German an essential grammar (B. Donaldson), Guides, Projects, Research for German Language

German an essential grammar (B. Donaldson), Guides, Projects, Research for German Language

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Grammatica della lingua tedesca scritta in inglese. Pratica e completa, molto utile soprattutto per gli studenti di lingue straniere o per chi in generale vuole migliorare il proprio tedesco, partendo da solide basi in l...
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German: An Essential Grammar

German An Essential Grammar

German: An Essential Grammar is a practical reference guide to the core structures and features of modern German. Presenting a fresh and accessible description of the language, this engaging grammar uses clear, jargon-free explanations and sets out the complexities of German in short, readable sections.

Suitable for either independent study or students in schools, colleges, universities and adult education classes, key features include:

• focus on the morphology and syntax of the language • clear explanations of grammatical terms • full use of authentic examples • detailed contents list and index for easy access to information.

With an emphasis on the German native speakers use today, German: An Essential Grammar will help students to read, speak and write the language with greater confi dence.

Bruce Donaldson is Principal Fellow in the Department of German, Russian and Swedish Studies in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. He has been a prolifi c author of language learning and teaching materials, including the following publications: Mastering German Vocabulary (2004), Colloquial Afrikaans (2000), Dutch: A Comprehensive Grammar (1997), Colloquial Dutch (1996) and Colloquial Dutch 2 (2005).

Routledge Essential Grammars

Essential Grammars are available for the following languages:

Chinese Danish Dutch English Finnish Modern Greek Modern Hebrew Hungarian Norwegian Polish Portuguese Spanish Swedish Thai Urdu

Other titles of related interest published by Routledge:

Basic German: A Grammar and Workbook By Heiner Schenke and Karen Seago

Modern German Grammar: A Practical Guide, Second Edition By William Dodd

German An Essential Grammar

Bruce Donaldson

First published 2007 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© 2007 Bruce Donaldson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Donaldson, B. C. (Bruce C.), 1948– German : an essential grammar / by Bruce Donaldson. p. cm. -- (Routledge essential grammars) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. German language – Grammar. 2. German language – Textbooks for foreign speakers – English. I. Title. II. Series: Essential grammar.

PF3112. D66 2006 438.2421--dc22 2006012912

ISBN10: 0–415–36603–8 (hbk) ISBN10: 0–415–36602–X (pbk) ISBN10: 0–203–01858–3 (ebk)

ISBN13: 978–0–415–36603–8 (hbk) ISBN13: 978–0–415–36602–1 (pbk) ISBN13: 978–0–203–01858–3 (ebk)

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006.

“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to”

ISBN 0-203-01858-3 Master e-book ISBN



Introduction xi Abbreviations xv

Chapter 1 Pronunciation 1

1.1 Vowels 1 1.2 Diphthongs 3 1.3 Consonants 3 1.4 Stress 7 1.5 Regional variants 8

Chapter 2 Spelling 9

2.1 Indicating vowel length 9 2.2 Use of the Umlaut 9 2.3 Use of capital letters 10 2.4 Use of the hyphen 10 2.5 The new spelling 11 2.6 The alphabet 12

Chapter 3 Punctuation 13

3.1 Commas 13 3.2 Colons with direct speech 15 3.3 Inverted commas/quotation marks 15 3.4 Exclamation marks 16

Chapter 4 Case 17

4.1 Case endings on nouns 18 4.2 Other uses of the nominative case 20 4.3 Other uses of the accusative case 20 4.4 The genitive case 21


4.5 Other uses of the dative case 22 4.6 Nouns in apposition 23 4.7 Order of cases in paradigms 24

Chapter 5 Articles and other determiners 25

5.1 The defi nite article 25 5.2 Other determiners infl ected like der/die/das 29 5.3 The indefi nite article 30 5.4 Other determiners infl ected like ein 32 5.5 Indefi nite pronouns used as determiners 32

