German Consonants

Most of the consonants in the German alphabet are very much like their English counterparts. A few, though, have striking differences. Others have only very subtle differences, and these are the ones you will want to pay the closest attention to, since the proper pronunciation of these consonants will determine whether or not you have a strong accent.

For the sake of your time, only the German consonants that are pronounced in a different way than in English are listed here. For all of the consonants you cannot find below, the German pronunciation does not differ from the English way of saying them.

The German consonant “c” is pronounced in two different ways after vowels:

(1) “c” – before “a”, “o”, and “u”: Pronounced like an English “k,” yet in the front of your mouth, not the back. You may not be able to tell the difference, but native speakers of English usually pronounce the “k” sound in the back of the mouth, closer to the throat. (Say “call” and pay close attention to where you form the “k”!). In German, a “k” and a hard “c” are pronounced in the front, so they sound a little brighter. Try saying a short “e” sound right after the “k,” as in “kindergarten,” and raising your tongue until the middle of it touches your upper palate while its tip pushes against your lower teeth. Compare the position of your tongue to the position it is in when you say “call” (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with a hard “c” is “curry.”

(2) “c” – before “i”, “e”, “ö”, “ä”, and “ü”: Sounds like a “ts:” a short “t” followed by a hard “s” (as in “snow”). Think of the sound a drop of water makes when it hits a hot surface.

An example of a German word with a soft “c” is “Celsius.”

The German “c” is also used in three consonant combinations:

(1) “ck” – Pronounced just like the German “k” or hard “c” (see above).

An example of a German word with “ck” is “Glück” [Luck].

(2) “ch” – after “i”, “e”, “ö”, “ä”, and “ü”: To imagine the sound, try thinking of a mixture between a very audible “h” and an “sh” sound. In order to produce it, close your mouth as if pronouncing a German “e” or “i.” Your lips are open and smiling. The teeth almost touch each other. The tip of the tongue pushes against the lower teeth and the rest of it blocks the air that you release, being raised to your upper palate. Since there is no English sound like this, pay close attention to the recordings and try to imitate them (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with a soft “ch” is “China.”

“ch” – after “a”, “o”, and “u”: To imagine the sound, think of a person who is snoring. Form it in the back of your throat with your uvula. The lips are open and the tongue again blocks the air that is released, its tip resting at the lower teeth. The difference to the soft “ch” is the position of the tongue’s middle part; it is lowered, not raised, and only the back of the tongue touches the upper palate (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with a hard “ch” is “machen” [to make].

(3) “sch” – Pronounced just like the English sound “sh,” as in “shower” (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with “sch” is “dusche” [shower].

The German consonant “g” is usually pronounced just as in English. However, there are slight variations when used in the following combinations:

“ng” – Pronounced as “ŋ” in the back of your mouth, with the back of the tongue touching the upper palate, just like in English (e.g., in the word “spring”). The “g” is silent when making the “ng” sound.

An example of a German word with “ng” is “frühling” [spring].

“ig” – At the end of a word, it is pronounced as the German soft “ch” sound. The combination “ig” thus becomes “ich” when pronounced.

An example of a German word with “ig” is “ruhig” [quiet].

The German consonant “h” at the beginning of a word is pronounced just like the English “h” in “hear” (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word beginning with “h” is “heilig” [holy].

After a vowel, the German “h” is not pronounced. It just lengthens the vowel.

An example of a German word with an “h” after a vowel is “mehl” [flour].

For pronunciation of “h” in combination with “c” (ch) or with “sc” (sch), see the entry for the consonant “c.”

The German consonant “j” is the equivalent of the English “y” as in “yes.” Be careful! It is a glide (voiced sound).

An example of a German word with “j” is “ja” [yes].

The German consonant “k” is pronounced like an English “k,” yet in the front of your mouth, not the back. You may not be able to tell the difference, but native speakers of English usually pronounce “k” in the back of the mouth, closer to the throat (say “call” and pay close attention to where you form the “k”). The German “k” is pronounced in the front of the mouth and sounds a little brighter. Try saying a short “e” sound right after the “k,” as in “kindergarten,” and raise your tongue until the middle of it touches your upper palate while its tip pushes against your lower teeth. Compare the position of your tongue to the position it is in when you say “call” (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with “k” is “koch” [cook].

