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.
German orthography is regulated by the Rat für deutsche
Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography), composed of
representatives from most German-speaking countries.
2.1 Umlaut diacritic usage
2.2 Sharp s
2.3 Long s
3 Features of German spelling
Spelling of nouns
3.2 Vowel length
3.3 Double or triple consonants
3.4 Typical letters
3.5 Foreign words
4 Grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences
4.2.1 Short vowels
4.2.2 Long vowels
5 History of German orthography
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
(Listen to a German speaker recite the alphabet in German)
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Austria's standardized cursive
Cursive from Germany
The modern German alphabet consists of the twenty-six letters of the
Austria sometimes /jeː/
Austria Siegfriednb 1
^ 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 (
ß (called Eszett (sz) or scharfes
S, sharp s)) which are officially considered distinct letters of the
German extra letters
(Listen to a German speaker naming these letters)
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scharfes S: /ˈʃaʁfəs ɛs/
Austria and Southern Germany Scharfes S
Capital ẞ was declared an official letter of the German alphabet
on 29 June 2017.
In the past, long s (ſ) was used as well, as in English and many
other European languages.
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 origins and 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 ([ˈnɔʏ.ə]) 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 Straelen, which is pronounced with a
long a, not an ä. Similar cases are
Coesfeld and Bernkastel-Kues.
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, oe in Clemens von
Bernhard Hoëcker (although Hoëcker added the diaeresis
himself), and ue in Niuë. 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.
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" (Austria). The
omission can cause some inconvenience since the first letter of every
noun is capitalized in German.
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
The German sign "Delicacy / red cabbage." Left cap is with old
orthography, right with new.
The eszett or scharfes S (ẞ, ß) represents the unvoiced s sound.
German spelling reform of 1996
German spelling reform of 1996 somewhat reduced usage of this
letter in Germany and Austria. It is not used in
ß derives from a ligature of lower-case letters, it is
exclusively used in the middle or the end of a word. The proper
transcription when it cannot be used, is ss (sz and SZ in earlier
times). This transcription can give rise to ambiguities, albeit
rarely; one such case is in Maßen (in moderation) vs. in Massen (en
masse). For all caps usage, an uppercase
ß was added to the German
alphabet on 29 June 2017; however, the former version SS is still
allowed as an alternative. In 2008, it was included in
Unicode 5.1 as
U+1E9E, and since 2010 its use is mandatory in official documentation
when writing geographical names in all-caps.
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
ß letter is a common type of spelling error even
among native German writers. The spelling reform of 1996 changed the
ß and ss (no forced replacement of ss to
word’s end). This required a change of habits and is often
disregarded: some people even incorrectly assumed that the "ß" had
been abolished completely. However, if the vowel preceding the s is
long, the correct spelling remains
ß (as in Straße). If the vowel is
short, it becomes ss, e.g. "Ich denke, dass…" (I think that…).
This follows the general rule in German that a long vowel is followed
by a single consonant, while a short vowel is followed by a double
This change towards the so-called Heyse spelling, however, introduced
a new sort of spelling error, 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
Bavaria elongated may occur as in Geschoss which is pronounced
ß in certain regions), Heyse spelling also introduces reading
ambiguities that do not occur with Abel spelling such as
Prozessorientierung (Abel: Prozeßorientierung) vs.
"Prozessorarchitektur" (Abel: Prozessorarchitektur). It is therefore
recommended to insert hyphens where required for reading assistance,
i.e. Prozessor-Architektur vs. Prozess-Orientierung. The use of
hyphens here is, however, somewhat frowned upon as it is considered a
dumbing down of the written language.
Wachstube and Wachſtube are distinguished in blackletter typesetting,
though no longer in contemporary font styles.