Chapter 6 Nouns 33

6.1 Gender of nouns 33 6.2 Pluralization of nouns 37 6.3 Diminutization of nouns 41 6.4 Names of towns 42 6.5 Names of countries 44 6.6 Feminizing agents 44 6.7 Adjectival nouns 45 6.8 Compound nouns 47 6.9 Nouns in apposition (see 4.6) 48

Chapter 7 Pronouns 49

7.1 Personal pronouns 49 7.2 Possessives 58 7.3 Refl exive pronouns 60 7.4 Demonstrative pronouns 63 7.5 Interrogative pronouns 63 7.6 Relative pronouns 64 7.7 Indefi nite pronouns 69

Chapter 8 Adjectives 75

8.1 Rules for infl ection 76 8.1.1 The der/die/das (weak) endings 76 8.1.2 The ein/eine/ein (mixed) endings 76 8.1.3 The unpreceded adjectival (strong) endings 77 8.1.4 Adjectival endings after indefi nite pronouns 78 8.1.5 Indeclinable adjectives 78

8.2 Comparative of adjectives and adverbs 79 8.3 Superlative of adjectives and adverbs 81 8.4 Predicate adjectives followed by a prepositional object 83



Chapter 9 Adverbs 86

9.1 Adverbs that are also adjectives 86 9.2 Comparative and superlative of adverbs 87 9.3 Intensifying adverbs 87 9.4 Adverbs of time 88 9.5 Adverbs of place and direction 100 9.6 Adverbs of manner and degree 102 9.7 Interrogative adverbs 102

Chapter 10 Verbs 105

10.1 Formation of tenses 106 10.1.1 The present tense 106 10.1.2 The future tense 111 10.1.3 The imperative 113 10.1.4 The imperfect tense 115 10.1.5 The perfect tense 120 10.1.6 The pluperfect tense 127 10.1.7 The future perfect tense 128 10.1.8 The conditional tense 128 10.1.9 The conditional perfect tense 129

10.2 Modal auxiliary verbs 131 10.2.1 Double infi nitive constructions 135 10.2.2 Modals used with perfective infi nitives 138

10.3 The subjunctive 138 10.3.1 The subjunctive I 139 10.3.2 The subjunctive II 141

10.4 The passive 145 10.5 The infi nitive 151

10.5.1 Characteristics of the infi nitive 151 10.5.2 Rules for the use of zu with infi nitives 152 10.5.3 Use of um . . . zu before infi nitives 153 10.5.4 Double infi nitive constructions (see 10.2.1) 154 10.5.5 The infi nitive used as a noun 154

10.6 Participles 154 10.6.1 Present participles 154 10.6.2 Past participles 155 10.6.3 Use of present and past participles in extended

adjectival phrases (see 7.6.4) 155 10.7 Progressive tenses 156 10.8 Refl exive verbs 157



10.9 Verbal prefi xes 157 10.9.1 Verbs with separable prefi xes (separable verbs) 157 10.9.2 Verbs with inseparable prefi xes (inseparable

verbs) 159 10.9.3 Verbs with variable prefi xes (separable or

inseparable verbs) 160 10.10 Verbs followed by prepositional objects 161

10.10.1 Use of prepositional adverbs before subordinate clauses 169

10.11 Transitive and intransitive verbs 170 10.11.1 Use of sein and lassen with intransitive verbs 171 10.11.2 Intransitive verbs and the passive 172 10.12 List of irregular verbs 172

10.12.1 Alphabetical list of irregular verbs 178

Chapter 11 Conjunctions 183

11.1 Coordinating conjunctions 184 11.2 Subordinating conjunctions 185 11.3 Conjunctions introducing infi nitive clauses 192 11.4 Correlative conjunctions 193

Chapter 12 Prepositions 195

12.1 Prepositions that take the accusative case 196 12.2 Prepositions that take the dative case 199 12.3 Prepositions that take both the accusative and the

dative case 207 12.4 Prepositions that take the genitive case 210 12.5 Contraction of prepositions with the defi nite article 213 12.6 How to translate ‘to’ into German 214

