Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (2023)

My name is Anja Müller. Mein Vorname ist Anja, mein Nachname ist Müller. Did you notice it? Ü. Doesn’t it look beautiful? These little dots on top of the u. It’s like a happy face is smiling at me. I love how I have to bring my lips forward when saying it. Ü. It’s like kissing someone. Muah, just sweeter. I point my lips for the points. xxx. And there’s even more, there’s three of them: ä,ö,ü.

One of the popular blog posts here on The Germanz has become the one I wrote about how Germans feel about umlauts. It’s not only me who sighs affectionately when describing German umlauts. I’d dare to say that all Germans are best mates with their ä’s, ö’s and ü’s.

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (1)

On the other hand, many German learners usually can’t understand my sentiment for these funny dots. For German beginners, umlauts are a nightmare.

‘Ah yea, what do those dots mean?’

I usually get after pointing them out in my German classes here in Melbourne.

The English brain seems to scratch them off like an ad blocker blocks advertisements in the sidebar of a dodgy website. Gone, as if they’d never existed.

After the first disbelieving stares and a couple more lessons, when the realisation sets in that ignoring the umlauts isn’t an option, the inevitable question comes up:

You think you could explain umlauts again, please?

Sure thing, I can. I’m going to spill the beans to you about German umlauts. They can actually make a big difference in what you’re saying. You can also skip right to your favourite topic:

  1. Talking about two or more – Plural in German
  2. Saying, ‘Awe, what a cute horsy’ – German diminutives
  3. Verbs like fahren have umlauts – Irregular verbs in German
  4. Talking tomorrow about today – Present or past in German
  5. Things we didn’t do yesterday but would like to do today – Past or subjunctive in German

First thing to know, you can’t just slap those points on top of every a, o, i, e, and u you come across. Only three vowels – the a, o, and u – qualify for leading a secret life as umlauts.

That said, umlauts are proper letters. They are part of the alphabet, and – you won’t believe it – NOT for grammatical reasons.

The a, o, and u WITH two dots are pronounced differently. The ü as well as the ä and ö simply reflect a change in pronunciation.

The change developed back in the Old English days to better glide from a vowel sound that was spoken in the back of the mouth (like a or o) to one that was spoken far forward in the mouth (like the German i – pronounced ‘ee’).

This explains why German umlauts are spoken in the front, with your lips. You even close your lips like you’re about to kiss someone.

Additionally, it also means that umlauts are like the cousins of vowels. They belong to the same family, but are the weird in-laws you see only a few times a year.

Because umlauts haven’t made their way into the world for grammatical reasons, you don’t need to learn yet another confusing grammar rule…yay.

Some words have vowels, fewer words have umlauts.

Since there’s no grammar to be explained, instead of ‘learning the umlauts,’ you can relax and get a behind the scenes summary of where they hide and where they make a mind-blowing difference.

1. Talking about two and more – Plural in German

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (2)

Let’s start with what you learn as a newbie to the German language, when you learn about plural forms of nouns.

Plural means having to deal with multiples of things, when you say ‘one apple, two apples’: ein Apfel, zwei Äpfel, or ‘one mother, two mothers’: eine Mutter, zwei Mütter.

The switch will only happen from a vowel to an umlaut, never the other way, only from zero to two dots.

The average der-word needs dots

You also may have heard about the sensational news that the average masculine word (der Mann, der Tisch, etc.) tends to form the plural by adding an -e and turning a vowel into an umlaut:

der Gruß, die Grüße (greetings)

der Saft, die Säfte (juices)

der Zug, die Züge (trains)

(Video) GERMAN UMLAUTS for Dummies - How To Pronounce Ä, Ö, Ü

You’ll never know for certain whether this will always be the case, but if you really can’t remember the plural of a der-word, opt for adding -e and the umlaut-kiss.

A handful die-words need umlauts too

While female nouns in German usually add -en or simply -n (die Blume, die Blumen/flowers), a handful of very common female nouns only change from a vowel to an umlaut.

die Mutter, die Mütter (mothers)

die Maus, die Mäuse (mice)

die Tochter, die Töchter (daughters)

As you can see, swapping out the vowel for an umlaut has the potential to raise eyebrows if done incorrectly:

Ich treffe meine Mütter.

(I’m catching up with my mothers.)

Which is fair enough, just be aware of what you’re saying.

Next we are going to talk about a nifty trick that will save your life more than once when you get lost among all those der, die, and das articles. It also has to do with German umlauts.

2. Saying ‘Awe, what a cute housy’ – German diminutives

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (3)

Do you know what to do when you’re halfway through a sentence and then realise that you can’t remember the right article of the word you were going to use?

