German Vowels and How to Pronounce Them [with Audio]
German vowels are one of the basic building blocks of the language.
And while some will look familiar, there’s a feature in the German alphabet that doesn’t appear in English—umlauts!
Knowing your vowels won’t only help improve your speaking and pronunciation. Having all this vowel knowledge is really great for your writing and reading skills, too.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about German vowels, including umlauts and dipthongs, and the different sounds they make.
- German Vowels
- Tips on Long and Short German Vowels
Like English, the German language contains the basic vowels a, e, i, o and u, which can be long or short. It also has umlauts: ä, ö, ü and diphthongs (vowel pairs): ai, ei, eu, äu, ie, au.
We’ll go over each in more detail in the following sections, with examples and audio to help you perfect your pronunciation.
Basic German Vowels: a, e, i, o, u
The German alphabet contains the same basic vowels as English: a, e, i, o and u. As noted above, each of these vowels can be long or short. See the table below for their pronunciations and examples of each.
|a (short)||the "u" in "cut"|| kalt
die Katze — cat
alt — old
|a (long)||the "a" in "harm|| haben
— to have
Hamburg — Hamburg
der Vater — father
|e (short)||the "e" in "set"|| das Geld
die Ente — duck
der Termin — appointment
|e (long)||the "a" in "say"|| regen
— to rain
das Meer — sea / ocean
der Februar — February
|i (short)||the "i" in "bit" |
(but slightly more clipped)
die Limo — lemonade
bitte — please
|i (long)||the double "e" in "feet"|
(but lift your tongue
| der Igel
der Termin — appointment
irisch — Irish
|o (short)||the "o" in "hot"|| der Gott
London — London
blond — blond
|o (long)||the "uar" in "quarter" or |
the "aw" sound in "call"
rot — red
der Monat — month
|u (short)||the "u" in "bush" |
(shape your lips as if
blowing out a candle)
August — August
der Funk — radio
|u (long)||the double "o" in "moon"|| anrufen
— to call / to phone
die Blume — flowers
der Uhrenturm — clock tower
German Umlauts: ä, ö, ü
You have no doubt come across those curious-looking German vowels with the two dots hanging above them. They’re called umlauts and appear quite often throughout the German language.
Like with the basic vowels, they can be long or short.
|ä (short)||the "e" in "get"||fährt — drives / goes|
|ä (long)||the "a" in "day"||der Käse — cheese|
|ö (short)||a bit like the "e" in "her"||die Öffnung — opening|
|ö (long)||similar to the "u" sound in "burn"||böse — evil|
|ü (short)||a bit like the "ew" in "pew"||das Stück — piece|
|ü (long)||same as above but for longer||die Tür — door|
Here are some pronunciation tips for the trickier German umlauts.
- For the long ä: Try saying “aaah” as you would at the doctor’s, and imagine your tongue is being pressed down with the doctor’s tongue depressor.
- For the long ö: Keep your lips round and tense for this sound; they should open to create a hole about the size of an olive.
- For the short ö: It’s the exact same sound as the long ö except your lips don’t have to be quite so tense, and it’s not voiced for as long.
- For the long and short ü: Pretend you’re playing the flute and retract your lower lip—your lips can be slightly more relaxed when voicing the short vowel.
Diphthongs: ai, ei, eu, äu, ie, au
Now that we know everything about solo vowels, let’s see what happens when we put them together. Usually, vowels pair together to make certain sounds. When this occurs, the pair of vowels is known as a “diphthong.”
|ai / ei||both sound like the word "eye"|| das Ei
Mai — May
|eu / äu||both sound like the "o" in "toy"|| die Häuser
neu — new
|ie||the "e" in "we"||die — the|
|au||the "ow" sound||blau — blue|
Be careful not to confuse au with äu! That umlaut makes all the difference.
Tips on Long and Short German Vowels
How can you tell whether the vowel—or vowels—in a word is long or short?
Sometimes, there’s no indication as to whether you’re faced with a long or short vowel—this is the stuff you gradually pick up as you work at your German conversation.
In addition to learning by listening and looking, there are some rules that will help you out with your vowels. Below are the most common.
If a word begins with a vowel followed by an h, then it has a long vowel sound.
Some examples include:
ahnen — to guess / suspect
die Ohren — ears
In the words above, the long vowel is the one that appears in the first syllable.
Should a vowel precede multiple consonants, it will be short.
Here are a few examples:
Schmidt — German family name
der Hund — dog
Double vowels always pair up to create the effect of a long vowel.
You can see how this works in these words:
der Saal — hall
die Beere — berry
Now that you’re familiar with German vowels, diphthongs and umlauts, you’ll know the difference in pronunciation between über (over) and unter (under)—without having to ask anyone!
It’s small things like this that will help your confidence grow and allow you to connect with German speakers more naturally.
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