Chapter 13 Numerals 217

13.1 Cardinal numerals 217 13.2 Ordinal numerals 219 13.3 Fractions 221 13.4 Arithmetic/calculation 222 13.5 Age 222 13.6 Money 223 13.7 Telling the time 223 13.8 Dates 225 13.9 Weights 226



13.10 Measurement 227 13.11 School marks/grades 228

Chapter 14 Negation 230

14.1 Position of nicht (not) and nie(mals) (never) 230 14.2 Notes on negatives 232

Chapter 15 Common German abbreviations 237

Appendix 1: List of countries, inhabitants and adjectives/languages 238

Index 252



There are numerous German grammars on the market, so why this one? This book has been written specifi cally with the needs of the intermediate learner at secondary or particularly tertiary level in mind. It is intended to be used as a reference grammar, which does not mean that it is utterly comprehensive, but it does cover everything that might be called ‘essential’ knowledge for someone who has reached the intermediate level.

So what constitutes the intermediate level? That depends of course, but it would certainly apply to anyone who has completed an elementary course in German at a university, i.e. people who are in their second or third year of tertiary German, having started it at university without having done it at school. Students at advanced secondary level, however, would also qualify as intermediate and will thus fi nd this book pitched at their needs, as will those teaching themselves who are progressing beyond what one might call beginners’ level. Once you have mastered the contents of this book, you will have reached a point in your learning of German where you are able to express yourself at quite a sophisticated level. Needless to say, you will also need to be concentrating on building up your vocabulary – grammar is useless on its own.

Other than being a book pitched squarely at the needs of the intermediate learner, what does this book offer its readers that other similar books may not? It has been written by someone with nearly forty years of experience in teaching German and Dutch at tertiary level, specializing in teaching students in their second year of German at university. The author is all too well aware of the shortcomings of the many textbooks available for the learning of German – take for example the way in which nearly all such books tackle German plurals. They nearly all fail to help the learner see through to the underlying system and thus fail to illustrate that plural formation is not nearly as arbitrary as it often appears to be to the newcomer to the language. How many books, for example, in their fi rst introduction



to plural formation, mention that Mann has a plural in Männer, but fail to mention that there are only about ten masculine nouns in the entire language that have a plural in ¨er, which is otherwise an ending limited to neuter nouns? How many grammars tell you, to take another example, that possibly no more than 10 per cent of German nouns are neuter? So, if forced to guess a gender, it would be safer to assume the noun is masculine or feminine before assuming it is neuter. These two examples are typical of many of the underlying truths about German grammar that one discovers only through learning and teaching the language. These are also things which seldom strike the native speaker and why, at certain levels of learning a language, one may be better off with non-native teachers – they have been through the mill, as it were, which natives by defi nition have not. This book contains numerous such insights into German, acquired over many years of involvement with the language, both as a student and as a teacher. The author has applied his insights and long experience in explaining the intricacies of German to English-speaking people in as simple a fashion as the often complex material permits. German is certainly not simple – but then no language is – but it can be explained in a simpler, more palatable fashion than many books do.

Learning German is a challenge, but the rewards are great. No language other than English is of more use to you when travelling around Europe. Not only are there many more Germans (82 million) than there are French, Italians or Spaniards, for example, but the countries of Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg further swell those numbers by several million native-speakers, not to mention the German-speaking minorities living in Russia, Romania, Hungary, Italy, Belgium and Denmark. All in all, the number of native-speakers of German living in Europe is nigh on 100 million. But go travelling through eastern Europe and you will be amazed at how well Poles, Hungarians and even Latvians, for example, can speak German too; their German is often much better than their English. Germany is an economic power of enormous importance and lies both physically and philosophically at the heart of the European Union. If you are interested in Europe and seek to broaden your linguistic and cultural horizons, you need look no further than German.