Fraktur typeface and similar scripts, a long s (ſ) was used
except in syllable endings (cf. Greek sigma) and sometimes it was
historically used in antiqua fonts as well; but it went out of general
use in the early 1940s along with the
Fraktur typeface. An example
where this convention would avoid ambiguity is Wachstube, which was
written either Wachſtube = Wach-Stube (IPA: [ˈvax.ʃtuːbə],
guardhouse) or Wachstube = Wachs-Tube (IPA: [ˈvaks.tuːbə], tube of
There are three ways to deal with the umlauts in alphabetic sorting.
Treat them like their base characters, as if the umlaut was not
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).
Microsoft Windows in German versions offers the choice between the
first two variants in its internationalisation settings.
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
ß vs. ss can only appear in the (presently used)
Heyse-writing and are even then rare and possibly dependent on local
pronunciation, but if they would appear, the word with
precedence, and Gescho
ß (storey; South German pronunciation) would be
sorted before Geschoss (projectile).
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
"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
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 Fraktur,
where capital I and J are identical or near-identical
displaystyle mathfrak J
, the combinations Ie and Je are confusable; hence the combination Ie
is not used at the start of a word, for example Igel ('hedgehog'), Ire
A silent h indicates the vowel length in certain cases. That h derives
from an old /x/ in some words, for instance sehen ('to see') zehn
('ten'), but in other words it has no etymological justification, for
instance gehen ('to go') or mahlen ('to mill'). Occasionally a digraph
can be redundantly followed by h, either due to analogy, such as sieht
('sees', from sehen) or etymology, such as Vieh ('cattle', MHG vihe),
rauh ('rough', pre-1996 spelling, now written rau, MHG ruh).
The letters a, e, o are doubled in a few words that have long vowels,
for instance Saat ('seed'), See ('sea'/'lake'), Moor ('moor').
A doubled consonant after a vowel indicates that the vowel is short,
while a single consonant often indicates the vowel is long, e.g. Kamm
('comb') has a short vowel /kam/, while kam ('came') has a long vowel
k and z are not doubled, but instead replaced by ck (as in English)
and tz (except in Italian loanwords that have zz). However, until the
spelling reform of 1996, ck was divided across a line break as k-k.
For different consonants and for sounds represented by more than one
letter (ch and sch) after a vowel, no clear rule can be given, because
they can appear after long vowels, yet are not redoubled if belonging
to the same stem, e.g. Mond /moːnt/ 'moon', Hand /hant/ 'hand'. On a
stem boundary, reduplication usually takes place, e.g., nimm-t
'takes'; however, in fixed, no longer productive derivatives, this too
can be lost, e.g., Geschäft /ɡəˈʃɛft/ 'business' despite
schaffen 'to get something done'.
ß indicates that the preceding vowel is long, e.g. Straße 'street'
vs. Masse 'amount'. In addition to that, texts written before the 1996
spelling reform also use
ß at the ends of words and before
consonants, e.g. na
ß 'wet' and mußte 'had to' (after the reform
spelled nass and musste), so vowel length in these positions could not
be detected by the ß, cf. Ma
ß 'measure' and fußte 'was based'
(after the reform still spelled Ma
ß and fußte).
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
ß spelling, even a new source of triple
consonants sss, which in pre-1996 spelling could not occur as it was
rendered ßs, was introduced, e. g. Mussspiel ('compulsory round' in
certain card games for who has a certain trump card if nobody else
wants to play).
ei: This digraph represents the diphthong /aɪ̯/. The spelling goes
back to the
Middle High German
Middle High German pronunciation of that diphthong, which
was [ei̯]. The spelling ai is found in only a very few native words
(such as Saite 'string') but is commonly used to Romanize /aɪ̯/ in
foreign loans from languages such as Chinese.
eu: This digraph represents the diphthong [ɔʏ̯], which goes back to
Middle High German
Middle High German monophthong [yː] represented by iu. When the
sound is created by umlaut of au [aʊ̯] (from MHG [uː]), it is
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 [ʃt, ʃp]. In the Middle Ages, the sibilant
that was inherited from Proto-Germanic /s/ was pronounced as an
alveolo-palatal consonant [ɕ] or [ʑ] unlike the voiceless alveolar
sibilant /s/ that had developed in the High German consonant shift. In
the Late Middle Ages, certain instances of [ɕ] merged with /s/, but
others developed into [ʃ]. The change to [ʃ] was represented in
certain spellings such as Schnee 'snow', Kirsche 'cherry' (Middle High
German snê, kirse). The digraphs st, sp, however, remained unaltered.
