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Pf Pf Pf… What’s up with that? Posted by on Jul 21, 2014 in Language, Practice

Pflanze, Pflaume, Pfau, Pferd, Pfad… All of these are words with a silent p if a word starts with this. At least in most everyday speech.  Some people pronounce the p, as you can hear in the recording below, but from own experience, most do not pronounce the p very clearly. It is easier to just pronounce it as an f, but you still need to write the pf!

Why does this Pf exist? It all started back in the days of the Germanic people some 1000 years ago. In the so-called zweite Sprachverschiebung (second language shift), the Germanic language became even harsher. A nice example: Pfefferminz (p). This word, just like the English word, comes from the Latin mentha piperita. As you can see, the Germanic languages switched around the words, lost the -ita and silenced down the -a of mentha. And in both German and English, the became an i, and the became an e. This was all the change English went through, and the result is peppermint. However, the German language also went through the zweite Sprachverschiebung, where the became a pf and in words also ff. The became a (t)z – and the result: Pfefferminz.

So this process, which seems quite convoluted, brought about this strange Pf sound in German. There is no rule when to use the Pf, but most words that start with the f-sound, are written with Pf. But yes, there are many words starting with too: Fall, Ferne, Festung, Funke, Fußball. As you can see: it is just a matter of learning how to write it. The good thing is that you can always pronounce it as an f.

Of course, there are also words where pf is in the middle of the word: bekämpfen, Kopf, Hopfen, Kupfer. As you can hear in the recording below, here you do pronounce the p. ALWAYS.

 

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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


Comments:

  1. Stefan:

    Sorry Sten,
    but this is just plain wrong. The “Pf” is pronounced in high German as well as in many of the dialects (I am a native speaker). You really should double check that and then change your article.

    • Sten:

      @Stefan Hi Stefan,

      Thanks for your comment, first of all. Like I wrote in the article, the P is not entirely gone, but is pronounced not so much, or is silenced pretty much in every day speech. I speak high German, I do not speak any dialect. So I can not say much about dialects first hand. Do you really pronounce that p in, let’s say: Ich gebe der Frau drei Pflaumen? In my entire life I have not heard many pronounce that P very audibly. Maybe it is phonetically correct, but that is not what I am saying. All I say is that in every day speech it is quite unusual.

  2. Constanze:

    Hey! Well, this is interesting. I have to agree with Stefan – In your example sentence, “Ich gebe der Frau drei Pflaumen”, I would definitely pronounce the P! No question about it. That’s how I’ve always heard it being said, both in Hochdeutsch and in Bairisch, which I grew up speaking. To me, it sounds odd saying “Pflaumen” without the “P” sound. Plus, your mouth moves differently when you make the “Pf” sound to when you make the “F” sound, so dropping the “P” in everyday speech would feel significantly different, wouldn’t it? Well, having said that, maybe people in your region decided long ago to stop pronouncing the P for some reason, which is why you never hear it! 😉 Very interesting, anyway! Thanks for the post. 🙂