Pf Pf Pf… What’s up with that? Posted by Sten on Jul 21, 2014 in Language
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 e became an i, and the i 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 p became a pf and in words also ff. The t 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 f 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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