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.

Letter Pronunciation like in… Example
A a long:  fathershort: arm Aal (eel) // jagen (to hunt)Arm (the arm) // arm (poor)
Ä ä long:  thereshort: bet Ähnlichkeit (similarity) // spät (late)Ärger (trouble) // hätte (had)
Au au sow Auge (eye) // auf (on top)
Äu äu toy Äußerung (uttering) // Häuser (houses)
B b soft: bearhard: lip (when at end) Bär (bear) // bitte (please)Club
C c (rare on its own) soft:  ratshard: cat Caesar Cola (only found in non-German words)
Ch ch ç: a whispered “yyyy(es)”x: loch (ness) (scratchy ch)k: character China // ich (I); after: ä, ö, ü, i, e & conson.after: a, o, u // Dach (roof)Charakter, Chor (choir)
ck lock Dackel (dachshund)
D d soft: dreamhard: team (when at end) DramaHand
E e long:      heyshort:     betweak I : commaweak II: ~butter Ekel (disgust) // gehen (to go)Echo // echt (true)only at end: kommeonly at end: Vater
Ei ei lie Eimer (bucket) // Reise (journey)
Eu eu boy Euter (udder) // heute (today)
F f fish Fisch (fish) // doof (stupid)
Pf pf helpful Pfeife (pipe) // Gipfel (summit)
G g soft:      pleasurehard:     gartenharder:  tic Gigolo // Rage (rage) Garten (garden) // Magen (stomach)Tag (day)
H h hearable: hotelsilent: – Hotelnever at beginning: sehen
I i long:  feelshort: pity Igel (hedgehog) // wider (against)fit
ie eel Liebe (love)
J j yogajournalist Jahr (year) // ja  (yes)Journalist
K k cold Kälte (cold) // Takelage (rigging)
L l long Land // viel (a lot)
M m man Mann (man) // Same (seed)
-ben rhythm geben (give)
N n needle Nadel (needle) // Fund (the find)
ng lung Lunge (lung)
O o long:   rawshort:  lot Ostern (Easter), Bote (messenger)Osten   (east), kommen (to come)
Ö ö long:   ~herdshort:  ~hurt Öl (oil) // Lösung (solution)Öffnung (opening) // geöffnet (open[ed])
P p person Person // Appetit (appetite)
Ph ph fear Physik (physics) // Hieroglyphen
Qu qu queer Quark (curd) // gequatscht (gossipped)
R r except at end: Moulin rougeat end:             ~ear Reiter (rider) // bereit (ready)Uhr (watch/clock)
S s soft (beginning):            doze harsh (anywhere else): mus Sahne (cream) Bus (bus)
Sch sch shy Schule (school) // Busch (bush)
St st beginning of syllable:        fishedanywhere else: lust Stadt (city) // bestimmtfast (almost) // Pflaster (band aid)
Sp sp beginning of syllable: fishplateanywhere else: sports Spiel (game)  // Beispiel (example)Busparkplatz (bus park) // lispeln (to lisp)
T t tea Tee (tea) // Vater (father)
Th th tea Theater // Äther (ether)
tz rats Putz (plaster, in constr.)
U u long:  doodleshort: took Uhr (clock/watch) // fuhr (drove)Unke (toad) // und (and)
Ü ü long:  ~shoeshort: ~shoe but shorter Übelkeit (nausea) //Üppigkeit (opulence) // Hütte (hut)
V v fishrarely, foreign words only: vain Vater (father) // bevor (before)Vase // Kurve (curve)
W w vile Wagen (cart) // Gewalt (violence)
X x fix, lacks Xaver (German name) // fix (fast)
Y y ~shoe but shorteryoga Typ (type or bloke)Yoga
Z z cats Zorn (anger) // Reiz (stimulus)
ß last Straße (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.

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