GERMAN ORTHOGRAPHY is the orthography used in writing the German language , which is largely phonemic . However, it shows many instances of spellings that are historic or analogous to other spellings rather than phonemic. The pronunciation of almost every word can be derived from its spelling once the spelling rules are known, but the opposite is not generally the case.
* 1 Alphabet
* 2.1 Umlaut diacritic usage
* 2.2 Sharp s
* 3 Features of German spelling
* 4 Grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences
* 4.1 Consonants
* 4.2 Vowels
* 4.2.1 Short vowels * 4.2.2 Long vowels * 4.2.3 Diphthongs
* 5 History of
* 5.1 Middle Ages * 5.2 Early modern period * 5.3 19th century and early 20th century * 5.4 German spelling reform of 1996
* 6 See also * 7 Footnotes
German alphabet (Listen to a German speaker recite the alphabet in German)
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Austria's standardized cursive
The modern German alphabet consists of the twenty-six letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet :
NAME (IPA ) SPELLING ALPHABET
A a /aː/ Anton
B b /beː/ Berta
C c /t͡seː/ Cäsarnb 1
D d /deː/ Dora
E e /eː/ Emil
F f /ɛf/ Friedrich
G g /ɡeː/ Gustav
H h /haː/ Heinrichnb 1
I i /iː/ Ida
L l /ɛl/ Ludwig
M m /ɛm/ Martha
N n /ɛn/ Nordpol
O o /oː/ Otto
P p /peː/ Paula
R r /ɛʁ/ Richard
T t /teː/ Theodor
U u /uː/ Ulrich
V v /faʊ̯/ Viktor
W w /veː/ Wilhelm
* ^ In the spelling alphabet , for ⟨ch⟩, Charlotte is used. For the trigraph ⟨sch⟩, SCHule is used.
German uses three letter-diacritic combinations (Ä/ä , Ö/ö ,
Ü/ü ) using the umlaut and one ligature (
German extra letters (Listen to a German speaker naming these letters)
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NAME (IPA ) SPELLING ALPHABET
Ä ä /ɛː/ Ärger
scharfes S: /ˈʃaʁfəs ɛs/ Eszett; in
UMLAUT DIACRITIC USAGE
See also: Umlaut (diacritic)
Although the diacritic letters represent distinct sounds in German phonology , they are almost universally not considered to be part of the alphabet. Almost all German speakers consider the alphabet to have the 26 cardinal letters above and will name only those when asked to say the alphabet.
The diacritic letters ä , ö and ü are used to indicate the presence of umlauts (frontalizations of back vowels). Before the introduction of the printing press , frontalization was indicated by placing an e after the back vowel to be modified, but German printers developed the space-saving typographical convention of replacing the full e with a small version placed above the vowel to be modified. In German Kurrent writing, the superscripted e was simplified to two vertical dashes, which have further been reduced to dots in both handwriting and German typesetting. Although the two dots of umlaut look like those in the diaeresis (trema), the two have different functions.
When it is not possible to use the umlauts (for example, when using a restricted character set) the characters Ä, Ö, Ü, ä, ö, ü should be transcribed as Ae, Oe, Ue, ae, oe, ue respectively, following the earlier postvocalic-e convention; simply using the base vowel (e.g. u instead of ü) would be wrong and misleading. However, such transcription should be avoided if possible, especially with names. Names often exist in different variants, such as "Müller" and "Mueller", and with such transcriptions in use one could not work out the correct spelling of the name.
Automatic back-transcribing is not only wrong for names. Consider, for example, das neue Buch ("the new book"). This should never be changed to das neü Buch, as the second e is completely separate from the u and does not even belong in the same syllable; neue ( ) is neu (the root for new) followed by an e, an inflection. The word neü does not exist in German.
Furthermore, in northern and western Germany, there are family names
and place names in which e lengthens the preceding vowel, as in the
former Dutch orthography, such as
In proper names and ethnonyms, there may also appear a rare ë and ï , which are not letters with an umlaut, but a diaeresis , used as in French to distinguish what could be a digraph, for example, ai in Karaïmen , eu in Alëuten , ie in Ferdinand Piëch and oe in Clemens von Loë and Bernhard Hoëcker (although Hoëcker added the diaeresis himself). To separate the au diphthong, as well as some others, which are graphically composed of potentially umlaut-holding letters, the acute accent is sometimes used (e.g. Saúdi-Arabien).
