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1

German Vowels

Index of the German vowel pages

Index of the German vowel pages

Long vowelsShort vowels

Short vowelsLong vowels

Long and short 'a'Long and short 'ä'

Long and short 'ä'Long and short 'a'

'au', 'äu' and 'eu'Long and short 'e'

Long and short 'e''au', 'äu' and 'eu'

Unstressed '-e' and '-er''ei', 'ey', 'ai' and 'ay'

'ei', 'ey', 'ai' and 'ay'Unstressed '-e' and '-er'

Long and short 'i'The letters 'ie'

The letters 'ie'Long and short 'i'

Long and short 'o'Long and short 'ö'

Long and short 'ö'Long and short 'o'

Long and short 'u'Long and short 'ü'

Long and short 'ü'Long and short 'u'

The letter 'y'Long and short 'o' Long and short 'ö' Long and short 'u' Long and short 'ü'

2 German Consonants

Index of the German consonant pages

Index of the German consonant pages

The letter 'b'The letters 'ch'

The letters 'ch'The letter 'b'

'chs' at the start of words'chs' and 'ck' sounds

'chs' and 'ck' sounds'chs' at the start of words

The letter 'd''d' + another consonant

'd' + another consonantThe letter 'd'

The letter 'f'The letter 'g'

The letter 'g'The letter 'f'

'gn' and 'ng' soundsLoan words containing 'g'

Loan words containing 'g''gn' and 'ng' sounds

The letter 'h'The letter 'j'

The letter 'j'The letter 'h'

The letter 'k''k' + another consonant

'k' + another consonantThe letter 'k'

The letter 'l'The letter 'm'

The letter 'm'The letter 'l'

'm' + another consonantThe letter 'n'

The letter 'n''m' + another consonant

'ng' and 'nk' soundsThe letter 'p'

The letter 'p''ng' and 'nk' sounds

'p' + another consonantThe 'pf' sound

The 'pf' sound'p' + another consonant

The letter 'q'The consonantal 'r'

The consonantal 'r'The letter 'q'

'r' + another consonantThe vocalic 'r'

The vocalic 'r''r' + another consonant

The letter 's'The 'sch' sound

The 'sch' soundThe letter 's'

'sp' and 'st' soundsThe letter 't'

The letter 't''sp' and 'st' sounds

't' + another consonantThe letter 'v'

The letter 'v''t' + another consonant

The letter 'w'The letter 'y'

The letter 'y'The letter 'w'

The letter 'z''t' 't' + another consonant The letter 'v' The letter 'w' The letter 'y'

1.01

German long vowels

The articulation of German vowels varies according to whether the vowel is long or short. Although the vowel length of each new word must of course be noted the first time that you encounter it, there are a few general rules which may help you to ascertain the duration of German vowel sounds.

1. A German vowel is usually long if it is followed by a single consonant.

Sounds 1: Long vowel before a single consonant

Sounds 1: Long vowel before a single consonant

BadRad

RadBad

 

(bath)

(wheel)

rotgut

gutrot

 

(red)

(good)

2. A German vowel is usually long if it is written in a word as a double letter.

Sounds 2: Long German 'doubled' vowels

Sounds 2: Long German 'doubled' vowels

MeerPaar

PaarMeer

 

(sea)

(pair)

BootSaat

SaatBoot

 

(boat)

(seed)

3. A German vowel is usually long if it is followed by a silent 'h'.

Sounds 3: Long vowels before a silent 'h'

Sounds 3: Long vowels before a silent 'h'

LehrerFahrer

FahrerLehrer

 

(teacher)

(driver)

rohKuh

Kuhroh

 

(raw)

(cow)

4. The German letters 'ie' usually represent a long German 'i' sound.

Sounds 4: Long 'ie' vowel sounds

Sounds 4: Long 'ie' vowel sounds

vierSpiel

Spielvier

 

(four)

(game)

Liedschier

schierLied

 

(song)

(sheer)

5. An unstressed vowel at the end of a word is generally long, unless this vowel is an '- e' sound.

Sounds 5: Long vowel sounds at the end of a word

Sounds 5: Long vowel sounds at the end of a word

LottoVati

VatiLotto

 

(lottery)

(daddy)

SofaMofa

MofaSofa

 

(sofa)

(moped)

1.02 German vowels: long and short 'a'

The long German 'a' vowel The long German /a:/ vowel - which can be written 'a', 'aa' or 'ah' - is a central and open vowel which is formed with the tip of the tongue touching the lower front teeth. This means that the tongue is much lower than in the pronunciation of the other German vowels. (like a ‘bar’)

Sounds 1: The long 'a' vowel

Sounds 1: The long 'a' vowel

 

klarGlas

Glasklar

 

(clear)

(glass)

JahrBahn

BahnJahr

 

(year)

(railway)

HaarAal

AalHaar

 

(hair)

(eel)

The short German 'a' vowel The short /a/ vowel - which is only spelled 'a' - is a much more clipped vowel. It is a little like a shorter version of the 'a' vowel in the English word 'man'. This vowel can even tend towards the vowel sound heard in the English word'but', albeit pronounced in a more open way.

Sounds 2: The short German 'a' vowel

Sounds 2: The short German 'a' vowel

MannHand

HandMann

 

(man)

(hand)

BankSack

SackBank

 

(bank)

(sack)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between long and short 'a'

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between long and short 'a'

StaatStadt

StadtStaat

 

(state)

(city)

kamKamm

Kammkam

 

(came)

(comb)

FrageFlagge

FlaggeFrage

 

(question)

(flag)

Kahnkann

kannKahn

 

(barge)

(can)

1.03 The German diphthongs

The German 'au' diphthong - which can only be written 'au' - starts off with an /a/ phoneme and then glides towards a 'u' sound. Although there is a similarity with the way that some English speakers would say the vowel sounds in the words 'clown' and 'brown', the German diphthong must have a back starting-point in German.

