Tag Archives: vowels

Isst der Osterhase zu Ostern Obst von der Ostsee? Oft!

It’s getting to be that time of year again, when the days are longer (Dank der Umstellung auf Sommerzeit), das Gras ist grüner, and everybody wants to wish you Frohe Ostern!

Let us embrace the cycle of rebirth and reconciliation by getting the pronunciation right.

You probably learned that die Post and die Ostsee are pronounced with a short ‘o,’ kind of the same vowel sound you hear generic British people use on the word ‘box.’ I always thought that was because of the two consonants following it.

But it’s a much longer ‘o’ sound in words like Obst and Ostern and their derivatives, and they have two or even three consonants following the vowel. What’s up with that?

Who knows. Maybe it’s one of the (thankfully few) areas of German that will not be governed by rules.

Here are some more potentially tricky Pärchen:

Long Short
die Geste gesture die Gäste (der Gast) guests
das Gefäß vessel zuverlässig reliable
das Buch book die Bucht bay
jemand sucht someone searches for die Sucht addiction
der Schoß lap schoss shot, preterite of schießen
koksen to do cocaine Oktober October
das Frühstück breakfast das Frühstück breakfast

Some of them are easier to spot than others; particularly Frühstück, with its vowel-lengthening h and shortening ck, seems logisch. If you’re on board with the spelling reforms of the 1990s, the ß vs. ss thing can help you identify long/short dichotomies, provided it’s not an all caps setting. 1

The guidelines for short and long vowel sounds seem rather unzuverlässig at best. Maybe you have to treat these little nuggets of German wisdom like Ostereier and scoop them up wherever you can find them.

Share the ones you’ve found in the comments, please!

Frohe Ostern!

Editorial note: a tip o’ the hat tip to @smarterGerman for some corrections to a previous version of this post.

  1. ß is never a capital letter! []

Umlauts are not that scary

I think umlauts must be a source of stress for a ton of native English speakers trying not to sound like one of those Ben & Jerry’s commercials at the movie theater.

Here’s what I mean, if you haven’t been in a while: Continue reading


When I started at the local U.S. subsidiary HQ of a big German electronics conglomerate, I was amazed at how many local native English speakers could say the name of our company without flinching (hint: rhymes with “Beemans”), but were always unsure how to pronounce transplanted-from-Germany names if they contained an EI or IE vowel combination.

It’s really not hard in German. But given the

I before E, except under plenty of totally arbitrary circumstances

maxim many of us learned while trying to master the English spelling of achieve and receive and believe and onomatopoeia, perhaps you can’t blame the native anglophones for being a little wackelig about the sounds E and I make when used together in other languages, too.

It breaks down like this: Continue reading