word or syllable, the 's' sound becomes an 'sh' /ʃ/ sound, while the next letter is pronounced the same as itself in English and German. German examples are spielen /ʃpiːlən/ (play) and Stelle /ˈʃtɛlə/ (place).

German Sounds not found in English

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There are sounds in the German language that have no real equivalent in the English language. These are discussed here.

  • r – Most Germans pronounce 'r' as /ʁ/, a guttural sound the g in amigo.
  • ö (read as oh-umlaut) – This vowel is pronounced similarly to the 'u' in the word 'murder' (spoken with a British accent), but with the lips rounded. Commonly, the 'long ö' /øː/ is made by first sounding 'oo' as in moon, then pursing the lips as if to whistle, and changing the sound to 'a' as in 'late'. An example of "long ö" is schön /ʃøːn/ (beautiful). The 'short ö' sound /œ/ is made by first sounding 'oo', pursing the lips, and changing the sound to 'e' as in 'pet', and it sounds very similar to the 'i' in 'sir'. An example of the "short ö" is zwölf /t͡svœlf/ (twelve). If you have problems pronouncing ö, do not replace it by 'o' but by 'e' (as in elf), which occurs in some German dialects. In written and printed German, 'oe' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ö' if the latter is unavailable.
  • ü (read as oo-umlaut) – As with 'ö', 'ü' is a rounded vowel sound with no real English equivalent. The 'long ü' /yː/ is made by first sounding 'oo' as in moon, then pursing the lips as if to whistle, and changing the sound to 'ee' as in 'seen'. A simpler approach is to simply shape your lips and tongue as if you are going to whistle, and then put some voice. An example of "long ü" is früh /fʁyː/ (early). The "short ü" sound /ʏ/ is made by first sounding 'oo', pursing the lips, and changing the sound to 'i' as in 'pit. An example of "short ü" is fünf /fʏnf/ (five). If you have problems pronouncing ü, do not replace it by 'u' but by 'i' (as in fish), which occurs in some German dialects. In written and printed German, 'ue' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ü' if the latter is unavailable.
  • ß looks like a B but be aware of the five warnings, which are as follows:

•It always sounds like an S.•It can't be the first letter of a word.•It always follows a vowel.•It doesn't have an uppercase version.•It looks like a Greek letter, the German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (25), but never replace it with the Greek letter German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (26).

  • ach – When 'ch' is not preceded by ä, ö, ü, l, n, r, e, i, y, eu, äu, or s it sounds like the x in the country México, when spoken by a Spanish-speaking person.
  • Ich has a meaning by itself: it means me. When ig is at the end of the word, it also sounds like the pronoun ich in German!

Audio: OGG ~ ach | OGG ~ ich auch | OGG ~ richtig

Syllable Stress

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The general rule in German is that words are stressed on the first syllable. However, there are exceptions. Almost all exceptions are of Spanish or French origin. For those borrowed from French it will generally stressed on the last syllable, for example, Vokal, Konsonant, and Lektion (vowel, consonant, lesson). In loanwords from Spanish, however, the stress is generally on the next-to-last syllable if it ends in N, S, or a vowel and the last one otherwise.These words (not stressed on the first syllable) appear in the (Level II and III) lesson vocabularies as Vokal, Lektion (in some regions: Lektion), etc.

Words starting in common prefixes (ge-, be-, ver-, etc.) stress the syllable following said prefix. Examples are Gese, Beamte, and Vereinigung.Also, the German word "Ski" means "ski" and is spelled "ski" but it is actually pronounced like the pronoun "She" in English.Notice that we have genders in German, masculine, feminine, neutral. English doesn't have genders. Also as mentioned above, all nouns are capitalized in German, Bavarian and Luxembourgish.And finally, we saw that in words of French origin the letter J, as well as the letter G (before E or I) makes the sound of S as in vision, which is the English J sound without the initial D, and the IPA is this: /ʒ/, a very rare sound in both German and English.Example: In Garage the first G is pronounced the same as how it is pronounced in English, while the second one is pronounced /ʒ/ because it comes before an E, and the word has a French origin.Again, remember that this sound is very rare in both of these languages. Don't forget the German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (27), which will go on back vowels only and move the sound from the back to the front, except for AU. The AU sounds like ow as in cow, while the ÄU sounds like the oy in boy. The German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (28) may not appear on the A in the AI or AY diphthongs. Last the A, which is always short, except in a diphthong and as German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation - Wikibooks, open books for an open world (29), as well as long vowels without double-dots on top, are pronounced like those in Spanish, but the Spanish vowel sounds are pronounced short, while in German, all of them except for the A are longer. Again A is always short, never long.

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