Other books you might refer to may use different names for several of the grammatical concepts dealt with in this book. Particularly in the American and British English-speaking worlds different terminology is often used for various concepts. For this reason, where alternative terminology exists for a given concept, it is briefl y discussed before proceeding with the issue



under consideration and all grammatical concepts can be accessed under all alternative names via the index.

There is an old German maxim: ohne Vergleich kein Verständnis (without comparison, there is no understanding). The approach to German grammar adopted in this book is strongly contrastive with English. English and German are after all, as languages go, very closely related and have a great deal in common. Look, for example, at the past tenses of irregular verbs (trinken/trank/getrunken) and the forms and functions of modal verbs (kann/muss/will). These are grammatical complexities that clearly stem from a common source, namely the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the fi fth century ad. And then there is all that common vocabulary dating from the same time, e.g. Mutter, Vater, Sohn, Tochter, Hund, Katze, Schwein etc. All that the two languages have in common is a godsend to the learner, but then there is so much that the two do not (or no longer, as is often the case) have in common and this is where taking a contrastive approach can be invaluable. However, in order to do so, you need to be aware of exactly what the grammatical situation is in English with regard to a given issue. There are issues of which a native-speaker is often unaware. This is all the more so these days, when English at school level throughout the English- speaking world seldom includes analysis of formal grammar the way it used to. Generally speaking, this now means that the only people who leave school or university with any formal knowledge of English grammar are those who have learnt a foreign language and have therefore had to comprehend the intricacies of English grammar in order to access those of the foreign language being learnt. This is an added bonus in the learning of a language like German. English and German are oh so similar and oh so different. Unlocking the door to those similarities and differences is something this grammar sets out to do.

This book is intended as a reference grammar of ‘essential’ German and, as such, does not set out to be comprehensive, as previously mentioned. All the important concepts of German grammar are dealt with in considerable detail, with only minor exceptions and subtleties of grammar being left uncovered. The advanced learner who has mastered the contents of this book and who wishes to progress to a fully comprehensive reference grammar of German is advised to consider M. Durrell’s Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage (Arnold, London, 4th edition 2002).

German: An Essential Grammar only addresses grammatical issues, but many of the intricacies of mastering German are more lexical than grammatical in nature. The reader is referred to another work by the



author of the current book in which such lexical problems are addressed, namely B. Donaldson’s Mastering German Vocabulary – A Practical Guide to Troublesome Words (Routledge, London/New York, 2004).

If you’ve been looking for a challenge, you need look no further. You’ve found it. Learning German is intellectually very rewarding and terrifi c fun. It is like unravelling a complicated puzzle, one with an underlying code that needs to be cracked. Penetrating the thoroughly logical system that underlies the intricate weave of grammatical infl ection that is the result of gender and case, combined with a myriad of word order rules that are at odds with what prevails in English, constitutes the challenge. Mastering this system is a form of mental gymnastics beyond compare and constitutes a feat that will give tremendous intellectual satisfaction as well as enabling you to converse with 100 million Europeans in their own idiom rather than lazily expecting them, as the overwhelming number of English speakers do, to converse with you in your mother tongue. And it is an effort that you will fi nd is greatly appreciated and admired by German speakers.

About the author

Bruce Donaldson was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1948. He did honours in German at the University of Western Australia, his MA in Old Germanic Languages at the State University of Utrecht and his PhD on Afrikaans at the University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. In 1973 he was appointed as lecturer in charge of Dutch and Germanic historical linguistics in the then Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Melbourne, from where he retired as associate professor and reader in 2004. For the last twelve years of his career, after the abolition of Dutch in 1992, he lectured in German, specializing in the intermediate level. He is currently a principal research fellow in his former department. He has written numerous monographs on Dutch, Afrikaans and German language issues, most of which have been published by Routledge. The author is interested in receiving constructive criticism for the improvement of any future editions of this work and can be emailed at



produces, gives rise to  is derived from acc. accusative dat. dative f. feminine gen. genitive lit. literally; literary m. masculine n. neuter nom. nominative pl. plural pron. pronounced sing. singular s.o. someone s.t. something



German does not contain many sounds that are diffi cult for English speakers to pronounce; ch, r and ü will probably prove the hardest to conquer, but even these are soon mastered with practice.

