Learn the German Alphabet: From A to Z to ß

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

Learning the German alphabet is one of the first steps in knowing how to read and write in German. 

Although you may want to simply start learning basic German phrases or vocabulary, it is a good idea to study the alphabet as well. 

Once you take some time to learn the German alphabet, including how to pronounce each letter, you will be able to speak more fluently and also be able to understand spoken German better. 

Furthermore, it isn’t even that tricky to learn the German alphabet since it is very similar to English, with all the same letters and a couple of extras. 

Once you know the new letters and which ones need to be practiced more, you will be well on your way to improving your German.

This guide will break down the letters in the German alphabet, show you how to pronounce them and give you example words. We will also go through the special German letters in more detail just so you can be sure that you are confident with the whole German alphabet from A all the way to ẞ. 

How Many Letters Does the German Alphabet Have?

As mentioned above the German alphabet has the same twenty-six letters as the English one but with a couple of extras. 

So, how many letters are actually in the German alphabet with these extras added on? Well, it depends if you actually count the extra letters or not since they are not necessarily completely new letters, just modified ones. 

Some people simply say that the German alphabet has 26 letters whereas others argue that there are 30. 

The four additional letters in the German language are: ä, ö, ü and ß and if you decide to count these as separate letters the count is brought up from 26 to 30. 

The great thing about the German alphabet is that you know the majority of the letters and so all it takes to really solidify your knowledge of the German alphabet is some extra attention to the letters that look similar to English but are pronounced differently.

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Luckily the German language is quite consistent with its pronunciation following phonetic rules that do not change so it is easy to sound out a word you do not know using the same pronunciation you have learnt from the alphabet.

So, now that that burning question is cleared up, let’s look at all the letters of the German alphabet and how to pronounce each one. 

What Are the German Alphabet Letters?

LetterName (Pronunciation)Example
AA (ah)Apfel (apple)
BBe (bay)Bein (leg)
CCe (tsay)CD (CD)
DDe (day)Donnerstag (Thursday)
EE (ay)Elefant (elephant)
FEf (eff)Ferien (vacation)
GGe (gay)gehen (to go)
HHa (hah)Haus (house)
II (eeh)Ich (I)
JJott or Je (yot)Jahr (year)
KKa (kah)Kinder (children)
LEl (ell)lieben (to love)
MEm (em)Mittwoch (Wednesday)
NEn (en)neu (new)
OO (oh)Ohr (ear)
PPe (pay)Papier (paper)
QQu or Que (koo)qualität (quality)
REr (err)rot (red)
SEs (es)Sonne (sun)
TTe (tay)Tag (day)
UU (ooh)Uhr (clock)
VVau (fow)Vater (father)
WWe (vay)Woche (week)
XIx (iks)Xylofon (xylophone)
YYpsilon (oopsilohn)typisch (typical)
ZZett (tset)Zeit (time)
ÄÄ (eh)Mädchen (girl)
ÜÜ (uuh)früh (early)
ÖÖ (ouh)möchten (to want)
Eszett (ess-set)Straẞe (street)

When talking about a specific German letter you would use the neutral article “das” instead of the masculine “der” or feminine “die”. For example “Das A”, “das B”, “das C” and even “das deutsche Alphabet”.

Vowels With Umlauts: Ä, Ö and Ü

Although the extra German vowels may seem a little intimidating at first, don’t worry about them too much. 

All that has happened to these letters is that an umlaut (a.k.a two dots) has been added to the top of them. 

The addition of the umlaut signifies that a letter has its own separate sound different to the way you would pronounce the normal version of the letter. 

Although ä, ö, and ü  are not sounds we would use in the English language, it is easy enough for your mouth to learn how to pronounce these letters, all it takes is a bit of practice. 

Ä is the umlaut vowel that sounds the closest to its English version. Ä sounds like a short “eh” sound. 

