German/Grammar/Alphabet and Pronunciation

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
< German‎ | Grammar
Jump to: navigation, search
Appendices
100%.svg Alphabet
25%.svg Vocabulary
25%.svg Phrasebook
50%.svg Resources
100%.svg Names
100%.svg German History
100%.svg Nations of the World
50%.svg False Friends
50%.svg Numbers
50%.svg Keyboard Layout
(edit template) German (discussion)

Lessons: 50%.svg Level I50%.svg Level II25%.svg Level III
GrammarAppendicesAbout (including print versions) • Q&APlanning

The Alphabet[edit]

The German alphabet, like English, 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.). The following table includes a listing of all these letters and a guide to their pronunciation. As in English, letter sounds can differ depending upon where within a word the letter occurs. The first pronunciation given below (second column) is that in English of the letter (or combination) itself. 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: English language.svg The alphabet — Flag of Germany and Austria.svg Das Alphabet
 
A (a) /ɑː/ Long 'a' as 'a' in 'father' (ah).
B (be) /beː/ Pronounced like 'p' when at the end of a word
C (ce) /tseː/ See combination letter forms;

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

D (de) /deː/ Pronounced like 't' when at the end of a word; slightly more "dental"
E (e) /eː/ Long 'e' as 'a' in 'late' (ay) without(!) the (y). Short 'e' as 'e' in 'pet'. In unstressed syllables 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;

pronounced like 'ich'-sound (see below) in the suffix '-ig' at the end of words

H (ha) /hɑː/ like 'h' in 'house' only at the beginning of words or a syllable

before 'a', 'i', 'o', 'u', 'y', 'ä', 'ö', 'ü' (only if these vowels don't belong to a suffix), else silent

I (i) /iː/ Long 'i' as 'e' in 'seen' (ee); short 'i' as 'i' in 'pit'
J (jot) /jot/ Pronounced like 'y' in 'yard'
K (ka) /kɑː/  
L (el) /ɛl/ Slightly more "dental"
M (em) /ɛm/  
N (en) /ɛn/ Slightly more "dental";

before 'a', 'i', 'o', 'u', 'y', 'ä', 'ö', 'ü' (only if these vowels don't belong to a suffix)

O (o) /oː/ Long 'o' as 'o' in 'open' (oh), there is no movement in the sound as in the English

equivalent. 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) /ɛʀ/ trilled with the front or back of the tongue, depending on area (see below)
S (es) /ɛs/ In Germany, pronounced like 'z'; pronounced like 's' in 'sound' when at the end of a word, after consonants

(except 'l', 'm', 'n', ng') and before consonants; in Austria, pronounced like 'z' only when it appears between two vowels, pronounced like 's' otherwise. Pronounced like 'sh' in the beginning of a word before 'p' or 't'

T (te) /teː/ Slightly more "dental"
U (u) /uː/ Long 'u' as 'oo' in 'moon' (oo); short 'u' as 'u' in 'put'
V (vau) /fɑʊ/ Pronounced like 'f' when at the end of a word, in the prefixes 'ver-' and 'vor-' and in a few but often used words

(in most cases of Germanic origin), in general at the beginning of German geographical and family names. In all other cases like 'v'

W (ve) /veː/ Pronounced like 'v'
X (iks) /ɪks/ Pronounced like 'ks'
Y (üpsilon) /ʏpsɪlon/ Pronounced like 'ü' (see below), except in words of English origin, where it is

pronounced like in English

Z (zet) /tsɛt/ Pronounced like 'ts'


Unique German Letters[edit]

Umlaut Letters[edit]

  • Umlauts were originally written as 'ae', 'oe', and 'ue'.
Pronunciation: English language.svg Umlauts — Flag of Germany and Austria.svg Umlaute
 
Ä (ä) // Long ä pronounced similar to 'ai' in 'air'
Ö (ö) // No English equivalent sound (see below); 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.
Ü (ü) // No English equivalent sound (see below)

The ss-Ligature, ß[edit]

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

Combined Letters[edit]

Pronunciation: English language.svg Combined letters — Flag of Germany and Austria.svg Buchstabenkombinationen
 