I’ll tell you a trick. Instead of just staring into space waiting for the ground to open up and swallow you, form the diminutive of the word.

Simply make the table a ‘baby table’ or make the horse a little horse, a ‘horsy.’

The reason for it:

German diminutives all take the neuter article das.

All of them, 100%. Hurray!

Cute umlauts and cute little things

Apart from assigning the das-article, you want to add the ending -chen or -lein

AND

change the vowel into an umlaut if you can (remember, only a, o, and u can, äöü).

der Tisch: das Tischlein or das Tischchen (baby/tiny table)

das Pferd: das Pferdchen or das Pferdlein (little horse, horsy)

die Maus: das Mäuschen or das Mäuslein (little mouse, mousy)

das Haus: das Häuschen or das Häuslein (little house, housy)

‘Horsies, housy? I’m going to sound like an idiot!’ you might think, but you won’t believe the next thing I’m going to tell you.

Using the diminutive form of nouns is so common in German, it’s an essential part of several German dialects.

The Swabian dialect is even famous for it. Swabian is spoken in one of the powerhouses of Germany, Baden-Württemberg, the area around Stuttgart, where many world-famous and traditional German companies are based. Companies like Zeiss and Kärcher.

(Video) How to pronounce German Umlauts in 10 minutes! | Feli from Germany

Swabians add their own diminutive ending, -le but usually also turn the vowel into an umlaut. Imagine interviews on TV with the CEOs of all these big companies! They usually try to sound very professional, but aren’t always successful at it.

If they can do it, you can too (at least before the ground swallows you).

Next one up are annoyingly irregular verbs like fahren (to drive). They sometimes do the shift as well, and of course there’s something you should know to conquer them.

3. Verbs like fahren have umlauts – Irregular verbs in German

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (4)

Irregular verbs do the vowel-umlaut-shift as well. It’s only the ones that sound similar to fahren (to drive/to go) like blasen (to blow), waschen (to wash), schlafen (to sleep), etc., the ones that have an ‘a’ in their stem.

Here’s how to conjugate fahren (to drive/to go):

ich fahre

du fährst

er/sie/es fährt

wir fahren

ihr fahrt

sie/Sie fahren

The same will happen when you conjugate waschen:

ich wasche

du wäschst

er/sie/es wäscht

wir waschen

ihr wascht

sie/Sie waschen

Irregular verbs in German (also called strong verbs) only change their stem (fahr- or wasch-), but will keep the same endings as any other regular, normal verb.

They also only change the second- and third-person singular:

du wäschst, er/sie/es wäscht.

All other forms stay the same.

Of course, some verbs are all over the place and completely irregular. They take on a completely different personality it seems.

You probably know the suspects I’m talking about: sein (to be) or modal verbs (können, sollen, wollen, etc./could, want, should, etc.).

It’s best to get familiar with the strong and irregular verb forms by using a conjugation app and learn the most common ones off by heart.

But remember, in case you get lost along the sentence:

(Video) How to Pronounce an Umlaut | German Lessons

Irregular verbs that look similar to fahren are likely to do the shift from a vowel to an umlaut and back.

Next up is another example whereknowing how to handle those sexy dots will be an advantage.

4. Talking tomorrow about today – Present or past in German

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (5)

Another shift happens when talking about what happened yesterday – when talking about the past. This time it goes the other way. We will change from an umlaut to a vowel as we will take the dots away.

Let’s say your work colleague Markus loves venturing out and always knows exactly how to entertain the masses during lunch.

Oh mein Gott, Markus hängt vom Dach. Hilfe, Hilfe!

(God, Markus is hanging from the roof, please help!)

Once Markus is rescued, you can joke around at the next Christmas party.

Wisst ihr noch als Markus vom Dach gehangen hat? So ein verrückter Kerl!

(Do you guys remember when Markus was hanging from the roof? What a crazy chap!)

Other examples would be:

betrügen – betrog – betrogen (to deceive – deceived – has/is deceived)

gebären – gebar – geboren (to give birth – gave birth – given birth)

lügen – log – gelogen (to lie – lied – has lied)

Looks reasonable, doesn’t it? But I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

The good news is that most German verbs are regular/normal, but most common verbs are irregular.

That’s why it makes sense to learn the hop, skip, and jump: betrügen, betrog, betrogen, to always have them ready to go in case you need them. And you probably will.

Also notice that the umlaut usually turns into a different vowel, for example from an ü or ä to an o.