Swiss typewriters and computer keyboards do not allow easy input of
uppercase letters with umlauts (nor ß) because their positions are
taken by the most frequent French diacritics. Uppercase umlauts were
dropped because they are less common than lowercase ones (especially
in Switzerland). Geographical names in particular are supposed to be
written with A, O, U plus e except "Österreich" (
Unlike in Hungarian , the exact shape of the umlaut diacritics – especially when handwritten – is not important, because they are the only ones in the language (not counting the tittle on i and j). They will be understood whether they look like dots (¨), acute accents (˝), vertical bars (‖), a horizontal bar (macron , ¯), a breve (˘), a tiny N or e, a tilde (˜), and such variations are often used in stylized writing (e.g. logos). In the past, however, the breve was traditionally used in some scripts to distinguish a u from an n, as was the ring (°). In rare cases the n was underlined. The breved u was common in some Kurrent -derived handwritings; it was mandatory in Sütterlin .
The German sign "Delicacy / red cabbage." Left cap is with old orthography, right with new.
The eszett or scharfes S (
Although nowadays substituted correctly only by ss, the letter actually originates from two distinct ligatures (depending on word and spelling rules): long s with round s ("ſs") and long s with (round) z ("ſz"/"ſʒ"). Some people therefore prefer to substitute "ß" by "sz", as it can avoid possible ambiguities (as in the above "Maßen" vs "Massen" example).
Incorrect use of the
This change towards the so-called Heyse spelling, however, introduced
a new sort of spelling errors, as the long/short pronunciation differs
regionally. It was already mostly abolished in the late 19th century
(and finally with the first unified German spelling rulebook of 1901)
in favor of the Abel spelling that put focus on logical word ends.
Besides the long/short pronunciation issue, which can be attributed to
dialect speaking (for instance, in the northern parts of Germany Spaß
is typically pronounced short, i.e. Spass, whereas particularly in
Wachstube and Wachſtube are distinguished in blackletter typesetting, though no longer in contemporary font styles.
There are three ways to deal with the umlauts in alphabetic sorting .
* Treat them like their base characters, as if the umlaut was not present ( DIN 5007-1, section 22.214.171.124.1). This is the preferred method for dictionaries, where umlauted words ("Füße", feet) should appear near their origin words ("Fuß", foot). In words which are the same except for one having an umlaut and one its base character (e.g. "Müll" vs. "Mull"), the word with the base character gets precedence. * Decompose them (invisibly) to vowel plus e ( DIN 5007-2, section 126.96.36.199.2). This is often preferred for personal and geographical names, wherein the characters are used unsystematically, as in German telephone directories ("Müller, A.; Mueller, B.; Müller, C.").
* They are treated like extra letters either placed
* after their base letters (Austrian phone books have ä between az and b etc.) or * at the end of the alphabet (as in Swedish or in extended ASCII).
A sort of combination of No.s 1 and 2 also exists, in use in a couple of lexica: The umlaut is sorted with the base character, but an ae, oe, ue in proper names is sorted with the umlaut if it is actually spoken that way (with the umlaut getting immediate precedence). A possible sequence of names then would be "Mukovic; Muller; Müller; Mueller; Multmann" in this order.
Eszett is sorted as though it were ss. Occasionally it is treated as
s, but this is generally considered incorrect. Words distinguished
Accents in French loanwords are always ignored in collation.
In rare contexts (e.g. in older indices) sch (phonetic value equal to English sh) and likewise st and ch are treated as single letters, but the vocalic digraphs ai, ei (historically ay, ey), au, äu, eu and the historic ui and oi never are.
FEATURES OF GERMAN SPELLING
SPELLING OF NOUNS
A typical feature of German spelling is the general capitalization of nouns and of most nominalized words.
Compound words , including nouns, are written together, e.g. Haustür (Haus+Tür; house door), Tischlampe (Tisch+Lampe; table lamp), Kaltwasserhahn (Kalt+Wasser+Hahn; cold water tap/faucet). This can lead to long words: the longest word in regular use, Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften ("legal protection insurance companies"), consists of 39 letters; while the longest German word ever published (Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft , "Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services") has 79 letters.