Sounds 1: The German diphthong 'au'

Sounds 1: The German diphthong 'au'

braunZaun

Zaunbraun

 

(brown)

(fence)

auchHaus

Hausauch

 

(also)

(house)

lautTraum

Traumlaut

 

(loud)

(dream)

The German diphthong 'äu' or 'eu' The German 'eu' diphthong - which can be written as 'eu' and 'äu', and also as 'oi' or 'oy' in imported loan words - can be equated to the /oi/ sound made in the English words 'toiling' and 'boiling'. The difference however is that the German diphthong requires the lips to be rounded throughout articulation.

Sounds 2: The German diphthong 'eu' or 'äu'

Sounds 2: The German diphthong 'eu' or 'äu'

FräuleinRäuber

RäuberFräulein

 

(Miss)

(robbers)

HäuserBräuche

BräucheHäuser

 

(houses)

(customs)

treuFreude

Freudetreu

 

(loyal)

(joy)

scheuneu

neuscheu

 

(shy)

(new)

Sounds 3: Differentiating between 'au' and 'eu/äu'

Sounds 3: Differentiating between 'au' and 'eu/äu'

TraumTräume

TräumeTraum

 

(dream)

(dreams)

BaumBäume

BäumeBaum

 

(tree)

(trees)

MausMäuse

MäuseMaus

 

(mouse)

(mice)

HautHäute

HäuteHaut

 

(skin)

(skins)

1.04 Unstressed '-e' vowels

The unstressed 'e' sound is the most common vowel sound in German, appearing very frequently in final position in words such as 'eine' and 'viele'. Also known as a 'schwa', this sound should cause few problems for English speakers, as it equates to the final 'a' sound in the English word 'sofa'.

Sounds 1: The unstressed 'e' vowel

Sounds 1: The unstressed 'e' vowel

Majonäse Boje

Majonäse

Majonäse Boje

Boje

(mayonnaise)

(buoy)

Care should be taken to distinguish between an unstressed German '-e' and an unstressed German '-er'. Although ostensibly quite similar, the tongue should be retracted more quickly in German '-er' sounds than it is in an unstressed '-e'.

Sounds 2: Distinguishing between '- e' and '- er'

Sounds 2: Distinguishing between '- e' and '- er'

bitte bitter

bitte

bitte bitter

bitter

(please)

(bitter)

German unstressed '- er' Sometimes referred to as a 'dark schwa', the German unstressed '-er' or vocalic 'r' is articulated with the tongue slightly lower and further back in the vowel area than the 'schwa' sound heard at the end of such German words as 'Liebe', 'Katze' and 'Ratte'. The most common usage of vocalic 'r' is in unstressed "-er" syllables at the end of German words.

Sounds 3: Vocalic 'r' in final position

Sounds 3: Vocalic 'r' in final position

BruderSchwester

SchwesterBruder

 

(brother)

(sister)

MutterVater

VaterMutter

 

(mother)

(father)

You will also hear vocalic 'r' in the unstressed German prefixes of verbs and nouns that start with er-, ver- , zer- and her-.

Sounds 4: Vocalic 'r' in unstressed prefixes 'r' in unstressed prefixes

erlaubenvergessen (to allow) (to forget) zerstören (to destroy) hereinkommen (to come in)

vergessenerlauben (to allow) (to forget) zerstören (to destroy) hereinkommen (to come in)

(to allow)

(to forget)

zerstörenerlauben vergessen (to allow) (to forget) (to destroy) hereinkommen (to come in)

(to destroy)

hereinkommen (to come in) (to come in)

1.05 German vowels: long and short 'i'

The German short 'i' vowel The short German 'i' sound is similar to the vowel articulated in the English words 'bit' and 'lip'.

Sounds 1: Short German 'i' in initial position

Sounds 1: Short German 'i' in initial position

ichInteresse

Interesseich

 

(I)

(interest)

IrlandInsekt

InsektIrland

 

(Ireland)

(insect)

immerillegal

illegalimmer

 

(always)

(illegal)

Sounds 2: Short German 'i' in medial position

Sounds 2: Short German 'i' in medial position

bitteMitte

Mittebitte

 

(please)

(middle)

TischFisch

FischTisch

 

(table)

(fish)

Wintersitzen

sitzenWinter

 

(winter)

(to sit)

The German long /i:/ vowel The long German /i:/ vowel - which can be written 'i', 'ih', 'ie' or 'ieh' - sounds a little like the vowel articulated in the English words 'bee' and 'team'. The German sound however is more open, with the lips widely spread, and the tongue should be further forward during articulation. You should also ensure that your tongue remains tense and in the same position in your mouth throughout articulation - English sounds can tend to glide off into a diphthong.

Sounds 3: Long German 'i' in initial position

Sounds 3: Long German 'i' in initial position

ihnen  ihr

 

ihrihnen  

 

(to them)

(her)

irisch  Iris

 

Irisirisch  

 

(Irish)

(iris)

Igel 

 
 

(hedgehog)

Sounds 4: Long German vowel 'i' in medial position

Sounds 4: Long German vowel 'i' in medial position

Krisepolitisch

Krise politisch

politisch

 

(crisis)

(political)

Linie 

 
 

(line)

When long /i:/ appears in an unstressed syllable in a word, then the same sound is made but with a reduced length.

