German Umlauts - ä, ö, ü - Learn German Language (2024)

Have you ever tried to imitate the German language? Many non-German speakers resort to exaggerated harsh sounds and attempts at pronouncing tricky words like “Schmetterling.” Learning the language can feel daunting. But, if you make the effort, you will be able to connect with around 130 million German speakers in the world.

Sure, German can be complicated. But, with practice and time, anyone can get the hang of it. Its complex grammar and linguistic quirks are exactly what make it interesting for those who are up to the challenge.

For example, there are three additional letters that make the German alphabet unique: ä, ö, and ü. These special characters—known as umlauts— are distinctive features of German orthography. We’ll explain them in more detail below and give you some tips on how to pronounce them in different German words.

Summary

What Are Umlauts?

Umlauts are diacritical marks represented by two dots (¨) placed above three vowels of the German alphabet.

German Umlauts

German Umlauts -ä, ö, ü - Learn German Language (1)

Study at Berlin School of Business and Innovation

Creating Tomorrow's Industry Leaders

Apply Now

The German umlauts are ä, ö, and ü.

Pronunciation and Examples

ä: Pronounced like the “e” in “bet”. Example: “Mädchen” (girl)

ö: Pronounced like the “i” in “bird”. Example: “Hören” (to hear)

ü: Pronounced similarly to the French “u” in “tu”. Example: “Brücke” (bridge)

Why They’re Used

German umlauts indicate vowel sound changes and distinguish between different words, verb forms, or grammatical features.

What Are Umlauts?

Umlauts are a shift in vowel pronunciation that happens when vowels in a word are close together. This occurs especially when one vowel is said at the front of the mouth and the other at the back. German speakers gradually merged them into one umlaut to mark the shift in pronunciation.

Historically (and in modern days, when you need to type quickly) an “e” was added after the vowel in written form. This led to combinations like “ae”, “oe”, and “ue”. Nowadays, umlauts have special two-dot marks above the vowels, such as ä, ö, and ü.

Learning a new language can be tough, especially when you have to say sounds your mouth isn’t used to. In languages, people often find ways to make pronunciation easier, umlauts being an example.

What Are the Types of German Umlauts?

The German alphabet has 26 letters, one ligature (ß) and three umlauts. These umlauts are:

  • Ä – as in Äpfel (apples)
  • Ö – as in Österreich (Austria)
  • Ü – as in Grüße (greetings)

Umlauts are characterized by the two dots on top of the letter. They are an important part of German words, both for grammar function and pronunciation. The presence or absence of umlauts can completely change the meaning of a word and its function.

Similar to German vowels, each umlaut – ä, ö, ü – is pronounced in two ways: “short” and “long.” This helps differentiate between words and affects pronunciation. Short umlauts are said quickly, while for long umlauts, you have to hold the sound for a bit.

How to Pronounce German Umlauts?

German umlauts are often difficult sounds to master for non-native speakers. This is because your native language may not have sounds that match the umlauts in German. Although not always identical, there are some English words that have sounds similar to the German umlauts.

Pronouncing the Umlaut Ä

Here are the steps to pronouncing the umlaut Ä in German,

  1. Start with the sound of the English letter “E” as in “bed.”
  2. Keep your mouth slightly more open than when pronouncing the English “E.”
  3. Relax your lips and keep your tongue in the middle of your mouth, neither too high nor too low.

The long “Ä” is the same sound but extended for a longer duration.

To give you a better idea, here are examples of words that sound like Ä and some German words that use this umlaut.

UmlautSoundEnglish ExampleGerman Word
Short Ä/ɛ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Pronounced like the “e” sound in the English word “bed” or “bet.”

the “e” in bed

the “ea” in head

the “e” in met

Äpfel (apples)

Männer (men)

Käse (cheese)

März (March)

UmlautSoundEnglish ExampleGerman Word
Long Ä/ɛ:/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Start with the Short Ä and lengthen it + add a silent H

the “e” in end

the “ie” in friend

the “a” in sad

Ähnlich (similar)

Mädchen (girl)

Nächste (next)

Krähe (crow)

Note: There’s an exception to the usual pronunciation of the umlaut “ä” when it’s paired with the vowel “u.” In this combination, you pronounce it similar to the “oi” sound in the English word “ointment”. For example, in words like “Läufer” (runner), “Träume” (dreams), and “Häufig” (frequent).