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 [v]. 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 [w] became [v], 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
the High German consonant shift, has been written with z since Old
High German in the 8th century.
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 ([x] or [ç]) and ck
(/k/) the letter c appears only in loanwords or in proper nouns. In
many loanwords, including most words of
Latin origin, the letter c
pronounced (/k/) has been replaced by k. Alternatively, German words
which come from
Latin words with c before e, i, y, ae, oe are usually
pronounced with (/ts/) and spelled with z. However, certain older
spellings occasionally remain, mostly for decorative reasons, such as
Circus instead of Zirkus.
The letter q in German appears only in the sequence qu (/kv/) except
for loanwords such as
Coq au vin
Coq au vin or
Qigong (the latter is also written
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 [iː] that goes
back to an old IJ (digraph), for instance in
Schwyz or Schnyder (an
Alemannic variant of the name Schneider). Another
notable exception is Bayern ("Bavaria") and derived words like
bayrisch ("Bavarian"); this actually used to be spelt with an i until
the King of
Bavaria introduced the y as a sign of his philhellenism
(his son would become King of Greece later).
In loan words from the French language, spelling and accents are
usually preserved. For instance, café in the sense of "coffeehouse"
is always written Café in German; accentless Cafe would be considered
erroneous, and the word cannot be written Kaffee, which means
"coffee". Thus, German typewriters and computer keyboards offer two
dead keys: one for the acute and grave accents and one for circumflex.
Other letters occur less often such as ç in loan words from French or
Portuguese, and ñ in loan words from Spanish.
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 Standard German. Note that the
pronunciation of standard German varies slightly from region to
region. In fact, it is possible to tell where most German speakers
come from by their accent in standard German (not to be confused with
the different German dialects).
Foreign words are usually pronounced approximately as they are in the
Double consonants are pronounced as single consonants, except in
b: at end of syllable: [p]; otherwise: [b] or [b̥]
c: before ä, e, and i: [ts]; otherwise: [k]
ch: after a, o, and u: [x]; after other vowels or consonants or
initially: [ç] or [k] (word-initially in Southern Germany); the
suffix -chen always [ç]. In Austro-Bavarian, especially in Austria,
[ç] may always be substituted by [x].
chs: [ks] within a morpheme (e.g. Dachs [daks] "badger"); [çs] or
[xs] across a morpheme boundary (e.g. Dachs [daxs] "roof (genitive)")
ck: [k], follows short vowels
d: at end of syllable: [t]; otherwise: [d] or [d̥]
dsch: [dʒ] or [d̥ʒ̊], used in loanwords and transliterations only.
Words borrowed from English can alternatively retain the original
⟨j⟩. Many speakers pronounce ⟨dsch⟩ as [t͡ʃ] (= ⟨tsch⟩),
because [dʒ] is not native to German.
