Does German Use Silent Letters? | German Language Blog

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Does German Use Silent Letters? Posted by on Feb 28, 2018 in Grammar, Language, listening

Guten Tag! In today’s post I’d like to discuss German silent letters with you. There are many silent letters in the English language, such as the h in hour, the c in muscle, the first d in Wednesday, and the e on the end of practically every word (name, like, love, breathe), to name but a few. The question is, do these silent letters exist in German, and are the same as – or different to – the English ones?

Does German Use Silent Letters?

shh

‘shh’ by airpix on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY 2.0)

The brief answer is that silent letters are extremely rare in the German language! As a general rule, all letters are pronounced in German. Due to this, you’ll find that the same letter combinations are often pronounced differently in German to how they are in English. Below are some examples.

German sound: Kn
German word: der Knoblauch (garlic)
We have the same letter combination – kn – in English, but it is pronounced differently in German. In English, the K is silent, like in the word KNEE. In German, both the K and the N are pronounced, and the K is hard.

Sound clip: ‘der Knoblauch’

 

German sound: Ps
German word: psychologisch (psychological)

Again, we have the same letter combination – ps – in Englsh, but it is pronounced differently in German. In English, the P is silent, like in the English word PSYCHOLOGICAL. In German, both the P and the S are pronounced, so the word begins with a ‘psss’ sound.

Sound clip: ‘psychologisch’

 

German sound: Pf
German word: der Pfeffer (pepper)

This is not a letter combination we have in English. By now you may be able to guess what we do with it in German, though: Yep, that’s right. Pronounce both the P and the F, so the word begins with a ‘pfff’ sound.

Sound clip: ‘der Pfeffer’

 

German sound: E (at the end of a word)
German word: der Hase (rabbit)

The e on the end of English words is usually silent, but this is not the case in German. Each time you see the letter e at the end of a German word, pronounce it with an ‘eh’ sound. My German name (Constanze) has been pronounced incorrectly my entire life because here in the UK we don’t pronounce the ‘e’ on the end of words. This has led to me being called Constanz or Constance on more occasions than I care to remember! 😉

Sound clip: ‘der Hase’

 

Please note that there are exceptions to this rule when a word ends in ‘ie’ (die Zeremonie – ceremony) but, equally, there are words ending in ‘ie’ which DO follow the rule of pronouncing the ‘e’ – such as die Familie (family), which is pronounced ‘Fam-eel-ee-eh’.

I hope this has been interesting! If you’d like more posts about pronunciation, let me know. 🙂

Bis bald

Constanze

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Christine Friedrichsmeier:

    I so enjoy your newsletters!
    And I too suffer from the bad mispronunciation of my name – my last name particularly, but my first name too. Even a lady who spent 5 years living in Germany didn’t get – or even was able to hear – the subtle difference of pronouncing my name “Christeen-Eh” vs “Christeen-Ah”. I guess only Germans can appreciate the subtlety! 🙂

  2. Allan Mahnke:

    Great post!

    I suspect that most of the words for which the final e is not pronounced are words with English cognates (like Zeremonie). But that is not necessarily always the case, for example Petersilie/parsley.

    It may be that the consonant digraph “sch” also contains a silent letter, but I’m not sure which it is. Perhaps most of the words in which ch is pronounced the same as sch are proper names (Charlottenburg or Charlotte) or so-called “loan words.”

  3. Kelly Moore:

    Great post, thank you! As I learn German (or re-learn what I learned in high school 500 years again), I must really make an effort to pronounce every letter clearly. Being from Western Pennsylvania, I am somewhat lazy with many of my consonants, which drives my British friends crazy! So, it is good practice for me.

    • Constanze:

      @Kelly Moore Thanks Kelly! I’m glad you find the post useful – the silent letters (or lack thereof) definitely do take some getting used to! 🙂