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The German Alphabet

Part I

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German has often been viewed by non-Germans as a harsh sounding language. That may be due in part to the more guttural pronunciation of certain German alphabet sounds and diphthongs and perhaps even a still lingering effect of old WWII movie stereotypes. Once non-German speakers familiarize themselves with German’s different sounds however, another kind of poetic beauty will unfold before them that has been revered worldwide in the works of many German greats, such as Goethe, Schiller through prose and song.

How does the German alphabet differ from the English alphabet?

Unique Traits of the German Alphabet:

  • More than 26 letters in the alphabet - German has a so called extended latin alphabet
  • The extra letters are ä, ö, ü and ß
  • The pronunciation of some of these letters do not exist in the English language
  • Several letters are pronounced more from the back of the throat: g, ch, r (though in Austria the r is trilled).
  • The W in German sounds like the V in English
  • The V in German sounds like the F in English
  • Most of the time the S in German sounds like Z in English when placed at the beginning of a word followed by a vowel.
  • The letter ß is the only letter that will never be at the beginning of a word.

    Click on the following letters to hear them pronounced. (Audio saved as .wav files.)

    Das Deutsche Alphabet/ The German Alphabet
    Buchstabe/ LetterAussprache des Buchstabenamens/ Pronunciation of letter nameAussprache des Buchstaben - wie in/ Sound of Letter - as inBeispiele/ Examples
    A aah astronautder Adler (eagle), Januar (January)
    B b approximate: baybabyder Bruder (brother), aber (but)
    C capproximate: tsaycreative, Celcius (soft c sound in German sounds like ts) der Chor, der Christkindlmarkt (south German term for der Weihnachtsmarkt/ Christmas market), Celcius
    D dapproximate: daydollar Dienstag (Tuesday), oder (or)
    E e approximate: ayelegant essen (to eat), zuerst (first)
    F feffeffort der Freund (friend), offen (open)
    G g approximate: gay gorgeous gut (good), gemein (mean)
    H hhaahammerder Hammer, dieMühle (mill)
    I ieehIgorder Igel (porcupine), der Imbiss (snack), sieben (seven)
    J jyotyellowdas Jahr (year), jeder (each)
    K kkahcameldas Kamel, der Kuchen (cake)
    L lelllovedie Leute (people), das Land (land)
    M m emman der Mann, die Ameise
    N n ennice nicht (not), die Münze (coin)
    O o ohoven Ostern (Easter),rot (red)
    P p approximate: payparty die Polizei (police), der Apfel
    Q q koocoraldas Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source)
    Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
    R r approximate: errichder Rücken (the back), der Stern (star)
    S s eszoo, shine, mousesummen (to hum), schön (pretty, nice), die Maus
    T t approximate: taytyrantder Tyrann, acht (eight)
    U u ooh ou sound in you die Universität (university), der Mund (mouth)
    V v fowfatherder Vogel (bird), die Nerven (nerves)
    W w approximate: vayvandie Wange (cheek), das Schwein (pig, wieviel (how much)
    X x ix sounds like kzdas Xylofon/ Xylophon, die Hexe (witch)
    Note: There are hardly any German words that start with X
    Y y uep-si-lohnyellowdie Yucca, der Yeti
    Note: There are hardly any German words that start with Y.
    Z z tsetsounds like tsdie Zeitung (newspaper), der Zigeuner (gypsy)



    Umlaut + ß
    Aussprache des Buchstaben/ Pronunciation of LetterBeispiele/ Examples
    äsounds similar to the e in melonähnlich (similar), gähnen (to yawn)
    ö sounds similar to the i in girlÖsterreich (Austria), der Löwe (lion)
    ü no equivalent nor approximate sound in Englishüber (over),müde (tired)
    ß (esszet) double s sound heiß (hot),die Straße (street)


  • Learn more specifics of several German letters and their dipthongs in the following articles:
    Pronunciation Part 2
    Pronunciation Part 3

  • Starting to feel comfortable with German pronunciation? Put your pronunciation to the test with these Zungenbrecher (tongue twisters).

  • More pronunciation practice with these Alphabet Exercises.
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    6. The German Alphabet - Learning the ABCs in German

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