Here are some audio recordings from German study sites that will help you pronounce the Ä umlaut correctly:

Pronouncing the Umlaut Ö

Pronouncing the Umlaut Ö can be tricky for non-native German speakers. For English speakers specifically, this isn’t easy because English does not have a similar sound.

The closest we can compare this umlaut to is the French “œ” in “œuf” or the “u” in the English word “turn.” To pronounce the Umlaut Ö in German:

  1. Start by forming your lips into a halfway circle, similar to when you say “O.”
  2. Next, try to produce the sound of the short Ä while maintaining the lip position from step 1.

Here are some examples on how to pronounce the German umlaut Ö:

UmlautSoundEnglish ExampleGerman Word
Short Ö[œ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Start saying “ê” and purse your lips into an O.

the “i” in flirt

the “o” in word

Öffnen – To open

Stöcke – Sticks

Wörter – Words

Löffel – Spoon

UmlautSoundEnglish ExampleGerman Word
Long Ö[ø] in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Lengthen the Short Ö

the “o” in Worm

the “i” in Bird

Öl – Oil

Mögen– To like

Böse – Evil

Hören – To hear

If you’re still having trouble pronouncing it, here are some audio examples of words with Ö:

Pronouncing the Umlaut Ü

The last umlaut in the German language is the Ü. Similar to the Ö, there is no equivalent sound in the English language for this umlaut. So, you’ll have to do with plenty of repetition.

Follow the steps below, to pronounce Ü:

  1. Begin by making the sound “ee” as in the English word “see.”
  2. While making this sound, purse your lips as if you were whistling, almost closing them completely.
  3. Keep your tongue in the same position as when saying “ee”, but change the shape of your mouth as if you were saying “oo.”

Unfortunately, this umlaut is almost impossible to find in any English word.

Here some French examples of this sound and German words with this umlaut so you can understand it better:

UmlautSoundFrench ExampleGerman Word
Short Ü[ʏ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Say the sound “ee” and purse your lips almost completely shut.

the “u” in tu (you)Rücken – Back

Küche – Kitchen

Hütte – Hut

Müll – Garbage

UmlautSoundFrench ExampleGerman Word
Long Ü[yː] in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Lengthen the Short Ü.

the “ue” in rue (street)Bühne – Stage

Bücher – Books

Üben – Practice

Mühle – Mill

Below are some audio recordings from German learning sites with examples of Ü umlaut:

To Put It Shortly…

Simply put, the three German umlauts are pronounced like this:

  • Ä – make the sound “eh” or “ê” without gliding into the sound “ey”;
  • Ö – make the sound “ê” and purse your lips into an O shape;
  • Ü – make the sound “ee” and then purse your lips as if you are whistling;

Reading and practicing words with German umlauts can give you a pretty good idea on how to pronounce them. However, sometimes you need a visualization. The video below offers a short and clear overview of German umlauts:

📽️ How to Pronounce an Umlaut | German Lessons

What Are German Umlauts Used For?

Umlauts can change the meaning, pronunciation, and grammatical function of words. If you don’t use them, it can be confusing for those who are reading your texts or listening to you speak in German.

Umlauts are used in various patterns, such as:

  • Differentiating between singular vs. plural nouns.
  • Second and third-person verb conjugations in the present tense.
  • Differentiating between past actions and expressing wishes or hypothetical situations.
  • Comparative and superlative adjectives.
  • Creating cuter versions of words.

Let’s discover more about umlauts are used in these patterns:

Singular and Plural Nouns

In many cases, a vowel in a singular noun changes into an umlaut in the plural form of the noun. For example, the vowel ‘a’ in the singular form of the German word “Haus” (house) becomes ‘a’ in the plural “Häuser” (houses).