Sounds 5: Reduced length German long 'i' sounds 'i' sounds

Ideeideal (idea) (ideal) Mikrofon (microphone)

idealIdee (idea) (ideal) Mikrofon (microphone)

(idea)

(ideal)

MikrofonIdee ideal (idea) (ideal) (microphone)

(microphone)

When 'i' occurs before a vowel, it does not constitute a separate syllable, but is instead pronounced very short.

Sounds 6: German 'i' before another vowel

Sounds 6: German 'i' before another vowel

Station finanziell

Station

Station finanziell

finanziell

(station)

(financial)

1.06

German vowels: long and short 'o'

The short German 'o' vowel The short German 'o' sound - which can only be written 'o' - is similar to the 'o' vowel in the English words 'not' and 'lot'. The German sound is shorter and more close however and requires the lips to be much more rounded.

Sounds 1: The short German 'o' vowel

Sounds 1: The short German 'o' vowel

Sonnevon

vonSonne

 

(sun)

(from, of)

GottDorf

DorfGott

 

(god)

(village)

The long German 'o' vowel The long German 'o' vowel - which can be written 'o', 'oh', 'oo', and 'eau' - does not have an exact equivalent in English. It is a little like the vowel 'o' in the English words 'so' and 'go'. In German however, this sound must not be allowed to glide off into a 'u' sound, which English speakers ofen find themselves doing.

Sounds 2: The long German 'o' vowel  

Sounds 2: The long German 'o' vowel

 

Rose  froh  

 

frohRose    

 
 

(rose)

(happy)

 

Boot  groß  

 

großBoot    

 
 

(boat)

(big)

so  rot  

 

rotso    

 
 

(so)

(red)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between long & short

Sounds

3:

Distinguishing

between

long

&

short

German 'o' vowels

 

wo  Wonne  

 

Wonnewo    

 
 

(where)

(bliss)

Rose  Ross  

 

RossRose    

 
 

(rose)

(horse)

 

Wohl  Wolle  

 

WolleWohl    

 
 

(health)

(wool)

Sohle (sole of shoe) (sole of shoe)

 

SollSohle (sole of shoe)    

 
 

(debt)

1.07 German vowels: long and short 'u'

The short German 'u' vowel The short German 'u' sound - which can only be written 'u' - is similar to the 'u' vowel in the English words 'push' and 'foot'. The German sound is shorter however and requires the lips to be much more rounded.

Sounds 1: The short German 'u' vowel

Sounds 1: The short German 'u' vowel

HundButter

ButterHund

 

(dog)

(butter)

WunschPult

PultWunsch

 

(wish)

(desk)

The long German 'u' vowel The long German /u:/ vowel - which can be written 'u' or 'uh' - does not have an exact equivalent in English. It is a little like the vowel sound in the English words 'hoot' and 'boot' but the lips are much more rounded in German and the sound must not be allowed to glide off into a diphthong.

Sounds 2: The long German 'u' vowel  

Sounds 2: The long German 'u' vowel

 

Tuch  Grube

 

GrubeTuch  

 

(cloth)

(ditch)

Uwe  Ute

 

UteUwe  

 

(boy's name)

 

(girl's name)

Stuhl  Uhr

 

UhrStuhl  

 

(chair)

(clock)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between long & short

Sounds

3:

Distinguishing

between

long

&

short

German 'u' vowels

 

Buch  Busch

 

BuschBuch  

 

(book)

(bush)

Huhn  Hund

 

HundHuhn  

 

(chicken)

 

(dog)

Pfuhl  Pfund

 

PfundPfuhl  

 

(pond)

(pound)

Ufer  unten

 

untenUfer  

 

(riverbank)

 

(below)

1.08 The German Letter 'y'

The German letter 'y' can be pronounced in a number of different ways, depending on its position in a word or syllable. If it is used as a vowel, it sounds like the German long or short vowel 'ü'. The fact that this letter often appears in words in whose English equivalent it would be pronounced as an 'i' makes the German 'y' a sound that it can be very easy to mispronounce.

Sounds 1: Words containing the letter 'y' in medial position

Sounds 1: Words containing the letter 'y' in medial position

typischPhysik

Physiktypisch

 

(typical)

(physics)

PyramideGymnasium (grammar school)

Gymnasium (grammar school) (grammar school)

 

(pyramid)

RhythmusHymne

HymneRhythmus

 

(rhythm)

(hymn)

If 'y' stands at the beginning or end of a word, then it is pronounced in the same way as it would be in English. The word in which it appears is very probably an import from English in the first place.

Sounds 2: Words with 'y' in initial and final position

Sounds 2: Words with 'y' in initial and final position

HobbyYoga

YogaHobby

 

(hobby)

(yoga)

PartyHandy

HandyParty

 

(party)

(mobile phone)

1.09 German short vowels

The articulation of German vowels varies according to whether the vowel is long or short. Although the vowel length of each new word must of course be noted the first time that you encounter it, there are a few general rules which may help you to ascertain the duration of German vowel sounds.