(missing file: File:German Pronunciation - Combined letters.ogg, how to upload audio)
ch (ce-ha) // Pronounced various ways (see Konsonanten sounds below)
ck (ce-ka) //  
tz (te-zet) //  
ie (i-e) //  
ei (e-i) // Pronounced like the 'ie' in 'tie' or simply the personal 'I'
eu (e-u) // Pronounced like the 'oi' in the English word 'oil'
äu (ä-u) // Pronounced like the 'oi' in the English word 'oil'
au (a-u) // Pronounced as a short 'ow' such as when experiencing pain
dt (de-te) //  
st (es-te) // Pronounced like English 'sh' followed by 't' when at the beginning of words or a syllable
sp (es-pe) // Pronounced like English 'sh' followed by 'p' when at the beginning of words or a syllable
sch (es-ce-ha) // Pronounced like English 'sh'
tsch, zsch, tzsch   Pronounced like English 'ch'
ph (pe-ha) // Pronounced like 'f'. Often used in the old orthography, now nearly always replaced: old: Photographie new: Fotografie
pf (pe-ef) // Difficult pronunciation for non-speakers. Both letters are pronounced.
qu (ku-u) //  
...    
  • Audio: Gnome-speakernotes.png OGG (305KB) ~ Das Alphabet oder Das ABC
  • Audio: Gnome-speakernotes.png OGG (114KB) ~ Die Umlaute

Deutsche Aussprache ~ German Pronunciation Guide[edit]

Vokale ~ Vowels[edit]

German vowels are either long or short, but never drawled as in some English dialects. A simple method of recognizing whether a vowel is likely to be long or short in a German word is called the Rule of double consonants. If a vowel is followed by a single consonant — as in haben (have), dir (you, dat.), Peter (Peter), and schon (already) — the vowel sound is usually long. If there are two or more consonants following the vowel — as in falsch (false), elf (eleven), immer (always), and noch (still) — the vowel sound is usually short. There are some German words that are exceptions to the double consonant rule: bin, bis, das, es, hat, and was all have short vowel sounds. It is also the case that the silent 'h' does not count as a consonant and the preceding vowel is always long. Ihnen is an example.

This "rule" is applied to the use of 'ss' vs. 'ß' (see below), in that 'ß' is treated as 'hs'. Thus, the vowel before 'ß' in der Fuß (foot) is long, while that before 'ss' in das Fass (cask) is short.

  • au – 'Ah-oo' is pronounced like 'ow' in English 'cow'. German examples are blau (blue) and auch (also see below under ach ~ unique German sounds).
  • äu – 'Ah-umlaut-oo' is pronounced like the German eu (ay-oo; see next). In written and printed German, 'ae' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ä' if the latter is unavailable.
  • eu – 'Ay-oo' is pronounced like 'oi' in English word 'oil'. German examples are neun (nine) and heute (today).
  • ie and ei – 'Ee-ay' has exactly the same sound as a German long 'i'; that is, like the 'ee' in 'seen'. 'Ay-ee' is pronounced like the 'ei' in 'height'. Note that this appears to be the opposite for these two vowel combinations in English, where the rule is that the first vowel is long and the second is silent. Consider this word: 'die' — in German it is pronounced 'dee', in English like 'dye'. The word mein in German is the English 'mine'. In effect, 'ie' follows the same rule as in English, with the first vowel long (ee in German) and the second vowel silent; 'ei' is the equivalent sound in German to the English long 'i' as in 'mine'.

Konsonanten ~ Consonants[edit]

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

  • ch – Pronounced like 'k' in many words of Greek origin like Christ or Charakter, but like 'sh' in words of French origin, and 'tch' in words of English origin. The German sechs (six) is pronounced very much similar to the English 'sex', but with a voiced 's' (so it's more like 'zex'). See also the discussion of "ich-sound" below. The pronunciation of words with an initial 'ch' followed by e or i, as in China or Chemie varies: in High German the "ich-sound" is the standard pronunciation, but in South German dialect and Austrian German 'k' is preferred.
  • d, t, l, and n – These letters are pronounced similarly in English and German. However, in pronouncing these letters, the German extends his tongue 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, where it becomes a 'dental t'.
  • sch – in German 'Ess-tsay-hah' is pronounced like 'sh', not 'sk' as in English. German word example: Schüler (student).
  • sp and st – Where the combinations 'ess-pay' or 'ess-tay' appear at the beginning of a word, the 'ess' sound becomes an 'sh' sound. German examples are spielen (play) and spät (late). An interesting "exception" is a word like Bleistift (pencil), where the inside 'sti' is pronounced 'shti' — however, this is a compound word from Blei (lead) and Stift (pen). Some local dialects however pronounce all occurrences "sharp" (with an 'ess' sound -- typical for North German dialects, especially near Hamburg) or "soft" (with an 'sh' sound -- typical for the Swabian dialect).
  • ß – The former ligature (of 'ss' or 'sz'), 'ess-tset' is widely used in German, but its use is somewhat more restricted in very modern German (always pronounced like 's' in 'sound'). 'ß' is used for the sound 's' in cases where 'ss' or 's' can't be used: this is especially after long vowels and diphthongs (cf. the English usage of 'c' like in 'vice' or 'grocery'). Thus, the vowel before 'ß' in der Fuß (foot) is long, while that before 'ss' in das Fass (cask) is short. 'ß' appears after diphthongs ('au', 'ei', 'eu') because they are long. In written and printed German, 'ss' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ß' if the letter is unavailable. The Greek letter, β, is not to be used as a substitute for 'ß'. Note that in Switzerland, 'ß' is always written as 'ss'.

