Sandra 11Percent

So, you decided to learn German. Congratulations! Before you start speaking it, though, there are some steps you should take — learning the letters of the German alphabet is one of those steps. 

The German alphabet has the same 26 letters that are in the English alphabet, plus four extra letters: ä, ö, ü, and ß. Keep in mind that the alphabet will not be exactly the same in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. But we’ll explain those details later.

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Let’s go through all the letters of the German alphabet by learning how to pronounce them and taking a look at a few examples.

Letters of the German alphabet

Basic letters of the German alphabet

Letter Pronunciation of the letter name in German IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)Approximate English pronunciation with examplesAdditional notes
Aah /aː/Like “a” in “amazing,” with the mouth a little bit more open

die Ameise (ant), arbeiten (to work), sagen (to say)
Bbeh/beː/Like “b” in “baby.”

die Bahn (railroad), der Abend (evening), bekommen (to get)
Ctseh/t͡seː/“c” in front of “ä,” “i,” and “e” is pronounced as “ts,” like in “tsunami.”

das Celsius (Centigrade), der Cäsar (Caesar)

Otherwise, “c” is pronounced like the English “k.”

der Campingplatz (campsite), der Computer (computer)
The letter “c” is rarely found alone in German words. It mostly comes together with the letter “h.” To learn more about this, check the article about German pronunciation.
Ddeh/deː/Like “d” in English

das (the), der Bruder (brother), Deutsch (German)

When found at the end of the word, “d” will become voiceless, meaning it will sound like a “t.”

der Hund
(dog), das Lied (song)
Eeh/eː/As a short vowel, “e” will be pronounced like the “e” in “bed” or “get.”

wenn (when), das Fett (fat), echt (real)

As a long vowel, “e” has no exact correspondent in the English language, but will sound mostly similar to the “a” in “say”, just don’t let it glide off into an “i” or “a.”

mehr (more), gehen (to go), das Meer (sea)
Even if we have two letters “e” next to each other, it will still be pronounced as “e”, sounding just a little longer. For example “die Erdbeere” (strawberry) or “der Tee” (tea).
Fehf/ɛf/Like “f” in English

der Freund (friend), feiern (to celebrate), laufen (to run)
The letters “ph” are pronounced just like “f.” Many words that originally had the letter “ph” are now written with “f.” For example, “die Fotografie” (photography) or “das Telefon” (telephone). 
Ggeh/ɡeː/Like “g” in “goodbye”

genau (exactly), gut (good), das Geld (money)

When found at the end of the word, “g” will become voiceless, sounding like “k.”

der Tag (day), der Zug (train)

The “-ig” suffix at the end of a word is pronounced as “ih” with a soft “h.”

lustig (funny), richtig (correct)

In words imported from other languages, “g” will keep its original pronunciation.

die Etage (floor), der Regisseur (director) 
Hhah/haː/When at the beginning of a word, it sounds like the English “h” in “house.”

das Haus (house), der Hund (dog), heute (today)

When not at the beginning of a word, the letter “h” in German is silent and prolongs the vowel before it.

zehn (ten), die Uhr (clock)
Iee/iː/As a short vowel, “i” will be pronounced like the “i” in “if” or “lift.”

ich (I) bitte (please), immer (always)

As a long vowel, “i” will be pronounced like the “ee” in “bee” or “cheese.” It will come in the form of “i,” “ih,” “ie,” or “ieh.”

ihr (plural you), die Ziege (goat), die Idee (idea)
Jyot/jɔt/Pronounced like the English “y” in “yes” or “yellow.”

ja (yes), die Jacke (jacket), jeder (everyone) 

In imported words, it will be pronounced like in the original (mostly English or French).

der Job (job), der Jazz (jazz), der Journalist (reporter) 
Kkah/kaː/Pronounced like “k” in “kitchen.”

das Kino (cinema), kochen (to cook), die Katze (cat) 
Lel/ɛl/Like the “l” in “lamp.”

lieben (to love), der Löwe (lion), klingeln (to ring) 
Mem/ɛm/Pronounced like the “m” in “mom.” 

die Tomate (tomato), jemand (someone), machen (to do, make) 
Nenɛn/Pronounced like the “n” in “nobody.”

die Natur (nature), nein (no), nehmen (to take) 
Ooh/oː/As a short vowel, it sounds similar to the “o” in “go” or “aw,” as in “awe” but slightly rounder, more like the vowel in the British pronunciation of “thought.” In German, the sound will never glide into an “u” sound like it does in English.

die Sonne (sun), kommen (to come) 

As a long vowel, it’s pronounced like the “o” in “not.” It sounds closer to American English than British English, but in German, the “o” is shorter, and the lips are rounder. It can be written in the form of “o,” “oh,” or “oo.”

das Boot (boat), froh (happy)
Ppeh/peː/Pronounced like the “p” in “park.”

