A E I O U Ä Ö Û….
(A E I O U Ä Ö ü)
The German language has eight vowels, which can be pronounced long or short. Mixing that up can lead to severe misunderstandings. At the end of this video I’ll show you a great rule of thumb so that you’ll never get it wrong.
Ich bin Spring German Lehrerin Brunhild und hier sind die deutschen Vokale! (I am Spring German Brunhild and here are the German vowels!)
1. A wie in Banane (A as in banana)
Ich bin so hungrig!
(I’m so hungry!)
Möchtest du eine Banane? Ich hab zwei dabei.
(Would you like a banana? I got 2 with me.)
A can be pronounced long, A, as in Banane (banana) or short, A, as in Ananas (pineapple).
2. E wie Egoist (E like egoist)
E can be pronounced long, E, as in Egoist (egoist) or short, E, as in Essen (food).
Wo ist denn das Essen von gestern?
(Where is the food from yesterday?)
Die Ente? Die hab ich gegessen!
(The duck? I ate it.)
Ernsthaft? Du bist so ein Egoist!
(Seriously? You’re such an egoist!)
3. I wie Ich (I like I)
I can be pronounced long, I, as in Igel (hedgehog) or short, I, as in Ich (I). Some words even work both ways, meaning that both the long “Iiii” and the short “I” are correct ways of pronouncing the word. For the following words, you can let your personal taste decide:
- Kritik (Criticism) or Kritik
- Politik (Politics) or Politik
- Kredit (Loan) or Kredit
- Profit (Profit) or Profit
These are examples for foreign words that have been adapted, so the rules for pronunciation are not as strict. Personally, I like to pronounce the vowels long: Profit, Kredit, Politik, Kritik, since that’s what standard grammar rules would suggest. But there’s no right and wrong here.
Ich fass’ es nicht. Die Armen kriegen keinen Kredit und die Reichen machen immer mehr Profit. Man kann nur noch Kritik an der Politik äussern.
(The poor get no loans and the rich are making more and more profit. One can only criticize politics at this point.)
4. O wie Ofen (O like furnace)
O can be pronounced long, O, as in Ofen (furnace) or short, O, as in offen (open).
These particular words are almost identical, but Ofen means oven, and offen means “open”. This is a perfect example of how the wrong pronunciation entirely can change the words meaning.
Hier drin ist aber ordentlich heiss.
(It’s quite hot in here.)
Offenbar hat Opa hat den Ofen offen gelassen!
( Apparently, grandpa left the oven open)
Oh je Opa, offensichtlich musst du mehr Obacht geben! Ein offener Ofen ist nicht optimal…
(Oh grandpa, obviously you must pay more attention! An open furnace is not optimal….)
5. U wie U-Bahn (U like subway)
U can be pronounced long, U, as in U-Bahn (subway) or short, U, as in unbequem (uncomfortable).
Ich muss unbedingt fahren!
(I really have to leave now!)
Nicht so ungeduldig! Ich bin noch unter der Dusche!
(Not so impatient! I am still showering!)
Unfassbar. Tut mir Leid, aber du musst die U-Bahn nehmen.
(Unbelievable. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take the subway.)
Das ist so unbequem!
(That’s so uncomfortable!)
Sei nicht so unflexibel. Mit der U-Bahn bist du unabhängig!
(Don’t be so inflexible. With the metro you’re independent!)
That was it with the basic vowels! But, unlike in the English, it doesn’t end here! I’m proud to say that we have a few more vowels to play with.
That’s right! We have three more vowels than the English alphabet!
6. Ä wie ärgerlich (Ä like aggravating)
Ä is A with two dots on top. It can be pronounced long, Ä, such as in Käse (cheese) or short, Ä, as in ärgerlich (exasperating) ängstlich (anxious).
Der Käse ist ja total verschimmelt!
(The cheese is totally moldy!)
Oh nein, wie ärgerlich.
(Oh no, how annoying.)
Du hättest ihn doch schon längst zum Kochen verwenden können!
(You could have used it for cooking long ago!)
Hätte hätte, Fahrradkette!
(Would have, could have, should have)
Hätte, hätte, Fahrradkette (Would have, could have, should have) is a term we use when we can no longer undo a wrong decision and there’s no use dwelling on it now. It’s equivalent to: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts”.
- Hätte (Would have) is the subjunctive past tense form of haben (to have), to have,
- Fahrrad (bicycle) means bicycle and
- Kette (chain) means chain, so
the whole chunk Hätte, hätte, Fahrradkette literally means: would have, would have, bicycle chain. Does that make any sense? Nope. It does not. And that’s exactly the point of the whole thing. Fahrradkette (bicycle chain) just rhymes with hätte (would have) and underlines the fact that dwelling on something that can no longer be changes is meaningless.
What’s your take on this? Is talking about mistakes the key to learning from them? Or should we just not dwell on what could have been? Leave me a comment below!
7. Ö wie Öl (Ö like oil)
Ö is an O with two dots on top, which makes it Ö. Ö can be short, Ö, as in
- öffentlich (public)
- örtlich (local)
- östlich (eastern) and
- köstlich (delicious)
Was kochst du heute?
(What are you cooking today?)
Ich dachte, fernöstlich!
(I thought about far eastern!)
And then there are long Ös, such as
- Österreich (Austria)
- öde (dull)
- Öl (oil)
- Ökonomie (economy)
- Öfen (furnaces)
Es ist so öde!