1. A German vowel is usually short if it is followed by two or more consonants.

Sounds 1: Short vowels before a double consonant

Sounds 1: Short vowels before a double consonant

raschBett

Bettrasch

 

(hasty)

(bed)

buntNuss

Nussbunt

 

(colourful)

(nut)

2. A German vowel is usually short if it precedes the consonant combination 'ck'.

Sounds 2: Short German vowels before 'ck'

Sounds 2: Short German vowels before 'ck'

leckerSocken

Sockenlecker

 

(tasty)

(socks)

LückeWrack

WrackLücke

 

(hole)

(wreck)

This is not always the case however. If the root form of a word contains a long vowel, then the vowel in the inflected form remains long, even if the vowel is followed by two consonants in this inflected form.

Sounds 3: Long vowels from a long uninflected stem

Sounds 3: Long vowels from a long uninflected stem

habengehabt

gehabthaben

 

(to have)

(had)

großgrößte

größtegroß

 

(big)

(biggest)

1.10 German vowels: long and short 'ä'

The short German 'ä' vowel The short German 'ä' sound - which can only be written 'ä' - is articulated in much the same manner as the 'e' vowel in the English words 'get' and 'set'.

Sounds 1: The short German 'ä' vowel

Sounds 1: The short German 'ä' vowel

MännerHände

HändeMänner

 

(men)

(hands)

Bänkehätte

hätteBänke

 

(benches)

(would have)

The long German 'ä' vowel The long German 'ä' vowel - which can be written 'ä', 'äh', but never 'ää' - has no corresponding long vowel in English. It is best to start with the short German 'ä' vowel outlined above and gradually lengthen it.

Sounds 2: The long German 'ä' vowel

Sounds 2: The long German 'ä' vowel

Mädchenwählen

wählenMädchen

 

(girl)

(to vote)

kläglichWährung

Währungkläglich

 

(pitiful)

(currency)

The most common mistake made by English-speakers in articulating this long vowel sound is to produce a slight diphthongisation, i.e. to glide off into an 'aee' sound heard in English words such as 'day' or 'played'. This temptation must be resisted - German vowels do not glide off into a different vowel sound. Try instead to keep the tongue in the same position throughout a long 'ä' vowel sound.

1.11 German vowels: long and short 'e'

The short German 'e' vowel The short German 'e' sound is articulated in much the same manner as the 'e' vowel in the English words 'get' and 'set'. It represents the same sound therefore as the short German 'ä'.

Sounds 1: The short German 'e' vowel

Sounds 1: The short German 'e' vowel

wennfett

fettwenn

 

(if, when)

(fat)

Dreckecht

echtDreck

 

(dirt)

(genuine)

FellNest

NestFell

 

(fur)

(nest)

The long German /e:/ vowel The long German /e:/ vowel - which can be written 'e', 'eh' or 'ee' - has no corresponding long vowel in English. To pronounce it, you must ensure that your tongue remains tense and in the same high position in your mouth throughout articulation - the sound must not glide off into an 'i' at the end as it can do in English words such as 'day'.

Sounds 2: The long German 'e' vowel  

Sounds 2: The long German 'e' vowel

 

sehr  mehr  

 

mehrsehr    

 
 

(very)

(more)

Meer  Teer  

 

TeerMeer    

 
 

(sea)

(tar)

Beet  Gel  

 

GelBeet    

 
 

(bed)

(gel)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between long and short

Sounds

3:

Distinguishing

between

long

and

short

German 'e' vowels

 

Heer  Herr

 

HerrHeer  

 

(army)

(gentleman)

 

Hehl  hell

 

hellHehl  

 

(secret)

(bright)

 

Beet  Bett

 

BettBeet  

 

(flower-bed)

 

(bed)

1.12 German diphthong: 'ei', 'ey', 'ai' and 'ay'

starts off with

an /a/ phoneme and then glides into an 'i' sound. Its closest equivalent in English is the vowel sound in the English word 'light'.

The

German 'ei' diphthong

-

which

can

be

written 'ei', 'ey', 'ai' or 'ay' -

Sounds 1: 'ei' , 'ey' , 'ai' and 'ay'

Sounds 1: 'ei', 'ey', 'ai' and 'ay'

MainSaite

SaiteMain

 

(River Main)

(string)

BayernKarl (German author) May

Karl (German author) (German author)

May

 

(Bavaria)

Teilbreit

breitTeil

 

(part)

(wide)

Meyer (German surname) (German surname)

SpeyerMeyer (German surname)

(German town)

Note that, unlike in English, the pronunciation of the German letters 'ei' remains consistent - it is always pronounced as the diphthong outlined above.

Sounds 2: The consistency of the German letters 'ei'

Sounds 2: The consistency of the German letters 'ei'

freiRhein

Rheinfrei

 

(free)

(Rhine)

heildreist

dreistheil

 

(unhurt)

(sly)

Kreisweit

weitKreis

 

(circle)

(far)

The pronunciation of the letters 'ie' also remains consistent in German.

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between 'ei' and 'ie'

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between 'ei' and 'ie'

WeinWien

WienWein

 

(wine)

(Vienna)

Fleißfließt

fließtFleiß

 

(hard work)

(flows)

leiderLieder

Liederleider

 

(unfortunately)

(songs)

steilStiel

Stielsteil

 

(steep)

(stick)

1.13 German vowel sounds: 'ie'

The

German

German /i:/ sound.

sound

that

is

written

as 'ie' is

not

a

diphthong,

but

is

simply

a

long

Sounds 1: German 'ie' as long /i:/ vowel

Sounds 1: German 'ie' as long /i:/ vowel

Bierviel

vielBier

 

(beer)

(much)

StierFrieden

FriedenStier

 

(bll)

(peace)

Unlike in English, where the pronunciation of the letters 'ie' and 'ei' can represented by these spellings remain consistent in German.