The only reliable way of committing sounds to paper is via the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but only those studying linguistics as an academic discipline are likely to have the IPA at their disposal and for this reason it is not referred to here. This means, however, that phrasing such as ‘compare the vowel in tray’ and ‘compare the vowel in lot’ has its limitations. Those English words may well vary in the way they are pronounced depending on where in the English-speaking world you live. Every care has been taken to make comparisons which are valid regardless of whether you speak British or American English, although the author is a speaker of the former, but then the Australian variant thereof. For this and numerous other reasons there is, of course, no substitute for getting assistance from a native speaker, keeping in mind, however, that German is spoken over a very large area by European standards and thus shows considerable regional variation in the way it is pronounced. Some attempt to cover the prime regional differences in pronunciation is made in 1.5. What should help in describing the sounds of German without being able to resort to the IPA is the fact that this book has, after all, been written for the intermediate level and so this chapter is seldom going to have to serve the needs of the raw beginner. It is assumed the vast majority of readers will already have some idea of how German is pronounced.

1.1 Vowels

Most vowels in German have both a short and a long variant. Clearly distinguishing between the two is very important. In German spelling two

Chapter 1


1 Pronunciation


consonants after a vowel will normally indicate it is short (e.g. Kamm ‘comb’), whereas only one consonant indicates it is long (e.g. kam ‘came’) (see 2.1).

a a is pronounced short in words like Hand, Mann and statt – compare the vowel in ‘but’.

a is pronounced long in words like kam, Vater and zahlen – compare the vowel in ‘father’.

ä ä is pronounced short in words like lässt, kälter and Männer – compare the vowel in ‘bed’. It is identical to German short e.

ä is pronounced long in words like gäbe, Hähne and Väter – compare the vowel in ‘hair’.

e e is pronounced short in words like Bett, Henne and Sekt – compare the vowel in ‘bed’. It is identical to German short ä.

e is pronounced even shorter in words like Beruf, Tante and zahlen where it is unstressed – compare the vowel in the fi rst syllable of ‘believe’ or the last syllable of ‘wooden’. In all words ending in e like Schule and Kassette the e must be pronounced and not merely dropped as in ‘cassette’. It is similar to the second syllable in ‘rubber’ as it is pronounced in British English.

e is pronounced long in words like lesen, Planet and Tee – compare the vowel in ‘tray’, but keep it pure, i.e. do not diphthongize it at all.

i i is pronounced short in words like bitter, ich and Pilz – compare the vowel in ‘pit’. In very few words such as Liga and wideri is pronounced long – compare the vowel in ‘read’.

ieie is always pronounced long, e.g. liegen, lieh and sie – compare the vowel in ‘fee’.

o o is pronounced short in words like Loch, Schloss and Stollen – compare the vowel in ‘lot’.

o is pronounced long in words like Floh, rot and Ton – compare the vowel in ‘post’, but keep it pure, i.e. do not diphthongize it at all.

ö ö is pronounced short in words like Löcher, Töchter and zwölf – compare the vowel in ‘bird’, but keep it short.

ö is pronounced long in words like Flöte, Löhne and schön – compare the vowel in ‘bird’ but with the lips as rounded as you can make them.


u u is pronounced short in words like Butt, Truppe and Zunge – compare the vowel in ‘put’.

u is pronounced long in words like Buch, Fuß and gut – compare the vowel in ‘food’ but with less lip rounding. Make sure you clearly distinguish between this sound and long ü. This sound is commonly pronounced too short by English speakers.