Even though vowel length is phonemic in German, it is not consistently represented. However, there are different ways of identifying long vowels:
* A vowel in an open syllable (a free vowel ) is long, for instance
in gE-ben ('to give'), sA-gen ('to say').
* It is rare to see a bare i used to indicate a long vowel /iː/.
Instead, the digraph ie is used, for instance in LIEbe ('love'), hIEr
('here'). This use is a historical spelling based on the Middle High
German diphthong /iə/ which was monophthongized in Early New High
German. It has been generalized to words that etymologically never had
that diphthong, for instance vIEl ('much'), FrIEde ('peace') (Middle
High German vIl, vrIde). Occasionally – typically in word-final
position – this digraph represents /iː.ə/ as in the plural noun
Knie /kniː.ə/ ('knees') (cf. singular Knie /kniː/). In
DOUBLE OR TRIPLE CONSONANTS
Even though German does not have phonemic consonant length , there are many instances of doubled or even tripled consonants in the spelling. A single consonant following a checked vowel is doubled if another vowel follows, for instance iMMer 'always', laSSen 'let'. These consonants are analyzed as ambisyllabic because they constitute not only the syllable onset of the second syllable but also the syllable coda of the first syllable, which must not be empty because the syllable nucleus is a checked vowel.
By analogy, if a word has one form with a doubled consonant, all forms of that word are written with a doubled consonant, even if they do not fulfill the conditions for consonant doubling; for instance, reNNen 'to run' → er reNNt 'he runs'; KüSSe 'kisses' → KuSS 'kiss'.
However, German does have consonant length (whether phonemic or not), if the two consonants stem from the two parts of a composite word, e. g. Schaffell ('sheepskin') has a long f (but short l).
By the same composition, consonants can possibly be tripled; while
this is a sign that the consonant is actually in all cases spoken
long, it does not affect the pronunciation per se: the fff in
Sauerstoffflasche ('oxygen bottle') is exactly as long as the ff in
Schaffell. According to the spelling before 1996, the three consonants
would be shortened before vowels, but retained before consonants and
in hyphenation, so the word Schifffahrt (literally somewhat like 'ship
driving'; means "'navigation' in the sense of seafaring not excluding
rivers) was then written Schiffahrt with equal pronunciation. With the
aforementioned change in
EI: This digraph represents the diphthong /aɪ̯/. The spelling goes
back to the
Middle High German
EU: This digraph represents the diphthong , which goes back to the
Middle High German
ß: This letter alternates with SS. For more information, see above .
ST, SP: At the beginning of the main syllable of a word, these
digraphs are pronounced . In the Middle Ages, the sibilant that was
inherited from Proto-Germanic /s / was pronounced as an
alveolo-palatal consonant or unlike the voiceless alveolar sibilant
/s / that had developed in the
High German consonant shift
V: The letter v occurs only in a few native words and then, it represents /f /. That goes back to the 12th and 13th century, when prevocalic /f / was voiced to . The voicing was lost again in the late Middle Ages, but the v still remains in certain words such as in Vogel (compare Scandinavian Fugl or English Fowl) 'bird' (hence, the letter v is sometimes called Vogel-fau), Viel 'much'.
W: The letter w represents the sound /v /. In the 17th century, the former sound became , but the spelling remained the same. An analogous sound change had happened in late-antique Latin.
Z: The letter z represents the sound /t͡s /. The sound, a product of
High German consonant shift
For technical terms, the foreign spelling is often retained such as ph /f/ or y /yː/ in the word Physik (physics) of Greek origin. For some common affixes however, like -graphie or Photo-, it is allowed to use -grafie or Foto- instead. Both Photographie and Fotografie are correct, but the mixed variants Fotographie or Photografie are not.
For other foreign words, both the foreign spelling and a revised German spelling are correct such as Delphin / Delfin or Portemonnaie / Portmonee, though in the latter case the revised one does not usually occur.