Sounds 2: Distinguishing between 'ei' and 'ie'

Sounds 2: Distinguishing between 'ei' and 'ie'

WeinWien

WienWein

 

(wine)

(Vienna)

Fleißfließt

fließtFleiß

 

(hard work)

(flows)

leiderLieder

Liederleider

 

(unfortunately)

(songs)

steilStiel

Stielsteil

 

(steep)

(stick)

vary, the sounds

German 'ie' at the end of a word When the letters 'ie' appear at the end of a word, they can be pronounced in two different ways. If the final syllable is stressed, then the letters are pronounced as the long /i:/ vowel outlined above.

Sounds 3: German 'ie' in a stressed final syllable

Sounds 3: German 'ie' in a stressed final syllable

BiographieSymphonie

SymphonieBiographie

 

(biography)

(symphony)

AkademiePhilosophie

PhilosophieAkademie

 

(academy)

(philosophy)

But when 'ie' appears in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word, then the letters are pronounced as two separate vowel sounds.

Sounds 4: German 'ie' in an unstressed final syllable

Sounds 4: German 'ie' in an unstressed final syllable

FamiliePetersilie

PetersilieFamilie

 

(family)

(parsley)

FolieMaterie

MaterieFolie

 

(film, foil)

(matter)

1.14 German vowels: long and short 'ö'

The German long 'ö' and short 'ö' are two of the hardest vowel sounds for the English speaker to master, as there are no direct equivalents in the English language.

The long German 'ö' vowel To form a long German 'ö' vowel - which can be written 'ö', 'öh' or 'eu' (in imported French words only) - first articulate a long German 'e' sound in a word such as 'Sehne' (= tendon). As you say it, gradually purse your lips and the word that emerges is 'Söhne' (= sons). If you try the same procedure with the German word 'Hefe' (= yeast), then the word that emerges when you purse your lips will be 'Höfe' (= courtyards).

Sounds 1: The long German 'ö' vowel

Sounds 1: The long German 'ö' vowel

Flöteblöd

blödFlöte

 

(flute)

(stupid)

bösestöhnen

stöhnenböse

 

(evil)

(to groan)

LöhneKröte

KröteLöhne

 

(wages)

(turtle)

The short German 'ö' vowel The short German 'ö' sound - which can only be written 'ö' and never features at the end of a word - is best described as a shorter, tenser and much more open version of the sound outlined above.

Sounds 2: The short German 'ö' vowel

Sounds 2: The short German 'ö' vowel

HölleStöcke

StöckeHölle

 

(hell)

(sticks)

LöffelÖffnung

ÖffnungLöffel

 

(spoon)

(opening)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between German 'o' and 'ö' vowels

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between German 'o' and 'ö' vowels

Kronekrönen

krönenKrone

 

(crown)

(to crown)

großgrößer

größergroß

 

(big)

(bigger)

KollerKöln

KölnKoller

 

(anger)

(Cologne)

schonschön

schönschon

 

(already)

(beautiful)

offenöffnen

öffnenoffen

 

(open)

(to open)

FlotteFlöte

FlöteFlotte

 

(fleet)

(flute)

TelefonFön

FönTelefon

 

(telephone)

(hairdryer)

1.15 German vowels: long and short 'ü'

The German long 'ü' and short 'ü' are two of the hardest vowel sounds for the English speaker to master, as there are no direct equivalents in the English language.

The long German 'ü' vowel To form a long German 'ü' vowel - which can be written 'ü', 'üh' and sometimes 'y' - first articulate a long German 'ie' sound in a word such as 'Tier' (= animal). As you say it, gradually purse your lips and the word that emerges is 'Tür'(= door). If you try the same procedure with the German word 'Kiel' (= North German town), then the word that emerges when you purse your lips will be 'kühl' (= cool).

Sounds 1: The long German 'ü' vowel

Sounds 1: The long German 'ü' vowel

frühTür

Türfrüh

 

(early)

(door)

grünüber

übergrün

 

(green)

(above)

BühneLüge

LügeBühne

 

(stage)

(lie)

The short German 'ü' vowel The short German 'ü' sound - which can be written 'ü' and sometimes 'y' - is best described as a shorter version of the sound outlined above, but with slightly less lip-rounding.

Sounds 2: The short German 'ü' vowel

Sounds 2: The short German 'ü' vowel

StückMünze

MünzeStück

 

(piece)

(coin)

BrückePerücke

PerückeBrücke

 

(bridge)

(wig)

dünnglücklich

glücklichdünn

 

(thin)

(happy)

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between German 'u' and 'ü' vowels

Sounds 3: Distinguishing between German 'u' and 'ü' vowels

jungjünger

jüngerjung

 

(young)

(younger)

gutGüte

Gütegut

 

(good)

(goodness)

SchuleSchüler

SchülerSchule

 

(school)

(schoolboy)

KuhKühe

KüheKuh

 

(cow)

(cows)

StuhlStühle

StühleStuhl

 

(chair)

(chairs)

BuschBüsche

BüscheBusch

 

(bush)

(bushes)

KussKüsse

KüsseKuss

 

(kiss)

(kisses)

druckendrücken

drückendrucken

 

(to print)

(to press)

BruchBrüche

BrücheBruch

 

(break)

(breaks)

2.01 The German Consonant 'b'

When the German consonant 'b' appears either at the start or in the middle of a word, it is pronounced in a similar way to its English equivalent. In both languages, the sound is a bilabial plosive, i.e. in order to make the 'b' sound, both lips must be placed together. The airstream is then stopped as it passes through the vocal tract, causing a minor explosion when it is released.

