Mind your Ps and … X’s?

These few letters might trip the learned native English speaker up. Here’s how not to incur some Pseudo-Xenophobie.

Ps

We don’t need that initial P at all in our $10 English words of Greek origin, do we?

  • Psilocybin
  • Pseudo-science
  • Psoriasis
  • Psychotherapy

We just ignore that silly P and hiss out the S as if it were the first letter.

Well, Germans don’t roll that way. They are principally opposed to slackers, and that applies to letters getting a free ride in words. 1 This means you’ve got to pronounce that P. Don’t overthink it — this is a sound you already make effortlessly in English words like

  • Alps
  • Capsize
  • Chopsticks
  • Cyclops2
  • Ellipsis
  • Gypsies
  • Tramps
  • Thieves Pimps
  • Upset

With a little practice, you can make that plosive-sibilant combination from a dead stop. Don’t let that P schwarzfahren — make it board at the front of the bus and earn its Fahrstrecke!

  • der Psalm
  • pseudowissenschaftlich
  • die Psyche

Pf

This is maybe the most common one confronting the foreign speaker:

  • der Dudelsackpfeifer
  • die Pfaltz
  • das Pfand
  • der Pfau
  • der Pfingsten
  • die Pflicht
  • pflücken
  • pfropfen3
  • der Pfund

The first one is not word-initial, but that consonant pile-up (ckpf) on the compound word split prevents you from taking the easy way out and artificially splitting the syllabary uprights. But that’s a great way to go for with these, which you can say with no trouble, can’t you?

  • der Apfel
  • das Opfer
  • die Überempfindlichkeit

Your salvation here will be feigning disgust or disbelief. Make a scowly face, swing your head a bit to the side and puff your dissatisfaction non-verbally out between your mostly closed lips. There, you’ve done it. 4

Pt

Also beware Pt, in German words like Ptolemäus and Pterodactylus. The same rules apply as with Ps!

But why do we pronounce the P in our word “helicopter?” Blame the French.

X

X is easy when it’s bringing two syllables together. How about at the start of a word? In German, don’t pronounce a word-initial X like you would in English (namely, a voiced sibilant).

  • Xavier5
  • Xylem
  • Xylophone
  • Xenomorph
  • Xenon

Pronounce that word-intial X just as if it were wedged between two syllables…

  • Alexis
  • Baxter
  • Coaxing
  • Dixieland
  • Huxley
  • Toxics3

… and you’ll draw attention to your impressive vocabulary, not any foreign accent:

  • das Xanthangummi
  • der Xerxes
  • die Xerographie
  • die Xenophobie
  • (?) Xing
  1. Barring a few exceptions. []
  2. Hmm, do we pronounce that P because it is not word-initial? []
  3. Ooh, a two-fer [] []
  4. …and effected a very typical German attitude, to boot. []
  5. Like “Javier?” []

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