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.

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
ah astronaut der (eagle), (January)
approximate: bay baby der (brother), (but)
approximate: tsay creative, Celcius (soft c sound in German sounds like ts) der , der (south German term for der Weihnachtsmarkt/ Christmas market),
approximate: day dollar (Tuesday), (or)
approximate: ay elegant (to eat), (first)
eff effort (friend), (open)
approximate: gay gorgeous (good), (mean)
haa hammer der, die (mill)
eeh Igor der (porcupine), der (snack), (seven)
yot yellow das (year), (each)
kah camel das , der (cake)
ell love die (people), das (land)
em man der , die
en nice (not), die (coin)
oh oven (Easter), (red)
approximate: pay party die (police), der
koo coral das (square), die (source)
Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
approximate: er rich der (the back), der (star)
es zoo, shine, mouse (to hum), (pretty, nice),
approximate: tay tyrant der , (eight)
ooh ou sound in you die (university), der (mouth)
fow father der (bird), die (nerves)
approximate: vay van die (cheek), das (pig, (how much)
ix sounds like kz das , die (witch)
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with X
uep-si-lohn yellow die , der
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with Y.
tset sounds like ts die (newspaper), der (gypsy)


Umlaut + ß

Aussprache des Buchstaben/ Pronunciation of Letter Beispiele/ Examples
sounds similar to the e in melon (similar), (to yawn)
sounds similar to the i in girl (Austria), der (lion)
no equivalent nor approximate sound in English (over), (tired)
(esszet) double s sound (hot),die (street)