The German alphabet consists of 26 letters, 3 umlauts (Ä, Ö, Ü) and a ligature (ß). Please don’t get confused by our special letters ä , ö , ü and ß .
If you learn German as a foreign language, it will definitely be difficult for you at the beginning. However, it’s only a matter of time before you get used to it and start forgetting English! Find out more about the German alphabet below.
From A to Z – The German alphabet
The German alphabet is often referred to as the Latin alphabet. The Latin alphabet is used for many Romance languages and is considered to be the most widely used alphabet in the world.
Instead of the “German alphabet” you will also often find the term “German ABC” (read: a-bee-cee), which also means all 26 letters (from A to Z).
The German alphabet consists of 26 letters. The letters can be written in upper case (A, B, C, …) or lower case (a, b, c, …).
A / a, B / b, C / c, D / d, E / e, F / f, G / g, H / h, I / i, J / j, K / k, L / l, M / m, N / n, O / o, P / p, Q / q, R / r, S / s, T / t, U / u, V / v, W / w, X / x, Y / y, Z / z
How do you say ABCD in German?
To hear the German alphabet, press play:
Long and short vowels in the German alphabet
There are only 5 vowels in German, but many more sounds. How is that possible? For example, you can pronounce the letter “a” short or long.
|[a]||St a dt|
|[a:]||N a me / Z a hl / St aa t|
|[Ɐ]||d e r|
|[Ɛ]||spr e chen|
|[e:]||r e the / n e hmen / B ee t|
|[Ɪ]||m i t|
|[i:]||Kilo / she / her|
|[Ɔ]||T o daughters|
|[o:]||T o n / S o hn / B oo t|
|[ʊ]||M u tter|
|[u:]||s u chen / St u hl|
The umlauts in German and the “sharp S”
There are also four additional “special letters”:
1. The three umlauts:
- Ä (eg K ä se, L ä rm, m ä hen)
- East (eg M ö bel, ö open, L ö ffel)
- U (eg Ü surprise, T ü r, Eq ü ck)
The umlauts originated from the combination of a, o and u with e , so: ae , oe , ue Today the umlauts are mostly only written as Ä / ä , Ö / ö and Ü / ü .
2. And the so-called “sharp S”:
The ß is the only letter that occurs only in the German language, no other knows this letter. And in Switzerland too, instead of ß, a double s, i.e. ss, is written.
Words with ß that are very common are, for example:
foot, tall, white, regular, bite, flow, street, outside, measure, …
The article of the German letters
All letters are neuter and therefore have the article “that”. It is called: Das A, das B, das C, etc.
1. There are three definite articles in German: “der”, “die”, “das”.
In German, articles always come before a noun. There is the definite (definite) article and the indefinite (indefinite) article in German.
Here we want to introduce you to the specific article .
The definite article describes the noun (also: noun, noun):
- Which grammatical gender (also: genus) has the noun?
- Is the noun in the singular (the singular) or in the plural (the plural)?
- In which case (case) is the noun used?
2. What is the grammatical gender of a noun?
In German there are three grammatical genders (genera):
masculine (male), feminine (female) and neuter (neuter).
There are also three different definite articles in German:
The article “der” stands for masculine nouns, the article “die” accompanies female nouns and the article “das” is used with neuter nouns.
But how do I know which noun has which grammatical gender?
This is often very easy: the noun follows its natural gender.
der Mann, der Junge [the man, the boy] – male (masculine)
die Frau, die Tochter [the woman, the daughter] – female (feminine)
das Kind (Mädchen oder Junge) [the child (girl or boy)] – neuter
The gender here corresponds to the biological sex.
If one cannot make this distinction, then the noun is based on the grammatical gender.
3. This is how I recognize the grammatical gender of a German noun:
There are some rules here to help you differentiate. Unfortunately, these rules do not always apply, so it is very important to learn a noun along with its article from the beginning!
These German nouns are masculine:
- male job titles examples:
der Arzt, der Schreiner (the doctor , the carpenter)
- Points of the compass examples:
der Norden, der Osten (the north , the east)
- Days and Months examples:
der Montag, der Januar (Monday , January)
- Seasons examples:
der Frühling, der Sommer (spring , summer)
- Weather, precipitation examples:
der Regen, der Sturm (the rain , the storm)
These German nouns are feminine:
- Female job titles examples:
die Richterin, die Bäckerin (the judge , the baker)
- Plant examples:
die Tulpe, die Hecke (the tulip , the hedge)
These German nouns are neuter:
- Substantivating verbs example:
eat – essen: das Essen
- Substantivating adjectives examples:
good – gut: das Gute
bad – schlecht: das Schlechtethe
- Diminutive (diminutive) examples:
the girl , the kitten – das Mädchen, das Kätzchen
2. Is the noun in the singular or plural?
If the number (singular / plural) of the noun changes, you can also tell from its article.
