German Alphabet Pronunciation and Writing

The German Alphabet

The German alphabet is more or less like the English one. We have just got four more letters. One problem you might encounter though is the different pronunciation of German letters. Some letters or two letter combinations in German even have several sounds.The German vowels a, e, i, o, u and Umlaute ä, ö, ü also have a long and a short version. Take a look at the following alphabet table. Should you have a more appropriate English word that represents a certain German sound better than the one I have picked, just let me know and I’ll improve my table.

LetterPronunciation like in…Example
A along:  fathershort: armAal (eel) // jagen (to hunt)Arm (the arm) // arm (poor)
Ä älong:  thereshort: betÄhnlichkeit (similarity) // spät (late)Ärger (trouble) // hätte (had)
Au ausowAuge (eye) // auf (on top)
Äu äutoyÄußerung (uttering) // Häuser (houses)
B bsoft: bearhard: lip (when at end)Bär (bear) // bitte (please)Club
C c (rare on its own)soft:  ratshard: catCaesar Cola (only found in non-German words)
Ch chç: a whispered “yyyy(es)”x: loch (ness) (scratchy ch)k: characterChina // ich (I); after: ä, ö, ü, i, e & conson.after: a, o, u // Dach (roof)Charakter, Chor (choir)
cklockDackel (dachshund)
D dsoft: dreamhard: team (when at end)DramaHand
E elong:      heyshort:     betweak I : commaweak II: ~butterEkel (disgust) // gehen (to go)Echo // echt (true)only at end: kommeonly at end: Vater
Ei eilieEimer (bucket) // Reise (journey)
Eu euboyEuter (udder) // heute (today)
F ffishFisch (fish) // doof (stupid)
Pf pfhelpfulPfeife (pipe) // Gipfel (summit)
G gsoft:      pleasurehard:     gartenharder:  ticGigolo // Rage (rage) Garten (garden) // Magen (stomach)Tag (day)
H hhearable: hotelsilent: –Hotelnever at beginning: sehen
I ilong:  feelshort: pityIgel (hedgehog) // wider (against)fit
ieeelLiebe (love)
J jyogajournalistJahr (year) // ja  (yes)Journalist
K kcoldKälte (cold) // Takelage (rigging)
L llongLand // viel (a lot)
M mmanMann (man) // Same (seed)
-benrhythmgeben (give)
N nneedleNadel (needle) // Fund (the find)
nglungLunge (lung)
O olong:   rawshort:  lotOstern (Easter), Bote (messenger)Osten   (east), kommen (to come)
Ö ölong:   ~herdshort:  ~hurtÖl (oil) // Lösung (solution)Öffnung (opening) // geöffnet (open[ed])
P ppersonPerson // Appetit (appetite)
Ph phfearPhysik (physics) // Hieroglyphen
Qu ququeerQuark (curd) // gequatscht (gossipped)
R rexcept at end: Moulin rougeat end:             ~earReiter (rider) // bereit (ready)Uhr (watch/clock)
S ssoft (beginning):            doze harsh (anywhere else): musSahne (cream) Bus (bus)
Sch schshySchule (school) // Busch (bush)
St stbeginning of syllable:        fishedanywhere else: lustStadt (city) // bestimmtfast (almost) // Pflaster (band aid)
Sp spbeginning of syllable: fishplateanywhere else: sportsSpiel (game)  // Beispiel (example)Busparkplatz (bus park) // lispeln (to lisp)
T tteaTee (tea) // Vater (father)
Th thteaTheater // Äther (ether)
tzratsPutz (plaster, in constr.)
U ulong:  doodleshort: tookUhr (clock/watch) // fuhr (drove)Unke (toad) // und (and)
Ü ülong:  ~shoeshort: ~shoe but shorterÜbelkeit (nausea) //Üppigkeit (opulence) // Hütte (hut)
V vfishrarely, foreign words only: vainVater (father) // bevor (before)Vase // Kurve (curve)
W wvileWagen (cart) // Gewalt (violence)
X xfix, lacksXaver (German name) // fix (fast)
Y y~shoe but shorteryogaTyp (type or bloke)Yoga
Z zcatsZorn (anger) // Reiz (stimulus)
ßlastStraße (street)

Where can I hear These Letters Spoken out Loud?

Most online dictionaries allow you to listen to any word you look up and they have come a long way. Try DeepL and Google translate or be blown away by which uses Amazon’s voices which are among the best on the market. Just look up the word and click on the little speaker symbol. But the best way to get accustomed to the German pronunciation is to approach whole words as well as whole sentences as the word and sentence melody contain a lot of subtle information about a speakers mood or irony.

How to write the German extra letters on a non-German keyboard?

On any Apple device it usually suffices to press down the a, o, u or s letters a bit longer and this menu will appear:

In Google docs though that doesn’t work. Also on a Windows or Linux driven machine you’d have to enter some weird codes like ALT+265 which I find quite impractical. One of my students suggested the following solution which I use until today. Simple replace the Umlaute the following way:

ä = a: a:rgern
ö = o: o:ffentlich
ü = u: u:bel
ß = B StraBe

alternatively, as practiced in German crosswords, you can write the Umlauts this way (not the ß though):

ä = ae aergern
ö = oe oeffentlich
ü = ue uebel

This is even faster than the push-down approach from above.

Lovely songs to Learn the German Alphabet

For over a year now SmarterGerman has been cooperating with Harry Bum Tschak in order to create music videos that help you with learning the German grammar and certain basics like the alphabet. You will love our Alphabet Song. Hör mal rein:

Last but not least I’d like to present to you Benjamin, a gifted musician from the German south who wrote a song for German kids to learn the German alphabet. Even I enjoy listening to this song. Enjoy: The German Alphabet Rap by Rapartschule and make sure to check out his other songs though their texts might be a bit too hard to understand if you are a beginner.

Go to Youtube and search for “Sesamstraße – Lulatsch hat ein Geheimnis” (you can copy the title from here if you don’t have a German ß yet) for a wonderful sketch that helps with learning the German alphabet that I can’t embed here due to (c) reasons.

3 responses to “German Alphabet Pronunciation and Writing”

  1. I have a German g-grandmother whose name was Christine. But on all the German records it looks like Justine. Can you explain this?

    • Not professionally but maybe someone at one point made a mistake writing her name down and she got stuck with it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.