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August 18, 2021

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As with most languages that use the Latin alphabet, the basic German alphabet consists of 26 letters. However, there are three more letters that you can find in the German language: Ä, Ö, and Ü. We call these Umlauts.

In simple terms, the Umlaut is the combination of two vowels into a single vowel. This changes the way it is pronounced as well as the way it is written.

All Umlauts are designated by two dots above the letter. 

  • The letters A and E form the Umlaut Ä,
  • O and E become Ö,
  • And U and E become Ü.
German Umlauts – What Is It and What for?

German keyboards typically feature these Umlauts in the place where British and American keyboards have the keys for the special characters @, :, and {.

When it is not possible to write the Umlaut, you can also write it in its uncombined form instead: Ä becomes AE, Ö becomes OE and Ü becomes UE. 

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This is very handy for people who do not have access to a German keyboard. Besides that, the same way of spelling Umlauts is used when you are writing in a computer-related context. Since most web addresses cannot display Umlauts, you can use the longer version instead (ae, oe, ue).

So, now that you know the basics about German Umlauts, let us take a look at the different Umlauts, why they exist, and how you can pronounce them.

What are German Umlauts used for?

In many cases, Umlauts are used to indicate the plural form of a word. Some examples include:

  • Mann/Männer (man/men)
  • Kopf/Köpfe (head/heads)
  • Zug/Züge (train/trains)

This not set in stone, though! There are also cases where an Umlaut is used in the singular form of a word. Here are some examples:

  • Rätsel (riddle)
  • Gehör (hearing)
  • Küste (coast)

On top of that, Umlauts can also appear in adjectives and adverbs. 

  • während (while)
  • müde (tired)
  • drüben (over there)

Now you know how Umlauts are used, let us now take a look at the different Umlauts and what they are made of, as well as some tips on pronunciation.

The German Umlaut Ä

Ä is a combination of the letters A and E. 

Some examples of the use of the letter Ä:

  • Äpfel (plural of Apfel, German word for Apple)
  • Gebärdensprache (German word for sign language)
  • Käse (German word for cheese)

If you want to know how to pronounce Ä, think of how you would pronounce the “aa” in the name Aaron. Alternatively, you can also try pronouncing it as the “ai” in air.

The German Umlaut Ö

The Umlaut Ö is made by combining O and E into a single vowel. 

Some uses of the letter Ö in the German language:

  • Öffentlich (German adjective for public)
  • Österreich (German name for Austria)
  • Schön (German word for beautiful)

Ö sounds like the “u” in burning. Try to put an emphasis on the rounding of your lips while you pronounce it, and you will get a sound that is very similar to that of Ö.

The German Umlaut Ü

Finally, we have the Umlaut Ü. It is a combination of the letters U and E.

Here are some examples of the letter Ü in the German language:

  • Tür (German word for door)
  • Überraschung (German word for surprise)

This is probably the one Umlaut most English speakers will struggle with the most. It is pronounced in a similar fashion to the “e” in me, but with your lips rounded. There are many tips on how to correctly pronounce this Umlaut out there, but this is the one that we found helped people the most.

Conclusion

There you have it! The three German Umlauts. They are very commonly used in the German language and if you plan on learning German, there is no way around learning them. We hope this article helps you with understanding when, how, and why you need to use German Umlauts.

About the author 

Lukas Rauhaus

Hi! I'm a German native who was been speaking English since elementary school. I have 5+ years of experience in writing and love talking about all kinds of topics. By sharing my knowledge, I hope to introduce more people to my native language.

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