Sounds 1: 'b' in initial position

Sounds 1: 'b' in initial position

BaumBank

BankBaum

 

(tree)

(bank)

BergBier

BierBerg

 

(mountain)

(beer)

BootBuch

BuchBoot

 

(boat)

(book)

Sounds 2: 'b' in medial position

Sounds 2: 'b' in medial position

LiebeBaby

BabyLiebe

 

(love)

(baby)

Robbenglauben

glaubenRobben

 

(seals)

(to believe)

But when the German consonant 'b' appears at the end of a word it is pronounced as a /p

Sounds 3: 'b' in final position

Sounds 3: 'b' in final position

Lobtaub

taubLob

 

(praise)

(deaf)

gabKalb

Kalbgab

 

(gave)

(calf)

This change in sound at the end of the word is not as surprising as it may seem.

The /b/ and /p/ phonemes are both bilabial plosives and only differ in that you use your vocal cords to form the sound /b/, i.e. it is 'voiced', whereas we do not use our vocal cords to make the /p/ sound i.e. we call it 'voiceless'. To put this to the test:

Put your fingers lightly on your throat such that they rest on your voice box.

Say the German word Bein (= leg) and feel how your vocal cords vibrate as you form the initial sound.

Now say the German word Pein (= agony). Note that there is no vibration in your vocal cords this time. To help you distinguish between the /b/ and /p/ sounds that the letter 'b' can make depending on its position in the word, listen to the following pairs of words. In the first word of each pair, 'b' will be pronounced /b/ as it appears in the middle of the word. In the second word in each pair, the letter 'b' appears at the end of a word, and is therefore pronounced as a /p/.

Sounds 4: Distinguishing between /b/ and /p/

Sounds 4: Distinguishing between /b/ and /p/

liebenlieb

lieblieben

 

(to love)

(kind)

raubenRaub

Raubrauben

 

(to rob)

(robbery)

DiebeDieb

DiebDiebe

 

(thieves)

(thief)

Diebstahlgelb

gelbDiebstahl

 

(theft)

(yellow)

2.02

German 'ch' at the start of words

When the letters 'ch' appear at the start of a word, then the sound that is usually produced is the /ç/ phoneme, i.e. the sound that is made when 'ch' follows a front vowel.

Sounds 1: 'ch' in initial position

Sounds 1: 'ch' in initial position

ChemieChina

ChinaChemie

 

(chemistry)

(China)

chinesischChirurg

Chirurgchinesisch

 

(Chinese)

(surgeon)

In South Germany and Austria however, this initial 'ch' sound can be pronounced as a /k/ phoneme and this articulation is viewed as an acceptable variant to the standard pronunciation. Click either here or on the sound icon on the left to hear the same 'ch' words in the box above, but this time pronounced as one might expect to hear them in Bavaria.

Imported words beginning with 'ch' A number of words beginning in 'ch' that have been imported from French require the 'ch' sound to be articulated in the manner that we would be accustomed to hear in France.

Sounds 2: 'ch' in initial position in French loan words

Sounds 2: 'ch' in initial position in French loan words

ChefChance

ChanceChef

 

(boss)

(chance)

ChampagnerChauffeur

ChauffeurChampagner

 

(champagne)

(chauffeur)

CharmeChaussee

ChausseeCharme

 

(charm)

(avenue)

Chauvinist 

 
 

(chauvinist)

To complicate matters further, other words with 'ch' in initial position have been imported from English and retain the pronunciation that you would expect to hear in English.

Sounds 3: English 'ch' in initial position

Sounds 3: English 'ch' in initial position

charternchecken

checkenchartern

 

(to charter)

(to check)

ChatCheeseburger

CheeseburgerChat

 

(chat)

(cheeseburger)

2.03 The German Consonant 'd'

When the German consonant 'd' appears either at the start or in the middle of a word, it is pronounced in a similar way to its English equivalent. In both languages, the sound is an alveolar plosive, which means that it is made with the blade of the tongue pressing against the alveolar ridge. The alveolar ridge is the part of the roof of the mouth directly above the teeth. Simultaneously, both sides of the tongue press against the hard palate and form a closure. The airstream is then stopped as it passes through the vocal tract, causing a minor explosion when it is released.

Sounds 1: 'd' in initial position

Sounds 1: 'd' in initial position

dankedeutsch

deutschdanke

 

(thank you)

(German)

doch (yes (after negative) ) (yes (after negative))

dunkeldoch (yes (after negative) )

(dark)

dieserDusche

Duschedieser

 

(this)

(shower)

Sounds 2: 'd' in medial position

Sounds 2: 'd' in medial position

ModeLaden

LadenMode

 

(fashion)

(shop)

LiederFeder

FederLieder

 

(songs)

(feather)

wiederBruder

Bruderwieder

 

(again)

(brother)

But when the German consonant 'd' appears at the end of a word it is pronounced as a /t/.

Sounds 3: 'd' in final position

Sounds 3: 'd' in final position

LiedBad

BadLied

 

(song)

(bath)

RadTod

TodRad

 

(wheel)

(death)

This change in sound at the end of the word is not as surprising as it may seem. The /d/ and /t/ phonemes are both alveolar plosives and only differ in that you use your vocal cords to

form the sound /d/, i.e. it is 'voiced', whereas we do not use our vocal cords to make the /t/ sound i.e. we call it 'voiceless'. To put this to the test:

Put your fingers lightly on your throat such that they rest on your voice box.