g: when part of word-final -ig: [ç] or [k] (Southern German); at the
end of a syllable: [k]; otherwise: [ɡ] or [ɡ̊]
h: before a vowel: [h]; when lengthening a vowel: silent
j: [j] in most words; [ʒ] in loanwords from French (as in jardin,
French for garden)
ng: usually: [ŋ]; in compound words where the first element ends in
"n" and the second element begins with "g" (-n·g-): [nɡ] or [nɡ̊]
pf: [pf] in all cases with some speakers; with other speakers [f] at
the beginning of words (or at the beginning of compound words'
elements) and [pf] in all other cases
qu: [kv] or [kw] (in a few regions)
r: the pronunciation of r varies regionally:
[ʁ] before vowels, [ɐ] otherwise; or
[ɐ] after long vowels (except [aː]), [ʁ] otherwise; or
[r] or [ɾ] before vowels, [ɐ] otherwise (Austro-Bavarian); or
[r] in all cases (Swiss Standard German)
s: before and between vowels: [z] or [z̥]; before consonants or when
final: [s]; before p or t at the beginning of a word or syllable: [ʃ]
sch: [ʃ]; however, [sç] when part of the -chen diminutive of a word
ending on "s", (e.g. Mäuschen "little mouse")
ti: in -tion, -tiär, -tial, -tiell: [tsɪ̯]; otherwise: [ti]
tz: [ts], follows short vowels
v: in foreign borrowings not at the end of a word: [v]; otherwise: [f]
[iː] i, ie, ih, or ieh
[yː] ü, üh or y
[uː] u or uh
[ʏ] ü or y
[eː] ä, äh, e, eh, or ee
[øː] ö, öh
[oː] o, oh, or oo
[ɛ] ä or e
[ɛː] ä or äh
[aː] 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 [ɐ], but in some regions, people say
[ʀ̩] or [r̩]. The e in the ending -el ([əl ~ l̩], e.g. Tunnel,
Mörtel "mortar") is pronounced short despite having just a single
consonant on the end.
a: [a] as in Wasser "water"
ä: [ɛ] as in Männer "men"
e: [ɛ] as in Bett "bed"; unstressed [ə] as in Ochse "ox"
i: [ɪ] as in Mittel "means"
o: [ɔ] as in kommen "to come"
ö: [œ] as in Göttin "goddess"
u: [ʊ] as in Mutter "mother"
ü: [ʏ] as in Müller "miller"
y: [ʏ] as in Dystrophie "dystrophy"
A vowel usually represents a long sound if the vowel in question
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
The long vowels map as follows:
a, ah, and aa: [aː]
ä, äh: [ɛː] or [eː]
e, eh, and ee: [eː]
i, ie, ih, and ieh: [iː]
o, oh, and oo: [oː]
ö, öh: [øː]
u and uh: [uː]
ü and üh: [yː]
eu and äu: [ɔʏ]
ei, ai, ey, and ay: [aɪ]
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
ß (an old sz-ligature). After the Carolingian Renaissance,
however, during the reigns of the
Salian dynasties in the
10th century and 11th century, German was rarely written, the literary
language being almost exclusively Latin.
Notker the German
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
German language and spelling for the first time, based on the
Franconian-Swabian language of the
Hohenstaufen court. However, that
language was used only in the epic poetry and minnesang lyric of the
knight culture. These early tendencies of standardization ceased in
the interregnum after the death of the last
Hohenstaufen king in 1254.
Certain features of today's
German orthography still date back to
Middle High German: the use of the trigraph sch for /ʃ/ and the
occasional use of v for /f/ because around the 12th and 13th century,
the prevocalic /f/ was voiced.
In the following centuries, the only variety that showed a marked
tendency to be used across regions was the
Middle Low German
Middle Low German of the
Hanseatic League, based on the variety of
Lübeck and used in many
areas of northern Germany and indeed northern Europe in general.
Early modern period
By the 16th century, a new interregional standard developed on the
basis of the
East Central German and
Austro-Bavarian varieties. This
was influenced by several factors:
Habsburg dynasty, there was a strong tendency to a common
language in the chancellery.
Since Eastern Central Germany had been colonized only during the High
and Late Middle Ages in the course of the
Ostsiedlung by people from
different regions of Germany, the varieties spoken were compromises of
Eastern Central Germany was culturally very important, being home to
the universities of Erfurt and
Leipzig and especially with the Luther
Bible translation, which was considered exemplary.
The invention of printing led to an increased production of books, and
the printers were interested in using a common language to sell their
books in an area as wide as possible.