das Papier (paper), die Polizei (police), kaputt (broken) 
Qqu/kuː/Pronounced as “kv”

das Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source, well) 
Exactly as in English, the letter “q” is always followed with a “u” in words.
Rehr/ɛʁ/The consonantal “r,” is sometimes called the “rolled r.” It sounds similar to cleaning your throat or gargling water.

rot (red), die Reise (trip), die Lehrerin (female teacher), schreiben (to write)

The vocalic “r” is pronounced like a reduced “a” sound. It’s mostly found at the end of words (in the suffix “-er” or after a vowel) or after a long vowel and before a consonant.

das Bier (beer), die Uhr (clock), das Pferd (horse), erlauben (allow) 
There are many differences in pronunciation of the German “R,” varying a lot depending on the country, region, and style.
There is no equivalent of any of the German “r” sounds in the English language, and it should never be pronounced like the English “r.”
Ses/ɛs/Pronounced as “s” in “soup”

die Maus (mouse), das Haus (house) 

At the beginning of words, it’s always pronounced as “z.”

die Sonne (sun), singen (to sing)
The combination “sch” will be pronounced as “sh” like in “sharing” — to find out more about special letter combinations in German, check the article about German pronunciation.
Tteh/teː/Pronounced like “t” in “telephone.”

trinken (to drink), das Thema (topic, subject), acht (eight) 
Uoo/uː/The short “u” vowel is pronounced like “u” as in “put” or “oo” as in “book.”

die Suppe (Soup), der Bus (bus), unten (under)
The long “u” vowel is pronounced similar to “oo” in “boot.”

das Buch (book), der Stuhl (chair), du (you)
Vfow/faʊ̯/In most of the words, it is pronounced like “f” in “face” or “fish.”

Volkswagen (the car manufacturer), der Vogel (bird), viel (much, a lot)

In some words (mostly words that came from other languages), “v” is pronounced like “v” in “very.”

der Vulkan (volcano), das Klavier (piano), das Verb (verb)
Wveh/veː/Pronounced like “v” in “video.”

das Schwein (pig), die Woche (week), wohnen (to live)
Xeeks/ɪks/Pronounced like “x” in “exited.”

die Hexe (witch), flexibel (flexible), boxen (to box)
Yohpseelohn /ˈʏpsilɔn/The letter “y” has many different pronunciations. If used as a vowel, it’s pronounced just like the “ü” in German (somewhere between an “i” and “e”).

typisch (typical), die Physik (Physics), der Typ (type)

When at the beginning or end of a word, it gets pronounced the same as the “y” in English, and most of these words come from the English language.

das Baby (baby), das Yoga (yoga), die Party (party)
Ztseht /t͡sɛt/Pronounced like “ts” in “cats” or “tsunami”

das Zimmer (room), das Ziel (goal), die Zwiebel (onion)

Additional letters of the German alphabet

As noted above, there are four extra letters in the German language. They are generally not counted into the number of letters in the alphabet — that’s why we say that the German alphabet has 26 letters plus the additional four. These letters are usually listed at the end of the alphabet after the other 26 letters and counted as “extra letters.”

For these specific letters, there is no exact pronunciation in English. That’s why they are so hard to master for non-native German speakers.

There are three letters with an umlaut — the two little dots above them — and a strange letter that looks like a “B” but sounds like an “S!”

Ää/ɛː/Pronounced somewhere between “ay” as in “say” and “eh” — form your lips like you want to say the letter “a” and say “e” instead.

die Äpfel (apples), zählen (to count), der März (March)
In written German, the letter “ä” can also be replaced with “ae.”
Öö/øː/Pronounced something like the French “eu” or the British “ur” in the word “burn” — form your lips like you want to say the letter “o” but say “i” instead.

der Löwe (lion), schön (pretty), das Öl (oil) 
In written German, the letter “ö” can be replaced with “oe.”
Üü/yː/Pronounced somewhere between an “u” and “i” — form your lips like you want to say the letter “u” and then say “i” instead.

grün (green), fünf (five), das Gemüse (vegetables) 
In written German, the letter “ü” can be replaced with “ue.”
ßehs-tset/ɛsˈt͡sɛt/Pronounced like a slow and sharp sounding “s.”

süß (sweet), weiß (white), die Straße (street) 
ß is called Eszett (because it evolved from a combination of S+Z), or scharfes S (literally: sharp s). In Switzerland, the alphabet is completely lacking this letter. So if you see, for example, “die Strasse” (the street) written with “ss,” it’s either Swiss German or the old German orthography.
Below is a little guide on how to write it.
How to write "ß"
How to write “ß”

Ready to learn more German?

Interested in finding out more about German pronunciation in real life? Check out the next article in the series, where we cover everything about pronouncing certain German letter combinations and sounds and take your pronunciation knowledge to the next level!
Or, if you feel like your pronunciation is ready, jump to the article with some useful German phrases and simple German conversation tips.

Page Last Updated: September 2021