Alphabet

German Alphabet and Grammar

The German alphabet contains notable differences when compared to English, but it's not tremendously complex to learn if you are used to any language using the Roman alphabet. Spoken German contains different phonemes from many other European languages and includes gendered nouns (which is different from English).

Although you may have heard that German grammar is tough to master, it is highly logical, and so is definitely accessible to anyone who wished to dedicate the time to learning by rote and putting the rules into frequent practice. Read on for a quick lesson in German Grammar and alphabet composition.

German Alphabet and Pronunciation

How many letters are in the German alphabet?

Much like the English alphabet, German has 26 standard letters. However, the German alphabet contains one additional character and umlauted forms of three vowels.

The German ligature (additional character): The letter ß, is also known as the "sharp S", "eszett" or "scharfes S", and is the only German letter that is not part of the Latin/Roman alphabet. The letter is pronounced (like the "s" in "see"). The ß is not used in any other language.

The Umlaut is the pair of dots placed over certain vowels; in standard German and its dialects, these vowels are ä, ö, ü.

How do you spell letters in German?

In German, the letters of the Alphabet are pronounced like this, and can be spelt phonetically as such:

  • A = ah
  • B = bay
  • C = tsay
  • D = day
  • E = ay
  • F = eff
  • G = gay
  • H = hah
  • I = eeh
  • J = yot
  • K = kah
  • L = ell
  • M = em
  • N = en
  • O = oh
  • P = pay
  • Q = koo
  • R = air
  • S = es
  • T = tay
  • U = ooh
  • V = fow
  • W = vay
  • X = iks
  • Y = oopsilohn
  • Z = tset
Umlauts:

Ä = like the ‘ai’ in ‘air’

Ö = like the ‘er’ in ‘her’

Ü = like the ‘ui’ in ‘suit’

Ligature:

ß = Like the ‘s’ in ‘sea’

What’s the best way to learn the German Alphabet

Start by learning the basic German alphabet characters and their respective pronunciations. It helps to have a recording of the letters being spoken (slowly) so you can learn them systematically – using the old-as-time ‘Alphabet Song’ technique is a good idea.

If you have a tutor or tandem partner, have them test you by making you spell out words for them, letter by letter, so they can judge your pronunciation and knowledge of the individual letters. A game could be that you do not tell them what the word is, and they have to write it and figure it out from your given letters.

German Grammar Trainer

For more information about German cases and German grammar practice, take a look at the German Grammar Trainer and free resources such as Brainscape.

Also very helpful to learn the basics of the German language: YouTube Videos. This Video with Max and his friends from  "Study in Germany - Land of Ideas" can help you to learn basic phrases and important vocabulary. 

German Grammar

Is German Grammar hard?

Some people regard German as a difficult language to learn because of the grammar. The complexity of the German linguistic 'cases' (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) is probably the main reason for this perception, but these can be learned in a simple way with the right study methods (using a table of the cases filled in with different pronouns helps, such as for “his”: sein, seinen, seinem, seines).

German grammar rules are highly logical, and to a great extent, they can be mastered with a combination of by-rote learning and speaking practice.

Why does German have genders?

In contrast to English, All German nouns are given one of three genders. Nouns can be masculine, feminine, or neutral. Why? Historically, it seems gendered languages were developed to make communication more clear when it came to differentiating between different nouns mentioned close together - it is a way of classing nouns to it is more obvious which is being referred to.

If you use a noun without its gender, you won’t be using it correctly, so when you use a noun in a sentence, its gender identity has to precede it in some form. This may seem daunting at first if you only speak non-gendered languages such as English, but as long as you make a habit of learning the gender along with every noun you memorize, it’ll be straightforward.

German Gender

It's the noun which has the gender, not the object itself. In German, the gender is not always determined by the gender of the object/person; for example, the gender of the noun for “girls” (“Mädchen”) is neutral (“das”).

How do you identify ‘der die das’ in German?

You may have heard of the German "der die das" rule. These words are the German definite articles (forms of “the”) which let us identify the gender of a noun. When looking at the example of cutlery, we see that there is no particular pattern to this: Die Gabel (the fork), der Löffel (the spoon) and das Messer (the knife). A fork is feminine, a spoon masculine and a knife neutral. It's easy to see how new German speakers get confused, but in short: die = feminine, der = masculine and das = neutral.

Masculine nouns take the definite article, der, die, or das (the) and indefinite article, ein, eine, or ein (a/an).

Masculine nouns often have these endings:
  • -er,
  • -el,
  • -ling,
  • -ich,
  • -ig,
  • -ner,
  • -ismus,
  • -or,
  • -us,
  • -eich,
  • -ant
Feminine nouns often have these endings:
  • -e,
  • -ie,
  • -heit,
  • -ei,
  • -in,
  • -ik,
  • -keit,
  • -schaft,
  • -ung,
  • -tät,
  • -ur,
  • -tion
Neutral nouns often have these endings:
  • -chen,
  • -o,
  • -lein,
  • -en,
  • -il,
  • -ma,
  • -tel,
  • -ment,
  • -nis,
  • -tum,
  • -um