And here’s another blissful trick:

5. Things we didn’t do yesterday but would like to do today – Past or subjunctive in German

Ä, ö, ü - German umlauts explained - The Germanz (6)

Here’s the last and most thrilling one where the shift makes a staggering difference in what you’re saying. The shift goes from a vowel to an umlaut and the other way.

When you compare the following two sentences, you will notice what I mean.

I could do it yesterday

Compared to

I could do it today.

(Video) German Umlauts Explained Once and For All

In German:

Ich konnte es gestern machen

and

Ich könnte es heute machen.

A, o, u with two dots make things become unreal

Konnte and könnte – only two dots separate the verbs, but the meaning couldn’t be any more different.

The first sentence simply describes what we did, we are giving the facts, I did it. Making factual statements is called the indicative mood from a grammatical point of view.

The second sentence describes a scenario that hasn’t happened yet; it also might not happen at all. Gosh, when I think of my to-do lists! Every time I’m jotting down the dots, I deeply believe that I’m going to finish them all off, tick them away. In the end, you might guess it.

As long as it’s not true yet, you’re speaking in the so-called subjunctive mood. A condition still needs to happen (you need to do it first) before it can become a fact. I could do it, and I might do it, but maybe not. I don’t know yet.

In German it’s the little points that matter and that will surprisingly change what you’re trying to put across.

Face the music or keep dreaming? More examples

Können is not the only one that has a dirty looking cousin.

The most important ones are dürfen (to be allowed), müssen (have to/must), mögen (like), sein (to be), werden (to become), and haben (to have):

Ich mochte es gestern. – Ich möchte es heute.

I liked it yesterday. – I would like it today.

Er durfte es gestern machen. – Er dürfte es heute machen.

He was allowed to do it yesterday. – He would be allowed to do/might do it today.

Sie musste es gestern machen. – Sie müsste es heute machen.

She had to do it yesterday. – She would have to do it today.

Wir hatten gestern ein Fahrrad. – Wir hätten gerne ein Fahrrad.

We had a bicycle yesterday. – We would like to have a bicycle.

Es war gestern sehr nett. – Es wäre nett, wenn die Sonne scheinen würde.

It was really nice yesterday. – It would be nice if the sun was shining.

Er wurde nach Hause gebracht. – Er würde nach Hause gebracht werden, wenn er nett wäre.

He was brought home. – He would be brought home, if he was nice.

Were you able to tell the difference between the first and the second sentence in each line? I’d guess you got the feel for it.

Well done, you made it down to the bottom. This was ‘explaining the German umlauts.’

Time to sum it all up.

Firstly, remember that the umlauts (ä, ö, ü) are the fancy cousins of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u).

(Video) Learn German A1 | Umlaute (Ä, Ö, Ü) | German Pronunciation | Deutsch Für Euch 40

Secondly, umlauts make a difference when forming:

  • The plural:die Mutter, die Mütter (the mother, the mothers)
  • Diminutives: die Hand, das Händchen (the hand – the little/baby hand)
  • Conjugating irregular verbs: ich fahre, du fährst, er/sie/es fährt (I drive, you drive, he/she/it drives)
  • The past tense: hängen, hang, gehangen (to hang, hung, has hung)
  • The subjunctive/conditional sentences: Er wurde laut, weil er konnte. (He was getting loud because he could.) – Er würde laut werden, wenn er könnte. (He would get loud if he could.)

I’d love to know if you ‘understood’ he umlauts straight away or if it took you a while to get your head (and your tongue) around the fancy dots. Please let me know in the comments.

FAQs

What are a Ö ü called? ›

These additional letters are called umlauts and this article will explain what they are and how to pronounce them.

What is Ö called in German? ›

The letter o with umlaut (ö) appears in the German alphabet. It represents the umlauted form of o, resulting in [œ] or [ø]. The letter is often collated together with o in the German alphabet, but there are exceptions which collate it like oe or OE.

What does a mean in German? ›

The Letter Ä With Two Dots Is an Umlaut. If you've ever wondered what those two dots above an “ä” are about, they're generally called umlauts. Particularly common in German, they're used to modify the suggested pronunciation of the letter a.

What does Ö sound like German? ›

– “ö” as in blöd is like an English person saying “burn” Make the sound “a” as in the word “may” and then make your lips into an “o” shape.

