German Alphabet and Pronunciation Guide

The German alphabet has the same twenty-six letters as the English alphabet, plus four other letters of its own. The four special German letters are: ä - a-Umlaut, ö - o-Umlaut, ü - u-Umlaut, and ß - eszett, scharfes S. A pair of dots above a German vowel is called an "umlaut." The vowels with umlauts are distinct letters.

  • A,a ah like in father.
  • B,b bay like the English b, but more like p at the end of a syllable.
  • C,c tsay like ts, but like k before a, o, and u.
  • D,d day like d, but more like t at the end of a syllable.
  • E,e ay like a in fate, or e in rest, but never like e in me; it is always pronounced.
  • F,f eff sounds harder than the English.
  • G,g ghay sounds at the beginning of a syllable like g in good.
  • H,h hah is silent after a vowel, but never when it begins a syllable.
  • I,i e like i in with, or e in me, but never like i in mine.
  • J,j yot like y in yet.
  • K,k kah like the English.
  • L,l el like the English.
  • M,m em like the English.
  • N,n en like the English.
  • O,o o like o in so, but never like o in move.
  • P,p pay like the English.
  • Q,q koo like kv.
  • R,r err uttered more distinctly.
  • S,s ess similar to the English, but soft at the beginning of words, and between two vowels.
  • T,t tay like t.
  • U,u oo like oo in moon, or u in full, but never like u in use.
  • V,v fow like the English f.
  • W,w vay similar to the English v.
  • X,x iks like ks.
  • Y,y ypsilon like i.
  • Z,z tsett like ts, never like the English z.

Compound Consonants

  • ch tsay-hah guttural sound (Ach-Laut) after a, o, and u. It is palatal (Ich-Laut) after e, i, ä, ö, and ü.
  • sch es-tsay-hah like the English sh in shame.
  • ss,ß ess-ess, Scharfes S like s in single.
  • th tay-hah like t, and never like the English.
  • ph pay-hah like f.

Other compound consonants ff, ss, pp, tt only serve to sharpen the sound.

Modified Vowels

  • ä sounds similar to a in ant.
  • ö sounds similar to i in bird, or u in urge.
  • ü like the French u which is produced by pronouncing e and rounding the lips.

Diphthongs

Diphthongs are vowels that "glide" from one sound toward another.

  • ei, ai, ey, ay sound like i in mine.
  • au like ou in mouse.
  • eu, äu sound like oy in boy.

In German every letter is pronounced, therefore reading may be acquired in one lesson. German has short vowels, long vowels, and diphthongs. The short vowels are clipped. A vowel is short if it is followed by two or more consonants: denn, Tisch.

A vowel is long:

1. if it is followed by an h: ihn

2. if it is double: Beet

3. if it is followed by one consonant: Hut

Glottal Stop

Very important in acquiring a proper German pronunciation is an understanding of the use of the glottal stop. The glottal stop is a brief closure of the vocal cords that is used to keep words and syllables from running together. In German, words and syllables are pronounced more clearly and distinctly than in English where there is a tendency to link words whe they are spoken.

In the following example there is a distinct difference in pronunciation:

edge of a near-drum and edge of an eardrum

These is a distinct break or glottal stop before before the word eardrum in the second phrase. In German, the glottal stop occurs before every word starting with a vowel. It is even heard, though slightly fainter, in the same word, between prefix and stem: be|arbeiten.

Grammar Patterns

Listening Comprehension