You should remember this rule:
The plural form (plural) of masculine, feminine and neuter nouns is always the same.
Das Kind spielt mit dem Ball. (Singular)
Die Kinder spielen mit dem Ball. (Plural)
Der Vater fährt nach Berlin. (Singular)
Die Väter fahren nach Berlin. (Plural)
3. In which case is the German noun used?
Overview: The four cases in German
There are four different cases in German:
The case depends on the function of the noun.
- The nominative answers the question “who” or “what”?
Der Hund spielt im Garten.
„Der Hund“ is here in the nominative.
- The genitive answers the question “whose”?
Ich hab den Namen des Lehrers vergessen.
„Des Lehrers“ is in the genitive here.
- The dative answers the question “whom”?
Ich gebe der Mutter ein Geschenk.
„Der Mutter“ is here in the dative.
- The accusative answers the question “whom” or “what”?
Die Uhr zeigt die Zeit an.
„Die Zeit“ is here in the accusative.
The declension of certain articles in German. If you are currently learning German, please memorize this declination table for the specific article in German:
|Nominative||the father||the mother||the child||the parents|
|Genitive||of the father||the mother||of the child||of parents|
|dative||the father||the mother||the child||the parents|
|accusative||the father||the mother||the child||the parents|
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4. When do you use the definite article in German?
You now know the specific articles and their function in German. But when do you use the specific article in a German sentence?
You know a person or thing
Die Frau geht mit dem Kind in die Stadt.
A person or a thing has already been mentioned.
In München gibt es einen großen Markt. Der Markt heißt Viktualienmarkt.
There is only one
Die Donau und der Regen sind Flüsse in Deutschland.
Heute ist der 20. August.
For forms of the superlative
Der jüngste Sohn heißt Martin.
Common and rare letters in the German alphabet
The most common letter in German
E / e:
E is the most common letter in the German language.
Did you know?
- If you would like to have the experience of reading a book without an E, you can do so, for example, with the novel “Anton Voyls Fortgang” by George Perec.
- The novel by the French writer was also translated into German and, like the original, does not contain the letter E / e anywhere!
- And the English novel “Gadsby” by Ernest Vincent Wright also comes without E / e.
D is the letter that appears most frequently at the beginning of a word. Above all, the German articles der , die and das help the letter to have a relative frequency
The most rare letter in German
The rarest letter in German is Q / q.
The letter Q has an average frequency of 0.02% in German texts and is therefore the rarest letter in German texts.
Special features of the German Language
The German language is considered a descriptive language, as the words themselves often reveal the functionality, the purpose or the special features of the meaning. An example would be the white rhinoceros; a rhinoceros, which has a particularly wide mouth.
1. Long compounds
In the German language you can combine words with each other so that long compound words are created. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest German word is:
In the English language one would need 15 words for this: “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services”.
But not only nouns can be connected with each other in German, but also nouns and verbs. Vacuum cleaner comes from the word “Staub” (noun) and “saugen” (verb). This also works with nouns and adjectives, as in Blaukraut and Rotkohl.
2. Many German words sound the same
Since many German words have the same word endings or beginnings, they can sound the same even though they are not. This sometimes makes it difficult for learners of the language to hear the differences.
Some words can lead to unintentional misunderstandings in communication:
- Abfall, Notfall, Anfall, Ausfall, Einfall und Unfall.
3. The syntax is special
Everyone who learns this language basically knows the golden rule of sentence structure in German. But here too there are numerous exceptions that must be taken into account.
At the beginning it always says that the verb should be in the second position in the sentence. However, subordinate conjunctions must also be taken into account, in which the verb is at the end of the sentence.
In a famous essay entitled “The Terrible German Language”, Mark Twain wrote on this subject and shows how senseless the first rule can be.
4. Case and gender
As in most European languages, there is also a gender in German and you have to choose between masculine, feminine and neuter. A special feature of the German language, however, is the neuter, because in most languages there is only masculine and feminine.
There is also the case, which depends on the gender of the noun. Accordingly, the corresponding article can be der, die, das or die (plural). However, the articles change depending on the case (nominative, genitive, accusative, dative).
Thus there are around 16 possibilities for the English “the” in the German language.
What is also noticeable in the German language are the 4 additional letters ß , ä , ü and ö , the latter of which are three umlauts. The small difference with the dots can cause big problems for learners of this language:
- Küche und Kuchen
- Buche und Bücher