What is Ü called in German? ›

It's good to know that in German, there are two types of Umlaut sounds: the long and the short.
German LetterPhonetic SymbolGerman Example
äRanging between <ɛ> and <ə>nächste (next)
ö<ø>schön (pretty/beautiful/nice)
ü<y>Lüge (lie)

How do you pronounce ß? ›

GERMAN PRONUNCIATION 10: The special letter ß (sharp s) - YouTube

What is the Ü in English? ›

Ü or ü is a letter not used in English. It is commonly used to represent the sound [y]. It started as an U with an E above it. It is heavily used in the Turkic languages, such as Turkish.

What is this called Ü? ›

U-umlaut. A glyph, U with umlaut, appears in the German alphabet. It represents the umlauted form of u, which results in [yː] when long and [ʏ] when short. The letter is collated together with U, or as UE. In languages that have adopted German names or spellings, such as Swedish, the letter also occurs.

What is the difference between O and ü? ›

Long ö is full with strongly rounded lips. Short ö is shorter in duration and sounds more clipped. Long ü is full with strongly rounded lips. Short ü is shorter in duration and sounds more clipped.

What is Germany's real name? ›

The official name of the country is Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland).

Why does German have ß? ›

ß does not exist everywhere that German is spoken—the Swiss dropped it years ago. But its purpose is to help readers figure out pronunciation: A ß signals that the preceding vowel is pronounced long, instead of short, and that you should make an “ss,” not “z,” sound. It's also written to signify “ss” after a diphthong.

What is the letter ä called? ›

Symbol for ångström

The letter "Å" (U+00C5) is also used throughout the world as the international symbol for the non-SI unit ångström, a physical unit of length named after the Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström.

Is u pronounced oo? ›

Ü is often pronounced as /jʊ/ by English speakers, but such pronunciation is not correct in German. To pronounce ü correctly, round your lips as if you were to say “oo” in “cool” or “stool”, but move your tongue to say “ee” (as in “see”) instead (but don't move your lips).

What is the difference between u and u? ›

The u is pronounced as in “do” or “through”, and the ü is more of an ue sound, where the speaker shapes their mouth for a u sound, then says an “ee”. For non-native German speakers, the difference between the u sound and the ü sound can be difficult to hear and pronounce.

How is O written in English? ›

Ö or ö is one of the 4 extra letters used in German. It can be replaced by using the letters Oe or oe. In English language newspapers it is often written as O or o but this is not correct.

How does ü sound like? ›

How to Pronounce Ü? | The German Umlaut Ü - YouTube

Where is a used? ›

The letter Ä occurs as an independent letter in the Finnish, Swedish, Skolt Sami, Karelian, Estonian, Luxembourgish, North Frisian, Saterlandic, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Rotuman, Slovak, Tatar, Kazakh, Gagauz, German, and Turkmen alphabets, where it represents a vowel sound.

Is æ and a the same? ›

Usage notes. The short vowel [æ] is spelt ä (rather than e) when it occurs as an umlaut in inflections. Otherwise its use is chiefly dependent on the spelling of the German cognate.

How do you pronounce ö? ›

How to pronounce the vowel Ø in Danish - YouTube

What does the Ë sound like? ›

Here they are: Ë with diaeresis is the easiest case to deal with. The diaeresis (the two dots) signifies that the underlying “e” is pronounced as /ɛ/ (as “e” in “bet”, i.e. the open e), no matter what comes around it, and is used in groups of vowels that would otherwise be pronounced differently.

How do we pronounce æ? ›

English Pronunciation – Short Vowel - /æ/ - 'trap', 'stamp' & 'back' - YouTube

What is this symbol û? ›

Û is used in Kurdish Kurmanji alphabet in the to represent a long close back rounded vowel /uː/, and in some dialects, a long close central rounded vowel, /ʉː/.

How is Ö pronounced in Swedish? ›

These are Å, Ä and Ö. Å is pronounced like the English O in “or,” the Swedish Ä sounds almost like the word “air” in English, and Ö has a similar pronunciation to the [er] sound in the word “her.”

What sound does Ö make? ›

Pronouncing the closed “ô” sound in Portuguese

The IPA for this sound is /o/. It's a close, back vowel with rounded lips.

How do you say U? ›

Traditionally, though, "a", "e", "i", "o", or "u" with a macron above it meant "the sound of the name of the letter" in dictionaries from the 18th and 19th centuries. So "ū" in those old dictionaries corresponds to /juː/ or /ju/ in modern IPA conventions, and \yü\ in Merriam-Webster. But not "ū" in your book.

What country uses Ä? ›

Swedish has all the letters of the English alphabet plus three extra ones, they are the letters Å, Ä, and Ö. These three letters are considered as separate letters and not letters with diacritical marks. They come in alphabetical order after the letter Z.