ü ü is pronounced short in words like fünf, Flüsse and Pfütze – compare the vowel in ‘too’ but make it shorter and with the lips as rounded and tightened as you can make them, as if trying to whistle.

ü is pronounced long in words like fühlen, Füße and trübe – compare the vowel in ‘food’ but make it longer and with more lip rounding and tightening, as if trying to whistle.

1.2 Diphthongs

German has only three diphthong sounds, i.e. ei, au and eu. English has quite a few more.

ei ei in words like Blei, Stein and Verleih is identical to the vowel in ‘fi ght’.

ai ai in words like Hain, Laib and Mai is identical in pronunciation to ei and occurs in very few words.

au au in words like aus, Auto and Traum is very similar to the vowel in ‘house’.

eu eu in words like euch, Feuer and heute is identical to the vowel in ‘boy’.

äu äu in words like enttäuschen, Kräuter and Schläuche is identical to eu.

1.3 Consonants

There are few problems lurking here for English speakers.

b b in words like Bein, Krabbe and loben is identical to that in ‘bed’. At the end of a word as in ab, Lob and ob a b is always devoiced, i.e. it is pronounced as a ‘p’.

c c in words like Cicero and Mercedes (both foreign words) is pronounced like a German z, i.e. as ‘ts’.


1 Pronunciation


ch ch in words like Bach, Loch, Buch and rauchen (i.e. after a, o, u and au) is pronounced as in Scottish ‘loch’. The Germans call this the ach-Laut, a hard sound.

ch in words like Blech, ich, lächeln, Schläuche, Löcher, Bücher, welche, manche and durch (i.e. after e, i, ä, äu, ö, ü as wellas the consonants l, n and r) is a softer sound than when it follows a, o, u and au, i.e. it is pronounced with the tongue curved, hugging both the soft and hard palates. The Germans call this the ich-Laut, a soft sound. It must be clearly distinguished from the more guttural ach-Laut. The two ch sounds can alternate within variations of the same word when it is infl ected, e.g. Buch (with the ach sound) and Bücher (with the ich sound).

The combination chs is pronounced like English ‘x’, e.g. sechs, Dachs, Fuchs. Compare sechs (6) with sechzehn (16) and sechzig (60) where ch is pronunced as in Blech above.

The diminutive ending -chen is also pronounced with this soft variant of ch.

ch at the beginning of loanwords is pronounced like 1) English ‘k’, 2) English ‘sh’ or 3) soft German ch, depending on the source language, e.g. 1) Chaos, Chlor, Charakter; 2) Chance, chauvinistisch, Chef; 3) Chemie, China.

ck ck, found in the middle and at the end of words, is pronounced ‘k’, e.g. lecker, Fleck.

d d in words like denken and Feder is pronounced as in English.

At the end of a word as in Glied, Gold and Hand a d is always devoiced, i.e. it is pronounced as a ‘t’.

f f in words like Frosch, Pfeffer and Schiff is pronounced as in English.

g g at the beginning or in the middle of words, as in Gang, gießen and fl iegen, is pronounced as in English.

At the end of a word as in Tag, Teig and Zug a g is always devoiced, i.e. it is pronounced as a ‘k’. However, the ending -ig is pronounced like German ich, e.g. König and lustig (see 1.5).

h h at the beginning of a words, as in Haus, Horn and Hut, is pronounced as in English. After a vowel it is not pronounced but simply serves to show that the vowel is long, e.g. Floh,


sehen, Schuhe (see 2.1). Sometimes this h is superfl uous to pronunciation but spelling requires it, e.g. sieh and sie are pronounced the same, as are liehst ( leihen ‘to lend’) and liest ( lesen ‘to read’).

j j is pronounced ‘y’, e.g. Jahr, jeder, Joch. j in French loanwords is pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘leisure’, e.g.


k k is pronounced as in English, e.g. Katze, Klasse, kommen.