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To practice saying “ä” first say the English word “head” and then remove the other sounds until you are left with the short “eh” sound in the middle. 

The ä sound can be elongated in some German words but is important to make sure that you don’t let the vowel slide into an “ay” sound. 

The sound of the umlaut vowel ö is difficult for English speakers since it doesn’t exist in the English language and so there isn’t really a similar sound. 

Ö can be pronounced by pursing your lips into an “O” shape and trying to say the “eh” sound from “ä”. 

In the English language the ö sound is similar to the “o” in “word” or the “i” in “bird” so if you practice saying these sounds you’ll get used to pronouncing the German letter ö.

 Ü is another of the umlaut vowels that has no corresponding sound in English, so it can be a bit difficult to pronounce for non-native speakers. 

To create the ü sound you need to start off by creating an “ee” or “eww” sound and then purse your lips tight as if you were going whistle, still trying to make the same sound. 

Learning these vowels is all about practice so don’t be afraid to look silly when attempting these pronunciation exercises. 

In terms of typing words that have umlaut vowels in, if you don’t have a German keyboard then you can simply add an “e” after the vowel instead. 

German speakers will understand you perfectly if you type “schoen” instead of “schön”. 

The Eszett: ß

A slightly more daunting letter is the letter ß since it looks like no letter in the English language at all.

Actually, the ß is an example of a ligature which is when two sounds or letters are put together to make a new letter. 

The letter ß is also referred to as a “scharfes s” in German or “sharp s” and it is simply just a double s “ss”.

Funnily enough, although it looks completely different, the ß sound sounds exactly like the “s” sound in English. 

When typing in English it is perfectly fine to replace the ß with an “ss” instead and so when you are looking for a German street, you may see it written as “Strasse” or “Straße”. 

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Actually, both Switzerland and Liechtenstein have got rid of the ß and only use “ss” when writing in German. 

For a bit of fun, try writing the ß by hand and see if you can master it first time! 

German Alphabet Pronunciation: Challenging Letters for English Speakers

As mentioned at the start of this guide, there are some letters in German that, despite looking like their English versions, are pronounced differently. 

The letters J, V and W will often catch out English speakers as they are pronounced like other English letters. See the following list for an easy way to understand how to pronounce these words. 

  • J = English Y sound – Jogging sounds like “yogging” 
  • V = English F sound – Vielen Dank (thanks so much) sounds like “Feel-en Dank” 
  • W = English V sound – Weg (way) sounds like “vegg”

The C sound is pronounced as “tsay” in German but not if the C is at the start of the word. Since words beginning with C often derive from other languages they are pronounced with a hard “k” sound instead much like how you would pronounce a word that starts with C in English.

The Y sound in German is pronounced like the “ou” sound from “you”. However, this is a very uncommon letter to come across in German words and is only really used when pronouncing foreign words. 

When pronouncing the R sound in German you should soften the R sound by moving it farther back in your throat. 

However, if an R is at the beginning of a word, it has a stronger sound and can even be rolled, for example in the German word “Rad” (wheel). 

It depends on the German dialect as to how much someone will roll their Rs so you may hear various versions of the same word depending on where you are. 

Also, if an R is at the end of the word it becomes very soft, almost inaudible, and turns into more of an “uh” sound. For example, the final R in the word “Mutter” (mother) is a very soft R. 

Another example of a letter being softened when it is at the end of a word is the letter G. The G at the end of a word turns into more of a soft “k” sound so the greeting “Guten Tag” would sound more like “guten tahk”.

Conclusion

Now that you know all your German letters from A to ß you will be able to master your pronunciation and understand how to say words that are written. 

Not only will this new knowledge provide a great foundation for future learning of the German language, but you will also be able to impress your German friends that you know those extra special letters and even how to pronounce those tricky Vs and Js. 

As with everything, practice makes perfect, and soon you will be able to make it from A all the way to ß with perfect German pronunciation. 

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