The German consonant “l” is pronounced with a very subtle difference from the English “l.” In order to say it the “German way,” the whole front part of your tongue presses slightly against the upper palate, its tip is either right behind the upper teeth or even showing between the upper and lower teeth. The mouth is closed, as when saying a German “e” or “i,” and the sound is made in the front of the mouth. Compare this to the way an “l” is formed in English: the tongue curves back, it is lowered with only its tip touching the upper palate, the mouth is open, and the sound is made in the back of the mouth (voiced sound).

An example of a German word with “l” is “liebe” [love].

The German consonant P is pronounced just like in English. It occurs in three combinations:

“ph” – Pronounced like “f,” just like in English.

An example of a German word with “ph” is “philosophie” [philosophy].

“pf” – Should be pronounced “p-f.”

An example of a German word with “pf” is “pferd” [horse].

“sp” – Pronounced “sh-p” (“sh” as in “shower,” followed by “p” as in “pot”).

An example of a German word with “sp” is “spaß” [fun].

The German consonant “r” is entirely different from the English “r.” This is REALLY IMPORTANT!! The German “r” is formed in the back of the throat, almost like the hard “ch,” just with less air, and voiced. To imagine the sound, think of a growling dog. Form it in the back of your throat with your uvula. The lips are open, and the tongue again blocks the air that is released, its tip resting at the lower teeth. It is NOT an English “r,” and it is NOT a Russian or Spanish rolled “r”!

The German “r” is pronounced only at the beginning of words or after a consonant. If it follows a vowel, it is pronounced like a very short “u” as in “but” and it is not stressed.

An example of a German word beginning with “r” is “ruhe” [silence].

An example for a German word with an “r” following a consonant is “groß” [big].

An example of a German word with an “r” following a vowel is “schwester” [sister].

The German consonant “s,” in front of a vowel, is pronounced like an English “z” (as in “zipper”). It is voiced and soft. Following a vowel, the “s” is pronounced like an English “s” (as in “snow”), unvoiced and hard.

An example of a German word with a soft “s” is “sehr” [very].

An example of a German word with a hard “s” is “haus” [house].

The German “s” also occurs in three combinations:

“sch” – Pronounced just like the English sound “sh” as in “shower.”

An example of a German word with “sch” is “dusche” [shower].

“sp” – Pronounced “sh-p” (“sh” as in “shower,” followed by “p” as in “pot”).

An example of a German word with “sp” is “spaß” [fun].

“st” – Pronounced “sh-t” (“sh” as in “shower,” followed by “t” as in “tea”).

An example of a German word with “st” is “stehen” [to stand].

The German consonant “v” is either pronounced like an English “v” (voiced) or like an English “f”(unvoiced). Unfortunately, there’s no rule as to when it is pronounced in which way; just listen to the lessons, and it shouldn’t be a problem!

An example of a German word with a voiced “v” is “vase” [vase].

An example of a German word with an unvoiced “v” is “vogel” [bird].

The German consonant “w” is pronounced like an English “v” (voiced sound).

An example of a German word with “w” is “wort” [word].

The German consonant “z” is pronounced like a “ts:” a short “t” followed by a hard “s” (as in “snow”). Think of the sound a drop of water makes when it hits a hot surface (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with “z” is “zirkus” [circus].

The German consonant ß (that’s not a “b”!!) doesn’t exist in the English alphabet. “ß” can be substituted by “ss” and is pronounced like an English ”s” (as in “snow”) (unvoiced sound).

An example of a German word with “ß” is “spaß” [fun].

Leave A Comment

3 Comments to “German Consonants”

  1. Great guide!
    I’ve always found it difficult to teach the consonant ‘r’, I even find it harder than the ‘ch’ cluster.
    I’ve taken a few tips from your guide that I’ll be using with my students, hope you don’t mind :)

     
  2. Brent Van Arsdell

    Thanks Amr,

    I really appreciate your kind words.

     
  3. gcvoon

    excellent note to pronounciation german r follow a vowel.

     
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