Say the German word Dorf (= village) and feel how your vocal cords vibrate as you form the initial sound.

Now say the German word Torf (= peat). Note that there is no vibration in your vocal cords this time. To help you distinguish between the /d/ and /t/ sounds that the letter 'b' can make depending on its position in the word, listen to the following pairs of words. In the first word of each pair, 'd' will be pronounced /d/ as it appears in the middle of the word. In the second word in each pair, the letter 'd' appears at the end of a word, and is therefore pronounced as a /t/.

Sounds 4: Distinguishing between /d/ and /t/

Sounds 4: Distinguishing between /d/ and /t/

HundeHund

HundHunde

 

(dogs)

(dog)

wendenWand

Wandwenden

 

(to turn)

(wall)

leiderLeid

Leidleider

 

(unfortunately)

(suffering)

landenLand

Landlanden

 

(to land)

(land)

badenBad

Badbaden

 

(to bathe)

(bath)

2.04 The German Consonant 'f'

The German consonant 'f' should cause relatively few difficulties for native English speakers. In both languages, the upper front teeth and the lower lip come together to form a narrowing through which the air passes with a trace of a hiss. It is called a 'fricative' consonant, which means that is articulated by forcing air through a narrow gap in the vocal tract in such a way that friction is audible. The /f/ phoneme is thus formed in the same manner and the same place as the German /v/. The difference is that you use your vocal cords to make the /v/ sound, but not when you articulate /f/. To feel the difference between the two consonants, place your hands over your ears and repeat the German words fein and Wein (which begins with the /v/ phoneme, despite its spelling). When you say fein, the only thing that should hear is the airstream passing out through your mouth. But when you say Wein, you should be able to feel your entire head vibrate.

Sounds 1: 'f' in initial position

Sounds 1: 'f' in initial position

FamilieFahrrad

FahrradFamilie

 

(family)

(bicycle)

Fernseherfünf

fünfFernseher

 

(television set)

(five)

FußFehler

FehlerFuß

 

(foot)

(mistake)

Sounds 2: 'f' in medial position

Sounds 2: 'f' in medial position

 

SeifeTelefon

TelefonSeife

 

(soap)

(telephone)

hoffenkaufen

kaufenhoffen

 

(to hope)

(to buy)

Prüfung 

 
 

(examination)

Sounds 3: 'f' in final position

Sounds 3: 'f' in final position

EinkaufSchlaf

SchlafEinkauf

 

(purchase)

(sleep)

dooftief

tiefdoof

 

(stupid)

(deep)

The German 'ph' sound As in English, the letters 'ph' are pronounced as an /f/ phoneme in German. In fact, many words that originally contained the letters 'ph' have now been Germanified such that they are now spelled with an 'f'. You would now write Telefon, for example, rather than Telephon, and Fotografie rather than Photographie. Even after the recent German spelling reforms however, a number of 'ph' words remain, sometimes as the sole acceptable spelling of a lexical item, sometimes as an accepted variant to the spelling with 'f'.

Sounds 4: The German 'ph' sound

Sounds 4: The German 'ph' sound

 

PhilosophiePhrase

PhrasePhilosophie

 

(philosophy)

(phrase)

PhysikPhonetik

PhonetikPhysik

 

(physics)

(phonetics)

2.05 The German 'g' in consonant clusters

Sounds 1: 'g' + consonant in initial position

Sounds 1: 'g' + consonant in initial position

Glasgleich

gleichGlas

 

(glass)

(same, equal)

Glückgrau

grauGlück

 

(happiness)

(grey)

großgrün

grüngroß

 

(big)

(green)

Note in particular that the initial 'g' in a 'gn-' consonant cluster is pronounced even when this occurs at the start of a word. This is also true of the 'kn-' cluster.

Sounds 2: 'gn' and 'kn' in initial position

Sounds 2: 'gn' and 'kn' in initial position

GnomGnade

GnadeGnom

 

(gnome)

(mercy)

KnieKnecht

KnechtKnie

 

(knee)

(vassal)

KneipeKnopf

KnopfKneipe

 

(pub)

(button)

The consonant sound 'ng' The '-ng' consonant combination is pronounced in a manner that is similar to its English equivalent in words such as 'thing' and 'bring'. Although it is not represented by a single letter of the alphabet, '- ng' constitutes a distinct consonant, and it is described as a velar nasal. This means that it is formed in the soft palate (velum) towards the back of the vocal tract, with the back of the tongue pressed against the velum. It is described as 'nasal' because the sound is expelled through the nasal cavity and not the oral tract. This sound can cause difficulties for native English speakers because, although English also has the 'ng' consonant, there are two varieties of this in English. There is a noticeable difference in the way that the words 'finger' and 'ringer' are pronounced in English. If you say them to yourself, you will notice that these two words do not quite rhyme. There is an extra 'g' sound in 'finger' (and words such as 'younger', 'longer' and 'hunger') that is not articulated in 'ringer' (and words such as 'singer' and 'longing'). Only one form of the '-ng' consonant sound exists in German however. It does not have the extra /g/ phoneme that we find in 'finger', 'younger', 'longer' and 'hunger', which means that care needs to be taken with the pronunciation of their German equivalents "Finger", "jünger", "länger" and "Hunger". It is when the '-ng' consonant sound appears in the middle of a word that English speakers need to pay the most attention

Sounds 3: 'ng' in medial position

Sounds 3: 'ng' in medial position

Hungerabhängig

abhängigHunger

 

(hunger)