How do you write Ä in English? ›

Ä or ä is one of the 4 extra letters used in German. It can be replaced by using the letters Ae or ae. In English language newspapers it is often written as A or a but this is not correct.

What sound does the ï make? ›

In German and Hungarian, ï or I-umlaut does not belong to the alphabet. In scholarly writing on Turkic languages, ⟨ï⟩ is sometimes used to write the close back unrounded vowel /ɯ/, which, in the standard modern Turkish alphabet, is written as the dotless i ⟨ı⟩.

What does u sound like? ›

Ú/ú is the 25th letter of the Icelandic alphabet, and represents a /u/ sound.

What is u called in English? ›

Ü or ü is one of the 4 extra letters used in German. It can be replaced by using the letters Ue or ue. In English language newspapers it is often written as U or u but this is not correct.

What is this called u? ›

U-umlaut. A glyph, U with umlaut, appears in the German alphabet. It represents the umlauted form of u, which results in [yː] when long and [ʏ] when short. The letter is collated together with U, or as UE. In languages that have adopted German names or spellings, such as Swedish, the letter also occurs.

Why Aeiou are called as vowels? ›

The word vowel comes from the Latin word vocalis, meaning "vocal" (i.e. relating to the voice). In English, the word vowel is commonly used to refer both to vowel sounds and to the written symbols that represent them (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y).

Are vowels Aeiou? ›

The letters A, E, I, O, and U are called vowels. The other letters in the alphabet are called consonants.

How do you say Å? ›

How to Pronounce Å - YouTube

How do you pronounce ö? ›

How to Pronounce ô? (FRENCH) - YouTube

How is â pronounced? ›

Phonetically, ⟨â⟩ is traditionally pronounced as /ɑ/, but is nowadays rarely distinguished from /a/ in many dialects such as in Parisian French.

What language uses ï? ›

Initially in French and also in Afrikaans, Catalan, Dutch, Galician, Southern Sami, Welsh, and occasionally English, ⟨ï⟩ is used when ⟨i⟩ follows another vowel and indicates hiatus in the pronunciation of such a word.

What languages use Ü? ›

Letter. The twenty-sixth letter of the Turkish alphabet, called ü and written in the Latin script.

What words have no vowels? ›

The words without vowels are why, hmm, hymn, xlnt, wynd, myths, thy, dry, cyst, etc.

Can y be a vowel? ›

When y forms a diphthong—two vowel sounds joined in one syllable to form one speech sound, such as the "oy" in toy, "ay" in day, and "ey" in monkey—it is also regarded as a vowel. Typically, y represents a consonant when it starts off a word or syllable, as in yard, lawyer, or beyond.

What are the 7 short vowels? ›

Short vowels in the IPA are /ɪ/-pit, /e/-pet, /æ/-pat, /ʌ/-cut, /ʊ/-put, /ɒ/-dog, /ə/-about. Long vowels in the IPA are /i:/-week, /ɑ:/-hard,/ɔ:/-fork,/ɜ:/-heard, /u:/-boot. Diphthong vowels in the IPA are /eɪ/-place, /oʊ/-home, /aʊ/-mouse, /ɪə/-clear, /eə/-care, /ɔɪ/-boy, /aɪ/-find, /ʊə/-tour.

What words have only y vowels? ›

Words with one Y
ByrlsKyndsSyncs
FyrdsMythsSyphs
GhyllNymphTryps
GlyphPsychTryst
GryptRyndsTymps
6 more rows
29 Jul 2022

What are the 12 vowels? ›

There are 12 pure vowels or monophthongs in English – /i:/, /?/, /?/, /u:/, /e/, /?/, /?:/, /?:/, /æ/, /?/, /?:/ and /?/. The monophthongs can be really contrasted along with diphthongs in which the vowel quality changes.

What words have all 5 vowels? ›

Eunoia, at six letters long, is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five main vowels. Seven letter words with this property include adoulie, douleia, eucosia, eulogia, eunomia, eutopia, miaoued, moineau, sequoia, and suoidea.

Videos

1. German Umlaute | Super Easy German (86)
(Easy German)
2. GERMAN PRONUNCIATION 6: Important differences between A and Ä, O and Ö, U and Ü
(Learn German with Anja)
3. HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE GERMAN UMLAUTE | German for beginners
(Speak Fluent German)
4. What exactly is an umlaut?
(rewboss)
5. Learn German | How to pronounce the Umlaut Ä Ö Ü With exercises and a game for practice
(SimplyGerman.online)
6. Pronouncing german words: The umlaut Ä (Der Umlaut Ä)
(German Fräulein)
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