A Guide to German - The German alphabet

What's the German alphabet like?

The German alphabet has 26 letters plus 3 umlauts.
You may well have to spell out your name and perhaps your address in German. Here is the alphabet and how to pronounce it

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What's significant about the German alphabet?

  • Döts and a sharp s

    The modern German alphabet's based on the Latin alphabet, consisting of 26 base letters. A little German Extrawurst, special treatment, has been added in the form of four more letters called die Umlaute  ä, ö, ü and the  ß, sharp s, which is pronounced as double s, eg. in  beißen, to bite, or
     der Gruß, greeting. You'll only ever see it in lower case as words never start with a ß, and it's not used in Swiss German, which opts for double s instead.

  • Strange sounds

    The German e, eg.  der Engel, angel, and i, eg.  die Ironie, irony, can be tricky and are sometimes easily mixed up by English speakers. The e sounds like the vowel in English 'egg', keeping your lips widely spread. The German i sounds like the 'ee' in the English word 'feet'. The German final e is never silent, but very short, e.g.  die Meile, mile, or  die Kasette, casette.

    Practise the German vowel combination ei, for example
     das Ei, egg, which rhymes with the English 'lie'. Don't confuse it with the the German ie, which sounds like 'ee'. Otherwise the action schießen, to shoot, becomes scheißen, to defecate, which could cause some embarrassment!

    The good news is that, with only a few exceptions, German consonants are very similar to their English equivalents.

    Sch, like in  die Schule, school, sounds like sh. Ch after a vowel sounds quite similar to the Scottish loch, as in
     das Loch, which is not a lake, but hole in German.

    The letters x and y (Ypsilon) occur almost exclusively in words of Greek origin, eg.  das Xylophon or  das System. Sometimes y and i represent the same sound, for example in surnames:
     Meier, Meyer.

  • Standard German

    The equivalent of Queen's English is Hochdeutsch, lit. 'High German', which is regarded as "proper" spoken German.
    On the other hand, there are different varieties of standard German. The main distinction is between Austrian, German and Swiss German. For example  Januar, january, is  Jänner in Austrian German.

    Local dialects are numerous and widely spread. A speaker of Plattdeutsch from the North of Germany would struggle to hold a conversation with a speaker of Bavarian from the South of Germany, who would on his part have less problems understanding someone speaking in an Austrian dialect.

    As the result of German migration, a number of German dialects are spoken in North- and South-America, eg. Pennsylvania Dutch, which isn't Dutch at all but a German dialect that indicates how German was spoken in the 18th century, when their ancestors left Germany.

  • Email and website conventions

    When giving an email or website address the conventions are:
     @ at
     . Punkt, dot
     / Schrägstrich, forward slash
     - Bindestrich, hyphen

Facts about German

Facts about German

10 things to know about the German language

German key phrases

German key phrases

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