German Consonant Pronunciation
Now let’s move on to the pronunciation of German consonants. For the most part they are very similar, if not identical to the English consonants. There are some noteworthy exceptions, however, which are pointed out in this post. If you want to take a deeper dive into German pronunciation, you can download the Beginner German e-book or the full German pronunciation guide.
B (front & middle)
The letter “B” is pronounced as it is in English at the beginning and middle of words.
B (end & after S)
When it is the last letter in the word or it is before the letter “S” it sounds more like a “P”. Keep in mind that prefixes such as “ab” still sound more like the letter “P”, because it is at the end of the prefix even though it isn’t the end of the entire word.
C (with another consonant or open vowel sound)
The letter “C” is almost always combined with something else. If it is followed by a consonant or a vowel sound that comes from the back of your mouth, it sounds like a “K”, as it does in English.
The same sound is used when “C” is combined with “K”. This sounds exactly like it does in English.
C (closed vowel)
When the letter “C” is followed by a vowel sound that is made with the front of the mouth, it takes on a sound more similar to “TS” or the German “Z”.
D (front & middle)
“D” follows a similar pattern to the letter “B”. By this I mean that it sounds like the English pronunciation in the front of a word or in the middle.
If it is placed at the end of the word, it takes on a sound more similar to the letter “T”.
There is absolutely nothing special about the letter “F”. It is always pronounced the same as English.
G (front, middle & with N)
If the letter “G” is at the beginning or middle of a word, it sounds the same as it does in English. This includes the combination of “N” and “G”.
If the letter G is at the end of the word, it sounds more like the letter K. Note: “Flugzeug” has two of these sounds, because the first “G” is at the end of the first word in the compound.
The combination of I and G are very confusing to some German learners, because there doesn’t appear to be any consistency in the pronunciation. It took me forever to figure it out. If the letters “IG” are at the end of a word or before a consonant, they make the sound like the pronunciation of the German word “ich”. It is also acceptable to pronounce this as “IK”, but the soft variant is more common. Be careful with this rule, however, as there are some exceptions, such as “Signal”
IG (before vowel)
When “IG” is before a vowel, it is pronounced as it would be in the middle of the word.
The letter “G” can also sound French when it is in a word that is of French origin. This may be the most difficult category to identify, as I personally don’t know which words come from French. In fact, some of the words that are on my example list, I had no idea they were French.
You have already seen the letter “H” when it is used to elongate a vowel sound (Jahr, sehen, gehen). In those words, the letter “H” is silent and only functions to change the vowel. When H is pronounced, it is pronounced in the same way it is in English.
“J” is almost always pronounced more like an English “Y” than it does the letter “J” in English. This is true of all words that are originally German.
The increasing number of imported English words have made it so there are more and more German words that are spoken as English words with German accents.
French words that include “J” are pronounced as the French would pronounce them, which is slightly different from the English “J” sound. The pronunciation of these “J’s” are actually a combination of the two letters “D” and “J”.
A “K” is a “K” no matter if it is English or German. If it is combined with other consonants, if it is before a vowel, if it is at the beginning of a word, end of a word or anywhere else, it will always be pronounced the same.
“L” is pretty straight forward, too. It sounds like it does in English.
“M” sound like “M”. They are the same in both languages.
“N” always sounds the same as the English. This includes when it is combined with “G”.
“P” is pretty straight forward, too. It is also pronounced the same as the English.
“Q” is confusing, because it is like combining “K” and “V” in English or the German “K” and “W”. It is always combined with the letter “U” directly after it.
And now the most complicated one on the list, the letter R. There are two basic sounds that R can make. In the end, both of them should come from the back of your throat.
The one that sometimes gives German the stereotype of being a rough language is the consonant R, also known as the guttural R or the rolled R. If you are trying to replicate this sound, start by clearing your throat. Then elongate that sound. Then add a bit of your voice behind it. Some people equate it to a softer version of gargling with some voice behind it. You are really trying to get the base of your tongue in the back of your mouth to touch the back part of the roof of your mouth. Then make it vibrate and add voice to it.
The other “R” sound is the vocalic “R”. It sounds more like a vowel than it does a consonant, which is why it is called this. Take the sound we had with the consonant “R” and move your tongue just far enough away from the roof of your mouth that it no longer makes that raspy sound. It could also be described as the combination of “EA” in German, as this makes a very similar sound. It is most commonly used at the end of German words when they end with -er. It also shows up at the end of a word a after long vowel sound and in the middle of a word after a long vowel sound and before another consonant.
The letter “S” has two options when used on its own, buzzed or unbuzzed.
S (front or middle)
If it is at the beginning or in the middle of a word on its own, it is pronounced like a “Z” in English.
S (end or double S)
If you double the “S” anywhere in the word or the “S” is at the end of the word on its own, it is pronounced like the hissing snake you are used to with this letter.
This weird looking little dude (ß) is basically just two “S’s” shoved together. It is called the eszett. It will always make the soft (unbuzzed) “S” sound. If you have a word that uses this sound in the middle of the word or at the end of the word, it is likely that you need an “ß”. Officially it is used after a long vowel or a diphthong. This ends up looking confusing when you see that an infinitive of a verb may use an “ß”, but other forms of them use “SS”. If you followed the rules I mentioned earlier, you will figure it out pretty quickly.
Back to the letters that are easier to figure out. The letter “T” is always “T”. It gets more fun when you add it together with other consonants, but remember, today’s lesson is about consonants on their own.
“V” is a bit odd, because sometimes it sounds the same as the English, but most of the time it sounds like the letter “F”. If the word is of German origin, it is probably pronounced as an “F” unless it is at the end of the word, in which case it is pronounced like “V”. If it is a foreign word, it is probably pronounced as a “V”.
“W” is easier, because it is always pronounced as the English “V”. Nothing complicated about this letter at all, other than it doesn’t sound like the English “W”.
W (as English)
In random English words involving “W” it is pronounced like the English “W”, but that is because they are just English words being used by Germans.
If you combine the letters “K” and “S”, you end up with the sound you need for the German “X”. There are pretty much no German words that start with “X”.
die Hexe /ˈhɛk.sə/ – witch
The letter “Z” is like the “TS” sound at the end of “hats”. It just takes practice to not pronounce it like the English “Z”.