l l in all positions is pronounced as in ‘light’ never as in ‘well’, i.e. it is never a ‘thick l’, e.g. Lohn, Licht, wählen, wohl.

m m is pronounced as in English, e.g. Mann, Lämmer, Lehm.

n n is pronounced as in English, e.g. nein, Tonne, zehn.

ng ng is always pronounced as in ‘singer’, never as in ‘fi nger’, e.g. Finger, lang, Sänger, Zeitung.

p p is pronounced as in English, e.g. Penner, Lippe, kaputt.At the beginning of a word, where it is rare, it is lightly aspirated, as in English.

pf pf is pronounced as the spelling suggests, i.e. both the p and the f are articulated, but this can be hard for English speakers at the beginning of a word, e.g. Pfeffer, Tropfen, Kopf (see pf under 1.5).

ph ph is still used in some loanwords and is pronounced as an ‘f ’, e.g. Photograph, Philosophie.

q q always occurs in combination with u, as in English, and together they are pronounced ‘kv’, e.g. Qualität, Quelle, Quadratmeter.

r In most of the German-speaking region r before a vowel is pronounced by slightly trilling the uvula in the back of your throat, but there are areas where, and individuals who, pronounce it by trilling their tongue against their alveolar ridge, i.e. the ridge of gum behind the top teeth, as in Italian. Either way r must be trilled, which usually means most English speakers have trouble with this sound, e.g. Reh, reißen, Brot, schreiben.

After a vowel an r is vocalized, i.e. it is pronounced as a vowel, e.g. in er, mir and Uhr you pronounce the vowel as you


1 Pronunciation


would expect it to be pronounced and follow it by ‘uh’, as in the colloquial question form ‘huh?,’ i.e. air-uh, mee-uh, oo-uh. The common ending -er is simply pronounced ‘uh’; alternatively you could say it resembles the second syllable in ‘teacher’, but imagine this being spelt ‘teacha’, e.g. Schuster (shoos-tuh). The ending -ern is pronounced ‘airn’, not trilling the r, e.g. wandern (vundairn).

Note how -er and -e differ in pronunciation at the end of words: Mütter/Feuer (with ‘uh’), but Hütte/Treue (with the vowel in the second syllable in British English ‘rubber’; in American English this fi nal ‘r’ is pronounced, but not in British English).

s s at the beginning and in the middle of a word is pronounced ‘z’, e.g. sollen, lesen, Gänse. S at the end of a word is pronounced ‘s’, e.g. es, Gans, Glas. The spelling ss is always pronounced ‘s’ too, e.g. Flüsse, Guss, schoss.

ß ß, which only occurs in the middle and at the end of words, is always pronounced ‘s’, e.g. bloß, reißen, schießen. ß indicates that any vowel preceding it is long (see 2.5).

sch sch is pronounced ‘sh’, e.g. Schule, fi schen, Tisch.

sp sp at the beginning of a word is pronounced ‘shp’, e.g. spät, Spaten, Spatz.This is also the case in compounds and derived words where the sp is still seen as being at the ‘beginning’ of the word, e.g. Aussprache, verspätet ( spät).

In the middle of a word, however, sp is pronounced ‘sp’, e.g. lispeln, Wespe.

st There are parallels here with the way sp is pronounced. At the beginning of a word it is pronounced ‘sht’, e.g. Stadt, stehen, stoßen.This is also the case in compounds and derived words where the st is still seen as being at the ‘beginning’ of the word, e.g. Ausstoß, Großstadt, verstehen ( stehen).

In the middle and at the end of a word, however, st is pronounced ‘st’, e.g. Gast, gestern, bist.

t t is pronounced as in English, e.g. Tag, rot, bitte.At the beginning of a word it is aspirated, as in English.