For some words for which the Germanized form was common even before the reform of 1996, the foreign version is no longer allowed. A notable example is the word Foto, with the meaning “photograph”, which may no longer be spelled as Photo. Other examples are Telephon (telephone) which was already Germanized as Telefon some decades ago or Bureau (office) which got replaced by the Germanized version Büro even earlier.
Except for the common sequences sch (/ʃ/), ch ( or ) and ck (/k/)
the letter c appears only in loanwords or in proper nouns . In many
loanwords, including most words of
The letter x (Ix, /ɪks/) occurs almost exclusively in loanwords such als Xylofon (xylophone) and names, e.g. Alexander and Xanthippe. Native German words now pronounced with a /ks/ sound are usually written using chs or cks, as with Fuchs (fox). Some exceptions occur such as Hexe (witch ), Nixe (mermaid ), Axt (axe ) and Xanten .
The letter y (Ypsilon, /ˈʏpsilɔn/) occurs almost exclusively in
loanwords, especially words of Greek origin, but some such words (such
as Typ) have become so common that they are no longer perceived as
foreign. It used to be more common in earlier centuries, and traces of
this earlier usage persist in proper names. It is used either as an
alternative letter for i , for instance in Mayer / Meyer (a common
family name that occurs also in the spellings Maier / Meier), or
especially in the Southwest, as a representation of that goes back to
IJ (digraph) , for instance in
In loan words from the
In one curious instance, the word Ski (meaning as in English) is pronounced as if it were Schi all over the German-speaking areas (reflecting its pronunciation in its source language Norwegian ), but only written that way in Austria.
This section lists German letters and letter combinations, and how to
pronounce them transliterated into the International Phonetic Alphabet
. This is the pronunciation of
Foreign words are usually pronounced approximately as they are in the original language.
Double consonants are pronounced as single consonants, except in compound words.
* B: at end of syllable: ; otherwise: or * C: before ä, E, and I: ; otherwise: * CH: after A, O, and U: ; after other vowels or consonants or initially: or (word-initially in Southern Germany); the suffix -CHEN always . In Austro-Bavarian , especially in Austria, may always be substituted by . * CHS: within a morpheme (e.g. Dachs "badger"); or across a morpheme boundary (e.g. Dachs "roof (genitive)") * CK: , follows short vowels * D: at end of syllable: ; otherwise: or * DSCH: or , used in loanwords and transliterations only. Words borrowed from English can alternatively retain the original ⟨j⟩. Many speakers pronounce ⟨dsch⟩ as (= ⟨tsch⟩), because is not native to German. * DT: * F: * G: when part of word-final -IG: or (Southern German); at the end of a syllable: ; otherwise: or * H: before a vowel: ; when lengthening a vowel: silent * J: in most words; in loanwords from French (as in jardin, French for garden) * K: * L: * M: * N: * NG: usually: ; in compound words where the first element ends in "n" and the second element begins with "g" (-n·g-): or * NK: * P: * PF: in all cases with some speakers; with other speakers at the beginning of words (or at the beginning of compound words' elements) and in all other cases * PH: * QU: or (in a few regions)
* R: the pronunciation of r varies regionally:
* before vowels, otherwise; or
* after long vowels (except ), otherwise; or
* or before vowels, otherwise (Austro-Bavarian); or
* in all cases (Swiss
* S: before and between vowels: or ; before consonants or when final: ; before P or T at the beginning of a word or syllable: * SCH: ; however, when part of the -chen diminutive of a word ending on "s", (e.g. Mäuschen "little mouse") * SS: * ß: * T: * TH: * TI: in -TION, -TIäR, -TIAL, -TIELL: ; otherwise: * TSCH: * TZ: , follows short vowels * TZSCH: * V: in foreign borrowings not at the end of a word: ; otherwise: * W: * X: * Z: * ZSCH:
FRONT CENTRAL BACK
SHORT LONG SHORT LONG SHORT LONG SHORT LONG
i, ie, ih, or ieh y ü, üh or y
u or uh
ü or y
CLOSE-MID e ä, äh, e, eh, or ee ö ö, öh
o o, oh, or oo
OPEN-MID ä or e ä or äh ö
a a, ah, or aa
Consonants are sometimes doubled in writing to indicate the preceding vowel is to be pronounced as a short vowel. Most one-syllable words that end in a single consonant are pronounced with long vowels, but there are some exceptions such as an, das, es, in, mit, and von. The e in the ending -en is often silent, as in bitten "to ask, request". The ending -er is often pronounced , but in some regions, people say or . The e in the ending -el (, e.g. Tunnel, Mörtel "mortar") is pronounced short despite having just a single consonant on the end.
