The German Alphabet, From A to Z

Getty Images / Ohad Ben-Yoseph

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 and Schiller through prose and song.

Unique Characteristics 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 will never appear at the beginning of a word.

Das Deutsche Alphabet (The German Alphabet)

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

Buchstabe/ LetterAussprache des Buchstabenamens/ Pronunciation of letter nameAussprache des Buchstaben - wie in/ Sound of Letter - as inBeispiele/ Examples
A aahastronautder Adler (eagle), Januar (January)
B bapproximate: 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: daydollarDienstag (Tuesday), oder (or)
E eapproximate: ayelegantessen (to eat), zuerst (first)
F feffeffortder Freund (friend), offen (open)
G g approximate: gaygorgeousgut (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 memmander Mann, die Ameise
N n ennicenicht (not), die Münze (coin)
O oohovenOstern (Easter),rot (red)
P p approximate: paypartydie Polizei (police), der Apfel
Q q koocoraldas Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source)
Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
R rapproximate: errichder Rücken (the back), der Stern (star)
S seszoo, shine, mousesummen (to hum), schön (pretty, nice), die Maus
T t approximate: taytyrantder Tyrann, acht (eight)
U uoohou sound in youdie 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 ixsounds 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)
ösounds similar to the i in girlÖsterreich (Austria), der Löwe (lion)
üno equivalent nor approximate sound in Englishüber (over),müde (tired)
ß (esszet)double s soundheiß (hot),die Straße (street)