In French loanwords ending in -tion, t is pronounced ‘ts’, e.g. Nation, national.

tsch tsch is pronounced like ‘tch’ in ‘butcher’, e.g. Deutsch,


Dolmetscher, Quatsch.It only occurs at the beginning in foreign words, e.g. Tschechien, tschüs.

v v is pronounced ‘f ’ in true German words, e.g. Vater, von, Volk. At the beginning of loanwords v is pronounced as in English, e.g.

Vase, Veteran, Video, Violine. v occurs at the end of some loanwords, in which case it is

pronounced ‘f ’ (i.e. it is devoiced), but when v is no longer in fi nal position, it is pronounced ‘v’, e.g. aktiv, passiv, but aktive.

w w is pronounced ‘v’, e.g. Wasser, wir, Wurm.

x x, which is rare in German, is always pronounced ‘ks’, e.g. nix, Xylophon.

y y is pronounced the same aslong ü, e.g. typisch, Zylinder, zynisch.

z z is pronounced ‘ts’, e.g. Polizei, zählen, zittern.Sometimes it occurs together with t but the pronunciation is still ‘ts’, e.g. Glotze, Platz, Spritze.

1.4 Stress

As a general rule the fi rst syllable of a German word bears the stress, e.g. ankommen, Bruder, Rathaus, Wörterbuch.

The verbal prefi xes be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, ver- and zer-, which are also found in nouns derived from verbs, are never stressed (compare the stress in ‘believe’, ‘release’, ‘forgive’ in English), e.g. Bezug, empfehlen, entkommen, erreichen, gestehen, Verkauf, zerbrechen. Some additional verbal prefi xes are not stressed, e.g. durchsuchen, vollenden, widersprechen, while others are, e.g. anrufen, ausgehen, wiedersehen (see separable and inseparable verbs 10.9.1 to 10.9.3).

Many foreign loanwords, usually of French origin, stress the fi nal syllable as in the source language, e.g. Agent, Akzent, Bäckerei, kaputt, Partei, Pelikan, Philosoph, Planet, Satellit, Student. Loanwords ending in e stress the second last syllable, e.g. Forelle, Garage, Kassette, Kusine.

Verbs ending in -ieren, mostly derived from French, are also stressed on the second last syllable, e.g. buchstabieren, renovieren, studieren.


1 Pronunciation


1.5 Regional variants

As German is spoken over a very wide area and in several countries, there is great variety in regional pronunciation. Some of these variations are considered standard, not dialect; only these variants are dealt with here.

In the north of Germany long ä is pronounced ‘eh’, i.e. the same as German long e, and thus the distinction between gäbe/gebe and nähme/nehme, for example, is not made.

In the north of Germany many long vowels in closed syllables (i.e. those ending in a consonant) are pronounced short, e.g. Glas, Tag, Zug.

In the north of Germany fi nal g is pronounced like German ch (both ich- and ach-Laut, depending on the preceding sound), e.g. Tag, Teig, Weg, zog, Zug.

In verbs before the endings -t and -te/-ten etc. g is also pronounced in this way, e.g. liegt, gesagt, legte, sagte; in standard German the g in these words is automatically pronounced ‘k’ due to the infl uence of the following t.

In the north the ending -ung is often pronounced ‘oonk’, e.g. Zeitung, Rechnung.

Over large areas of northern and central Germany pf at the beginning of a word is likely to be pronounced ‘f’, e.g. Pfeffer, Pfund. If you are having trouble pronouncing pf in such words, simply say Feffer and Fund and no one will even notice you are not saying pf.

In southern Germany and Austria, sp and st are pronounced ‘shp’ and ‘sht’ in all positions, not just initially, e.g. bist, Australien, Wespe.

The reverse can occur in the far north of Germany where sp and st might be pronounced ‘sp’ and ‘st’ in all positions, e.g. Stadt, spät.

In the south of Germany and in Austria k, p and t are commonly pronounced in a way that makes them barely distinguishable from g, b and d respectively, e.g. kaufen  gaufen, Parade  Barade, trinken  drinken.

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