Austria and Bavaria, prompting a rejection of the Lutheran language.
Instead, a specific southern interregional language was used, based on
the language of the
In northern Germany, the Lutheran
East Central German replaced the Low
German written language until the mid-17th century. In the early 18th
century, the Lutheran standard was also introduced in the southern
states and countries, Austria,
Bavaria and Switzerland, due to the
influence of northern German writers, grammarians such as Johann
Christoph Gottsched or language cultivation societies such as 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
German Empire in 1871 allowed for
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 of Prussia 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
Duden". In the same year, the
Duden was declared to be authoritative
in Prussia. Since Prussia was, by far, the largest state in the German
Empire, its regulations also influenced spelling elsewhere, for
instance, in 1894, when
Switzerland recognized the Duden.
In 1901, the interior minister of the
German Empire instituted the
Second Orthographic Conference. It declared the
Duden to be
authoritative, with a few innovations. In 1902, its results were
approved by the governments of the German Empire,
In 1944, the Nazi German government planned a reform of the
orthography, but because of World War II, it was never implemented.
After 1902, German spelling was essentially decided de facto by the
editors of the
Duden dictionaries. After World War II, this tradition
was followed with two different centers:
West Germany and
Leipzig in East Germany. By the early 1950s, a few other publishing
houses had begun to attack the
Duden monopoly in the West by putting
out their own dictionaries, which did not always hold to the
"official" spellings prescribed by Duden. In response, the Ministers
of Culture of the federal states in
West Germany officially declared
Duden spellings to be binding as of November 1955.
Duden editors used their power cautiously because they considered
their primary task to be the documentation of usage, not the creation
of rules. At the same time, however, they found themselves forced to
make finer and finer distinctions in the production of German spelling
rules, and each new print run introduced a few reformed spellings.
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
Federal Constitutional Court of Germany confirmed that there is no
law on the spelling people use in daily life, so they can use the
old or the new spelling. While the reform is not very popular in
opinion polls, it has been adopted by all major dictionaries and the
majority of publishing houses.
Binnen-I, a convention for gender-neutral language in German
Non-English usage of quotation marks
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^ Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung: Deutsche Rechtschreibung. Regeln
und Wörterverzeichnis. Revised version, Munich and
p. 15, section 0 [Vorbemerkungen] (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.
^ Die Erde: Haack Kleiner Atlas; VEB Hermann Haack
geographisch-kartographische Anstalt, Gotha, 1982; pages: 97, 100,
^ 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 WebCite
^ (according to the Guinness Book of Records)
^ a b canoo.net:
Spelling for "Photographie/Fotografie" 2011-03-13
Spelling for "Delphin/Delfin" 2011-03-13
Spelling for "Portemonnaie/Portmonee" 2011-03-13
Spelling for "Foto" 2011-03-13
^ Wortherkunft, Sprachliches Das Wort Ski wurde im 19. Jahrhundert vom
norwegischen ski ‚Scheit (gespaltenes Holz); Schneeschuh‘
entlehnt, das seinerseits von dem gleichbedeutenden altnordischen
skíð abstammt und mit dem deutschen Wort Scheit urverwandt ist.
Als Pluralform sind laut
Duden Ski und Skier bzw. Schi und Schier
üblich. Die Aussprache ist vornehmlich wie „Schi“ (wie auch
original im Norwegischen), lokal bzw. dialektal kommt sie auch als
„Schki“ (etwa in Graubünden oder im Wallis) vor.
^ Preu, Otto; Stötzer, Ursula (1985). Sprecherziehung für Studenten
pädagogischer Berufe (4th ed.). Berlin: Verlag Volk und Wissen,
Volkseigener Verlag. p. 104.
^ Federal Court, 14 July 1998.
^ Bundesverfassungsgericht, Urteil vom 14. Juli 1998, Az.: 1 BvR
Orthographies of the world's languages