Basic German: Pronouncing Consonants - dummies

Basic German: Pronouncing Consonants

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

Ahh, relief! The sounds of German consonants are easier to master than the German vowel sounds. In fact, they’re pronounced either almost the same as their English equivalents or like other English consonants. Of course, you’ll find a couple of oddities and exceptions, but don’t worry. The following sections explain what you need to know.

Pronouncing f, h, k, m, n, p, t, x, and ß

As part of a word, the letters f, h, k, m, n, p, t, and x are pronounced the same in German as they are in English. The letter ß, on the other hand, doesn’t exist in English. It’s kind of cool looking, though, don’t you think? But even if you don’t care about looks, you’ll be glad to know that you pronounce it just like ss or s.

As far as the written language goes, whether a given German word is spelled with ss or ß depends on a couple of rules. Here’s the scoop:

  • After a long vowel or a diphthong, the s sound is spelled ß — for example, Fuß (foohs) (foot).

  • After a short vowel, the s sound is spelled ss — for example, Fass (fâs) (barrel).

Note: In Switzerland, the ß isn’t used at all. Instead, the Swiss always spell words with the double ss.

This table tells you how to pronounce the rest of the German consonants by providing you with examples and a phonetic script.

Pronouncing Selected German Consonants
German Letter Phonetic Symbol As in English German Example
b* (end of a word or syllable or before voiceless
p up Abfahrt (âp-fahrt) (departure)
b b bright Bild (bilt) (image, picture)
c (beginning of a word) k cat Café (kâ-fey)
c (mostly words of foreign origin) ts tsar Celsius (tsêl-zee-oos)
c (mostly words of foreign origin) ch cello Cello (chêl-oh) (cello)
d* (end of a word or syllable or before voiceless
t moot blind (blint) (blind)
d d do Dunst (doonst) (mist, haze)
g g go geben (gey-ben) (give)
g* (end of a word or syllable or before voiceless
k lag Tag (tahk) (day)
j y yes ja (yah) (yes)
qu kv kv (pronounced together) Quatsch (kvâch) (nonsense)
s (beginning of a word) z zoo sieben (zee-ben) (seven)
s (middle/end of a word) s sit Haus (house [as in English]) (house)
v f fire Vogel (foh-gel) (bird)
v (words of foreign origin) v velvet Vase (vah-ze) (vase)
w v vice Wald (vâlt) (forest)
y (mostly words of foreign origin) y yes Yoga (yoh-gâ) (yoga)
y (mostly middle a of word) er her (without the “r” sound) System (zers-teym) (system)
z ts ts as in tsunami Zahl (tsahl) (number)
ß s guess Straße (shtrah-se) (street)
*Note: When the letters b, d, and
g are at the end of a word or syllable or before
voiceless consonants like
s or
t, they change sounds. The b
changes to a p sound, d changes to t,
g changes to k.

Pronouncing the German r and l

You pronounce the letters r and l differently in German than you do in English:

  • To replicate the “gargled” pronunciation of the German r, try making a gargling sound before saying aahh, so you’re saying ra. Also, don’t roll the tip of your tongue or use it to pronounce the German r.

  • To correctly pronounce the German letter l, you have to position your tongue differently than you do when you pronounce the English letter l. In English, you pronounce the l with your tongue in a spoon shape, hollowed out in the middle. To make the German l, you press the tip of your tongue against your gum ridge (just as you do in English), but you keep it flat instead of spoon-shaped. The German l sound is clipped, not drawled.