The German Alphabet From A to Z

Letters

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.
  • German has its own phonetic spelling code used to avoid confusion when spelling words on the phone or in radio communication.

Das Deutsche Alphabet (The German Alphabet)

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

Buchstabe/ Letter Aussprache des Buchstabenamens/ Pronunciation of letter name Aussprache des Buchstaben - wie in/ Sound of Letter - as in Beispiele/ Examples
A a ah astronaut der Adler (eagle), Januar (January)
B b approximate: bay baby der Bruder (brother), aber (but)
C c approximate: tsay creative, Celcius (soft c sound in German sounds like ts) der Chor, der Christkindlmarkt (south German term for der Weihnachtsmarkt/ Christmas market), Celcius
D d approximate: day dollar Dienstag (Tuesday), oder (or)
E e approximate: ay elegant essen (to eat), zuerst (first)
F f eff effort der Freund (friend), offen (open)
G g approximate: gay gorgeous gut (good), gemein (mean)
H h haa hammer der Hammer, dieMühle (mill)
I i eeh Igor der Igel (porcupine), der Imbiss (snack), sieben (seven)
J j yot yellow das Jahr (year), jeder (each)
K k kah camel das Kamel, der Kuchen (cake)
L l ell love die Leute (people), das Land (land)
M m em man der Mann, die Ameise
N n en nice nicht (not), die Münze (coin)
O o oh oven Ostern (Easter),rot (red)
P p approximate: pay party die Polizei (police), der Apfel
Q q koo coral das Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source)
Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
R r approximate: er rich der Rücken (the back), der Stern (star)
S s es zoo, shine, mouse summen (to hum), schön (pretty, nice), die Maus
T t approximate: tay tyrant der Tyrann, acht (eight)
U u ooh ou sound in you die Universität (university), der Mund (mouth)
V v fow father der Vogel (bird), die Nerven (nerves)
W w approximate: vay van die Wange (cheek), das Schwein (pig, wieviel (how much)
X x ix sounds like kz das Xylofon/ Xylophon, die Hexe (witch)
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with X
Y y uep-si-lohn yellow die Yucca, der Yeti
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with Y.
Z z tset sounds like ts die Zeitung (newspaper), der Zigeuner (gypsy)


Umlaut + ß

Aussprache des Buchstaben/ Pronunciation of Letter Beispiele/ Examples
ä sounds similar to the e in melon ähnlich (similar), gähnen (to yawn)
ö sounds similar to the i in girl Österreich (Austria), der Löwe (lion)
ü no equivalent nor approximate sound in English über (over),müde (tired)
ß (esszet) double s sound heiß (hot),die Straße (street)