(dependent)

singenFinger

Fingersingen

 

(to sing)

(finger)

Menge 

 
 

(amount)

Sounds 4: 'ng' in final position

Sounds 4: 'ng' in final position

langWohnung

Wohnunglang

 

(long)

(apartment)

MeldungRing

RingMeldung

 

(announcement)

(ring)

Frühlingstreng

strengFrühling

 

(spring)

(severe)

2.06 The German 'h' sound

When the German letter 'h' appears at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced in a manner that corresponds to the initial sound in the English words 'house', 'hall' or 'history'. In English as in German, a slight narrowing of the speech organs takes place in the glottis, causing friction to the airstream. The German 'h' sound is therefore called a glottal fricative. Unlike in many English dialects however, this 'h' sound can never be 'dropped' - i.e. omitted - at the start or middle of words. The 'h' sound is never used in final position in German.

Sounds 1: The 'h' glottal fricative

Sounds 1: The 'h' glottal fricative

Haushier

hierHaus

 

(house)

(here)

HeimHaupt

HauptHeim

 

(home)

(head)

BahnhofHochhaus (block of flats)

Hochhaus (block of flats) (block of flats)

 

(station)

But the letter 'h' is not pronounced at all if it used merely to indicate that the preceding vowel is a long one.

Sounds 2: Words in which 'h' is not pronounced

Sounds 2: Words in which 'h' is not pronounced

stehengehen

gehenstehen

 

(to stand)

(to go)

fahrenLehrer

Lehrerfahren

 

(to travel)

(teacher)

The consonant cluster 'th' is always pronounced as the phoneme /t/. This is true regardless of whether 'th' appears at the beginning, middle or end of a word.

Sounds 3: The 'th' consonant cluster

Sounds 3: The 'th' consonant cluster

TheaterThema

ThemaTheater

 

(theatre)

(theme)

Theoriesympathisch

sympathischTheorie

 

(theory)

(pleasant)

ApothekeMathematik

MathematikApotheke

 

(chemist's)

(mathematics)

MethodeAthlet

AthletMethode

 

(method)

(athlete)

Psychopath 

 
 

(psychopath)

As in English, the letters 'ph' are pronounced as an /f/ phoneme in German. In fact, many words that originally contained the letters 'ph' have now been Germanified such that they are now spelled with an 'f'. You would now write Telefon, for example, rather than Telephon, and Fotografie rather than Photographie. Even after the recent German spelling reforms however, a number of 'ph' words remain, sometimes as the sole acceptable spelling of a lexical item, sometimes as an accepted variant to the spelling with 'f'.

Sounds 4: The German 'ph' consonant cluster

Sounds 4: The German 'ph' consonant cluster

PhilosophiePhrase

PhrasePhilosophie

 

(philosophy)

(phrase)

PhysikPhonetik

PhonetikPhysik

 

(physics)

(phonetics)

2.07

The German Consonant 'k'

The German consonant 'k' is most often pronounced in the same way as the final letter of the English word 'cook'. The /k/ phoneme is a velar plosive, which means that it is articulated in the soft palate or velum towards the back of the vocal tract. The closure is thus formed further back in the oral passage than with other consonants. Unlike the phoneme /g/, the vocal cords do not vibrate as the consonant is articulated, which makes /k/ a 'voiceless' consonant.

Sounds 1: 'k' in initial position

Sounds 1: 'k' in initial position

kaltKaffee

Kaffeekalt

 

(cold)

(coffee)

Kinokommen

kommenKino

 

(common)

(to come)

Kuchenkein (not a, none)

kein (not a, none) (not a, none)

 

(cake)

Sounds 1: 'k' + consonant in initial position

Sounds 1: 'k' + consonant in initial position

kleinklasse!

klasse!klein

 

(small)

(great!)

krankKrieg

Kriegkrank

 

(ill)

(war)

Sounds 3: 'k' in medial position

Sounds 3: 'k' in medial position

ThekePaket

PaketTheke

 

(bar; counter)

(packet)

Sockelecker

leckerSocke

 

(sock)

(tasty)

Sounds 3: 'k' in final position

Sounds 3: 'k' in final position

StreikKuckuck

KuckuckStreik

 

(strike)

(cuckoo)

Rock (skirt; rock music) (skirt; rock music)

GlückRock (skirt; rock music)

(happiness)

2.08 The German Consonant 'l'

The pronunciation of the German consonant 'l' often proves difficult for language learners whose first language is English. This is because the English consonant system contains two 'l' sounds:

1) the so-called clear 'l' or front 'l' which is found at the beginning of words (i.e. 'lamp', 'land', 'like') 2) the dark 'l' or back 'l' which is found only at the end of words or syllables (i.e. 'rattle', 'tackle', 'will'). German, on the other hand, uses the clear 'l' sound in all positions. It can prove difficult therefore for English speakers to resist the temptation to articulate dark 'l' consonants at the end of German words or syllables where a clear 'l' sound should be employed. You should therefore practise the formation of the German clear 'l' (front 'l') sound. It is a lateral consonant, which means air escapes laterally in its production, because the sides of the tongue stay down while the blade of the tongue makes contact with the alveolar ridge of the mouth. To feel the movement of air for yourself, trying forming a clear 'l' but then breathe in quickly - you will feel a stream of cold air moving along both sides of the tongue and palate.

Sounds 1: The German clear or front 'l'

Sounds 1: The German clear or front 'l'

alleinehell

hellalleine

 

(alone)

(bright)

wildFräulein

Fräuleinwild

 

(wild)