Here are some other examples when this happens:

SingularPlural
der Mann (the man)die Männer (the men)
der Apfel (the apple)die Äpfel (the apples)
der Vogel (the bird)die Vögel (the birds)
das Wort (the word)die Wörter (the words)
der Fuß (the foot)die Füße (the feet)
der Kuss (the kiss)die Küsse (the kisses)

Second and Third-Person Conjugations of Irregular Verbs

Vowels also shift to umlauts when conjugating some Germanic strong (irregular) verbs in the second and third-person singular forms of the present tense. This often happens with verbs with the stem vowel “a”.

It’s best if we illustrate this with some examples:

Verbich (I)du (you, singular)er/sie/es (he/she/it)
backen (to bake)backe (I bake)bäckst (you bake)bäckt (he/she/it bakes)
fangen (to catch)fange (I catch)fängst (you catch)fängt (he/she/it catches)
schlafen (to sleep)schlafe (I sleep)schläfst (you sleep)schläft (he/she/it sleeps)
waschen (to wash)wasche (I wash)wäschst (you wash)wäscht (he/she/it washes)

The Simple Past Subjunctive Mood II (Konjunktiv II)

The Subjunctive II (Konjunktiv II) is a German grammar mood used to talk about hypothetical situations, wishes, politness, and reported speech.

In some irregular verbs, the “a”, “o”, or “u” vowel in their Indicative simple past form is transformed into an umlaut in the Subjunctive II simple past tense of that verb. This helps differentiate Subjunctive II forms from their indicative counterparts in strong verbs.

For example, “geben” (to give) gains an umlaut in the Subjuncitive II simple past form “gäbe” (would give). In the indicative mood, we say “Er gab mir das Buch” (He gave me the book), but in the subjunctive II, we express a hypothetical situation with “Wenn er Zeit hätte, gäbe er mir das Buch” (If he had time, he would give me the book).

This happens with verbs such as:

VerbIndicative simple past tenseSubjunctive II simple past tense
finden (to find)ich fand (I found)ich fände (I would find)
haben (to have)ich hatte (I had)ich hätte (I would have)
nehmen (to take)ich nahm (I took)ich nähme (I would take)
lesen (to read)ich las (I read)ich läse (I would read)
sein (to be)ich war (I was)ich wäre (I would be)

Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

We use comparative adjectives to compare people, objects, or situations (e.g., She is taller than me). Whereas, superlative adjectives express the highest degree of a quality within a group (e.g., Jim is already the tallest in his class).

The stem vowels “a”, “o”, or “u” turn into an umlaut in the comparative and superlative forms of some German adjectives.

For example, “kalt” (cold) becomes “kälter” in the comparative form → Im Winter ist das Klima in Kanada kälter als in Deutschland (In winter, the climate in Canada is colder than in Germany).

The adjective “groß” (big) turns into “am größten” in the superlative form → Die Blauwale sind die größten Tiere im Meer (The blue whales are the largest animals in the sea).

AdjectiveComparativeSuperlative
lang (long)länger (longer)am längsten (the longest)
kalt (cold)kälter (colder)am kältesten (the coldest)
stark (strong)stärker (stronger)am stärksten (the strongest)
alt (old)älter (older)am ältesten (the oldest)
jung (young)jünger (younger)am jüngsten (the youngest)
groß (big)größer (bigger)am größten (the biggest)

Diminutives (Smaller or Cuter Versions of Nouns)

Diminutives are used to convey endearment or indicate something small. You can think of them as smaller or cuter versions of nouns. To form such versions, German words gain suffixes such as “-chen” or “-lein”. This is similar to English suffixes like “-y” or “-ie” in words such as “doggie” or “kitty”.

