Basic German Pronunciation: Vowels - dummies

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

In German, vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) can generally be pronounced in two ways — as short or long vowel sounds. The short vowel sounds are “clipped,” meaning they’re pronounced shorter than their English equivalents. Long vowel sounds are “steady-state” or “pure,” meaning the sound quality doesn’t change even though it’s a long sound. Here are the basic rules:

  • A vowel is long when it’s followed by the letter h, as in Stahl (shtahl) (steel) or ihn (een) (him).

  • A vowel is generally long when it’s followed by a single consonant, as in Tag (tahk) (day).

  • A vowel is long when it’s doubled, as in Teer (teyr) (tar) or Aal (ahl) (eel).

  • The vowels a, e, and i sound long before a single consonant, as in beten (bey-ten) (to pray).

  • In general, a vowel is short when followed by two or more consonants, as in Tanne (tân-e) (fir tree).

This table shows you how to pronounce German vowels by providing some examples and the letter combinations that serve as the English equivalent of the German letter’s pronunciation (called the phonetic script). Here, two short vowel sounds have a little “hat” over the letter, so they look like this: â and ê.

Pronouncing German Vowels
German Letter Phonetic Symbol As in English German Example
a (long) ah father Bahnhof (bahn-hohf) (station)
a (short) â adore (clipped “a”) Banner (bân-er) (banner)
e (long) ey vein Leben (ley-ben) (life)
e (short/stressed) ê bet (clipped “e”) Bett (bêt) (bed)
e (short/unstressed) e pocket Lachen (lâH-en)
i (long) ee see isoliert (eez-o-leert)
i (short) i winter Mitte (mit-e) (middle)
o (long) oh mope Lob (lohp) (praise)
o (short) o gonna Sonne (zon-e) (sun)
u (long) ooh moon Grube (grooh-be) (pit)
u (short) oo push (clipped “u”) muss (moos) (have to/must)