* A: as in Wasser "water" * ä: as in Männer "men" * E: as in Bett "bed"; unstressed as in Ochse "ox" * I: as in Mittel "means" * O: as in kommen "to come" * ö: as in Göttin "goddess" * U: as in Mutter "mother" * ü: as in Müller "miller" * Y: as in Dystrophie "dystrophy"
A vowel usually represents a long sound if the vowel in question occurs:
* as the final letter (except for e) * followed by a single consonant as in bot "offered" * before a single consonant followed by a vowel as in Wagen "car" * doubled as in Boot "boat" * followed by an H as in Weh "pain"
Long vowels are generally pronounced with greater tenseness than short vowels.
The long vowels map as follows:
* A, AH, and AA: * ä, äH: or * E, EH, and EE: * I, IE, IH, and IEH: * O, OH, and OO: * ö, öH: * U and UH: * ü and üH: * Y:
* AU: * EU and äU: * EI, AI, EY, and AY:
HISTORY OF GERMAN ORTHOGRAPHY
The oldest known German texts date back to the 8th century. They were
written mainly in monasteries in different local dialects of Old High
German . In these texts, the letter z along with combinations such as
tz, cz, zz, sz or zs was chosen to transcribe the sounds /ts/ and
/s(ː)/, which is ultimately the origin of the modern German letters
z, tz and
Notker the German is a notable exception in his period; his German compositions not only are of high stylistic value, but also, his orthography is the first to follow a strictly coherent system.
Only during the reign of the
Hohenstaufen dynasty (in the High Middle
Ages ) was there again significant production of German texts. Around
the year 1200, there was a tendency towards a standardized Middle High
In the following centuries, the only variety that showed a marked
tendency to be used across regions was the
Middle Low German
EARLY MODERN PERIOD
* Under the
In northern Germany, the Lutheran
East Central German replaced the
19TH CENTURY AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Though, by the mid-18th century, one norm was generally established,
there was no institutionalized standardization. Only with the
introduction of compulsory education in late 18th and early 19th
century was the spelling further standardized, though at first
independently in each state because of the political fragmentation of
Germany. Only the foundation of the
In 1876, the Prussian government instituted the First Orthographic
Conference (de) to achieve a standardization for the entire German
Empire. However, its results were rejected, notably by Prime Minister
Otto von Bismarck
In 1880, Gymnasium director
Konrad Duden published the Vollständiges
Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache ("Complete
Orthographic Dictionary of the German Language"), known simply as "the
In 1901, the interior minister of the
In 1944, the Nazi German government planned a reform of the
orthography , but because of
World War II
After 1902, German spelling was essentially decided de facto by the
editors of the
GERMAN SPELLING REFORM OF 1996
Main article: German spelling reform of 1996
The new orthography is mandatory only in schools. A 1998 decision of
Federal Constitutional Court of Germany
This article NEEDS ADDITIONAL CITATIONS FOR VERIFICATION . Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources . Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this template message )
Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung : Deutsche Rechtschreibung.
Regeln und Wörterverzeichnis. Revised version, Munich and Mannheim
2006, p. 15, section 0 (1): "Die Umlautbuchstaben ä, ö, ü"; p. 29,
§ 25 E2: "der Buchstabe ß"; et passim.
* ^ Official rules of German spelling updated, Rat für deutsche
Rechtschreibung , 29 June 2017, retrieved 29 June 2017.
* ^ Andrew West (2006): The Rules for Long S.
* ^ Lexikon A—Z in zwei Bänden; Volkseigener Verlag, Leipzig,
* ^ (in German) Rechtschreibrat führt neuen Buchstaben ein, Die
Zeit , 29 June 2017, retrieved 29 June 2017.]
* ^ (in German) Empfehlungen und Hinweise für die Schreibweise
geographischer Namen, 5. Ausgabe 2010 Archived 2014-03-07 at
* ^ (according to the
Guinness Book of Records