When forming these diminutes in German, vowels “a”, “u”, and “o” sometimes transform into umlauts. Here are some examples:

Original NounDiminutive (Vowel to Umlaut Shift)
der Mann (the man)das Männlein (the little man)
der Baum (the tree)das Bäumchen (the little tree)
der Hund (the dog)das Hündchen (the little dog)
das Brot (the bread)das Brötchen (the little bread roll)

Bonus grammar advice: All diminutives in German take the neuter definite article “das”, regardless of the original noun’s gender. For example, we have both “das Mädchen” (the girl) and “das Jüngchen” (the little boy).

How to Type the German Umlauts?

Keyboards vary by country and are customized depending on the local alphabet. If you need to frequently type in German, we recommend getting a German keyboard if you don’t already have it. In these keyboards, umlauts are conveniently located on the right-hand side (see picture).

German Umlauts -ä, ö, ü - Learn German Language (2)

German Umlauts Keyboard Combination Keys

Another solution to typing German umlauts is to use keyboard combination keys (listed below)!

Microsoft Windows

Windows users can type German umlauts using these keyboard combination keys:

Lowercase UmlautKeyboard CombinationUppercase UmlautKeyboard Combination
äALT 0228ÄALT 0196
öALT 0246ÖALT 0214
üALT 0252ÜALT 0220

MacOS

To type the German umlauts on macOS, use these keyboard shortcuts:

UmlautShortcut
ÄOption + U, then release and type A
ÖOption + U, then release and type O
ÜOption + U, then release and type U

iOS (iPhone/iPad)

  1. Press and hold the letter key that you want to add an umlaut to (e.g., A for Ä, O for Ö, U for Ü).
  2. A pop-up menu will appear with accented variations of the letter. Slide your finger to the umlauted version and release.

You can also add a German keyboard to your device. Navigate to “Settings” > “General” > “Keyboard” > “Keyboards” and select “Add New Keyboard”. Scroll or search for “German” in the list and tap to add it. Once added, you can switch between your default keyboard and the German keyboard by tapping the globe (🌐) icon on the keyboard.

Android

  1. Press and hold the letter key that you want to add an umlaut to.
  2. A pop-up menu should appear with accented variations of the letter. Slide your finger to the umlauted version and release.

You can also add a German keyboard for convenience. Navigate to “Settings” > “System” > “Language & input” > “Virtual keyboard” or “On-screen keyboard” > select your current keyboard > “Languages” > “Add keyboard” > find and tap “German” to add it.

To switch between keyboards, tap the keyboard icon (⌨️) in the right side of your device’s navigation bar or by long-press the spacebar.

Alternative Ways to Write German Umlauts

Another quick way to write German words with umlauts is to adjust how you write them. We mentioned before that umlauts are essentially a vowel (a, o, e) followed by an “e” sound.

So, you can type or write them like this:

  • ä = ae
  • ö = oe
  • ü = ue

German speakers will understand that a letter followed by “e” indicates the presence of an umlaut. So, no matter which method you choose, you’ll still be understood.

Related:

  • Learn German fast! – This is the only step-by-step guide that helps you learn to speak German quickly.
  • German Alphabet
  • Top Online German Language Courses
  • Best German Classes in Berlin
  • Best German Classes in Munich
  • Best German Classes in Hamburg
  • Best German Classes in Cologne
  • Best German Classes in Frankfurt

German Umlauts -ä, ö, ü - Learn German Language (3)

Join 262,114 students interested in studying in Germany

Download a free copy of our "Essential Guide to Studying in Germany for Free", get regular emails sent to your inbox with helpful articles about studying in Germany, latest news, scholarships, study abroad opportunities and offers...

Download The Guide

German Umlauts - ä, ö, ü - Learn German Language (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Neely Ledner

Last Updated:

Views: 6150

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Neely Ledner

Birthday: 1998-06-09

Address: 443 Barrows Terrace, New Jodyberg, CO 57462-5329

Phone: +2433516856029

Job: Central Legal Facilitator

Hobby: Backpacking, Jogging, Magic, Driving, Macrame, Embroidery, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Neely Ledner, I am a bright, determined, beautiful, adventurous, adventurous, spotless, calm person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.