(It’s so dreary!)
Soll ich dich ablösen?
(Do you want me to take over?)
Das Olivenöl ist ominös verschwunden und der blöde Ofen ist unmöglich zu öffnen!
(The olive oil suspiciously vanished and it’s impossible to open the stupid oven!)
Das kann man doch lösen. Im örtlichen Elektrogeschäft sind Öfen mit Ökofiltern öfters heruntergesetzt!
(That’s solvable. In the local electronics store, ovens with eco-filters are often on discount!)
Unmöglich. Dafür fehlt uns die Ökonomie!
(Impossible. We lack the economy for that.)
8. ü wie überragend (ü like outstanding)
Ü is an U with two dots on top. It can be long, üü, as in
- süss (sweet)
- überragend (outstanding)
- übergenau (overly precise)
- überempfindlich (oversensitive)
KIM sceptically watches EVA clean enthusiastically.
Du bist ja übermotiviert. Da bist du schon fünf mal drübergegangen.
(Look who’s overly motivated. You went over this area five times already).
Nimm’s mir nicht übel, aber dein Einsatz ist ja nicht übermäßig überragend.
(Don’t take it the wrong way, but your effort is not overly outstanding, after all.)
überlege dir, was du sagst!
(Think about what you’re saying!)
Nur ruhig. Sei nicht so überempfindlich.
(Calm down. Don’t be so overly sensitive!)
Man muss ja nicht übergenau sein.
(No need to be overly precise.)
ü can also be short, ü, as in
- Fünf (five)
- Müll (garbage)
- brüllen (yelling)
Bring den Müll raus! Der stinkt übel!
(Take out the garbage! It stinks badly!)
Ja doch! Brauchst nicht so zu brüllen!
(Yeah, yeah. You don’t need to yell like that!)
9. Y, wie Yoga (Y like yoga)
The letter Y is used comparatively little in the German language. It exists however. When placed in the beginning of the word, it is often pronounced as “J”, such as “Yoga” (yoga) or “Yacht” (Yacht). But when placed in the middle of a word, it is often used as a vowel, even though it officially isn’t one.
Examples: Take the word System (system). Here, the Y is placed in the middle of the word and is being pronounced like an ü. But, it can also be pronounced as “I” as in “Bayern” (Bavaria). Mostly when the Y appears in the middle of a word, it is going to be an ü, like in
- Hyperaktiv (hyperactive)
- Asyl (asylum)
- Psychologie (psychology)
- System (system)
- Physik (physics)
Schnell! Wir müssen zum Physikunterricht!
(Quick! We gotta get to physics lesson.)
Mach mal langsam, du Psycho! Immer bist du so hyperaktiv!
(Slow down, you psycho! You’re always so hyperactive!)
At the end of a word, the Ypsilon is pronounced as “i”. Those words are often from English, such as:
- Hockey (hockey)
- Hobby (hobby)
- Party (party)
- Handy (cellphone)
Na, kommst du mit zur Party?
(Well? Are you coming along to the party?)
Ich kann mein Handy nicht finden!
(I can’t find my cellphone!)
Now you! How do you think the following words are being pronounced?
- Hygiene (Hygiene)
- Baby (Baby)
- Ägypten (Egypt)
- Analyse (analysis)
Easy, right? In the middle of a word, it’s ú, and at the end, it’s i. By the way! Did you know that “Ypsilon” is greek and means Simple “ü” (simple ü)?. With that in mind, it makes sense that it is mostly pronounced as an ü.
How do I know whether to pronounce a vowel short or long?
There is a great rule of thumb for that. If the consonant, that comes after the vowel, is double, the vowel itself will be pronounced short. Example: Schiff (ship). The consonant F is double, so the I is pronounced short.
If, however, the consonant is single, the vowel in front of it is pronounced long, like in Ofen (oven). There’s only one F, so the O is long- Ofen. If we add another F to it, the O suddenly becomes short, and we have offen (open). So the difference of a single and double consonant can make a word change its meaning. Therefore it is important to pronounce the vowel correctly.
In most cases, this rule of thumb will serve you well. There are however a few exceptions, especially when it comes to foreign loanwords. Ananas (Pineapple) for example derives from a South American native word. The A is pronounced short, so the word should be written Annannass. This is not the case, because the word is not originally German and therefore does not answer to German grammar rules. The same goes for these words, that we borrowed from English:
- Klub (club)
- Pop (pop)
- Hit (hit)
- fit (fit)
- Job (job)
But it is also the case with longer words, such as
- Kapitel (chapter)
- Limit (limit)
- Hotel (hotel)
- Roboter (robot)
- Kamera (camera)
And, as we have seen before, there are some words where, despite German grammar rules would suggest a certain pronunciation, both versions are okay, like:
- Kredit (credit)
- Profit (profit)
- Politik (politics)
- Kritik (criticism)
Since there are no double consonants, the vowels should be long, right? Well, yeah.. but you know. Since these words are adopted from French and Greek language and what not, they have special rights.
So to summarize! There are five basic vowels, which can be pronounced long: A, E, I, O, U (A, E, I, O, U) or short: a, e, i, o, u. And then there’s the ones with the dots on top and that’s Ä, Ö, Û (Ä, Ö, Û), or short: ä, ö, ü.
Das war’s für heut’! (That’s it for today). I hope you feel more confident about the vowels now!