German Sounds not found in English[edit]

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

  • r – German language has two pronunciations for r: The more common is similiar to the French r, a guttural sound resembling a fractionated g, as found in Arabic غ or some pronunciations of modern Greek γ, as well as modern Hebrew ר (the modern sound was affected by German). The second pronounciation is a "rolled" r as in Spanish or Scots. Its use is limited to Switzerland and parts of Southern Germany.
  • ö (oh-umlaut) – The word "umlaut" means "change in sound" and an umlauted 'o' changes to a sound with no equivalent in English. An easy way to get this sound is to think of it as the 'u' in the British word 'murder'. Commonly, the 'long ö' 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 word is schön (beautiful). The 'short ö' sound is made by first sounding 'oo', pursing the lips, and changing the sound to 'e' as in 'pet. A 'short ö' sounds actually very similar to the 'i' in 'sir'. An example word is zwölf (twelve). If you have problems pronouncing ö, do not replace it by "o" but by "e" (as in elf) like in many German dialects. In written and printed German, 'oe' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ö' if the latter is unavailable.
  • ü (oo-umlaut) – As with 'ö', 'oo-umlaut' is a rounded vowel sound with no real English equivalent. The 'long ü' 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 as if you were to whistle, and then put some voice. An example word is früh. The 'short ü' sound is made by first sounding 'oo', pursing the lips, and changing the sound to 'i' as in 'pit. An example word is fünf (five). If you have problems pronouncing ü, do not replace it by "u" but by "i" (as in fish) like in many German dialects. In written and printed German, 'ue' can be an acceptable substitute for 'ü' if the latter is unavailable.
  • ach – The letter combination 'ch' as in auch (also) is called the "ach-sound" and resembles a throat-clearing (guttural) sound. It is used after 'a', 'o', 'u', and 'au'. It is pronounced somewhat like "och" in Loch Ness (lock, not loke) in its original form. The Hebrew letter ח and the Arabic letter خ as well as continental Spanish j are pronounced the same as the "ach-sound".
  • ich – The "ich-sound" in German is also somewhat guttural, like a more forceful 'h' in English "hue", "huge". Another approach is to say "sh" while (almost) touching the palpatine not with the tip but with the middle of your tongue. In the word richtig ("correct") both the 'ich' and the final 'ig' have this sound. It is used after 'e', 'i', 'y', 'ä', 'ö', 'ü', 'ei', 'eu', 'äu', after consonant-letters and sometimes at the beginning of words (especially before 'e', 'i', 'y', 'ä', 'ö'). If you have problems pronouncing ich, replace with the sound of 'hue' or by 'sh' but never by a hard 'k' (never "ick")! In some parts of Germany "ich", as well as the final 'ig', is pronounced "ish". In Austria and some local dialects of Germany the final 'ig' (as in "richtig") is simply pronounced as in English "dig".

Audio: OGG (37KB) ~ ach, auch, ich, richtig

Syllable Stress[edit]

The general rule in German is that words are stressed on the first syllable. However, there are exceptions. Almost all exceptions are of Latin, French, or Greek origin. Mostly these are words stressed on the last syllable, as shown by the following:

Vo=`kal    Kon=so=`nant    Lek=ti=`on

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.

Links[edit]

For very advanced Readers:



(edit template) Appendices (discussion)

100% developed Alphabet25% developed Vocabulary25% developed Phrasebook75% developed Resources100% developed Names100% developed German History100% developed Nations of the World75% developed False Friends100% developed Numbers100% developed Keyboard Layout

(edit template)

German Lessons: 50%.svg Level I50%.svg Level II25%.svg Level III00%.svg Level IV00%.svg Level V

(discussion)

GrammarAppendicesAbout (including print versions) • Q&APlanning