How to pronounce ö and ü

The most difficult sounds to pronounce are typically the ones that do not exist in your native language (or in languages whose sounds you have already mastered). For English speakers these include the umlauted vowels ö and ü. Fortunately, there is a very effective method you can use for arriving at these sounds.

To pronounce the ö-sound, say “ay” as in day (or as in the German word See). While continuing to make this sound, tightly round your lips. Look in a mirror to make sure your lips are actually rounded. Voilà! The resulting sound is the ö-sound.

A similar method results in the ü-sound. Say “ee” as in see (or as in the German word vier). Again, while saying the sound, round your lips. The resulting sound is the ü-sound.

Like any unfamiliar sounds, being able to pronounce ö and ü correctly will come with repeated practice. After you find the correct mouth position using the tips above, practice reading words containing these characters aloud. Below are several audio files for you to listen to.

Here are two lists of commonly used words to get you started:

Long ö-sound
Short ö-sound
Long ü-sound
Short ü-sound
Long ö is full with strongly rounded lips.Short ö is shorter in duration and sounds more clipped.Long ü is full with strongly rounded lips.Short ü is shorter in duration and sounds more clipped.
schön
mögen
nötig
Söhne
Lösung
möglich
hören
persönlich
Österreich
König
können
zwölf
Körper
Töchter
öffentlich
löschen
Köche
Schlösser
völlig
öfter
Tür
führen
Schüler
Füße
grün
für
über
natürlich
früher
üblich
fünf
müssen
dürfen
Stück
wünschen
künftig
erfüllen
Glück
Küche
Gründe
And now here are some sets of minimal pairs using the long and short o, ö, u, and ü sounds. Listen closely to the differences between the sounds.
Short o-soundShort ö-sound
bocke
konnte
Tochter
Böcke
könnte
Töchter
Long o-soundLong ö-sound
losen
Boden
lohne
lösen
Böden
löhne
Short u-soundShort ü-sound
Mutter
durfte
Burgen
Mütter
dürfte
bürgen
Long u-soundLong ü-sound
Spuren
gute
Bruder
spüren
Güte
Brüder
Short vowel soundLong vowel sound
Hölle
flösse
schösse
wüsste
Hütte
Fülle
Höhle
Flöße
Schöße
Wüste
hüte
fühle
Short ö-soundShort ü-sound
Hölle
Röcke
Köche
Stöcke
knöpft
Hülle
rücke
Küche
Stücke
knüpft
Long ö-soundLong ü-sound
schwöre
flöge
Söhne
zöge
töte
Schwüre
Flüge
Sühne
Züge
Tüte
11 comments on “How to pronounce ö and ü
  1. niku says:

    Some comments from Grandgent, German and English Sounds, Art. 31,5:

    ü, ï, ö, ë, † which do not correspond to anything in English, are front rounded vowels. Dr. Hochdörfer produces them in two ways …. According to the first method, the middle and back of the tongue take positions somewhat similar to those they occupy for ī, i, ē, e ; the fore-part of the tongue is retracted as far as possible, leaving a tolerably large cavity in front of the mouth ; the lips are protruded and rounded. In the second mode of formation the middle and back of the tongue take nearly the same positions that they have for ī, i, ē, e ; the tip is pressed against the lower front teeth ; a bowl like hollow appears in the fore-part of the tongue ; the lips are protruded and energetically rounded. The latter method is the one described by Vietor [Element der Phonetik, second edition (1887), p. 85]; for me it is much easier than the other.

    † long ü-sound, short ü-sound, long ö-sound, short ö-sound respectively.

    Grandgent, German and English Sounds
    http://archive.org/details/germanandenglis00grangoog

  2. Heath says:

    Your trick works! I have a natively speaking German girlfriend and I’ve tried using your suggestion above and she says it sounds correct, BUT it needed a little more refining by bringing the lower jaw forward slightly for both sounds. Thanks A LOT. I find this ONE of the big nerve racking hurdles of learning the language: my ü and ö were sounding too much the same. (And still will until I practice a lot more using your trick). Most of my fellow students in German class cannot make the two sounds distinct and clear. Additionally, It isn’t a matter of sounding more German either. If you are unable to make the distinct sounds, the meaning can be different. Best.

  3. James says:

    On my mother’s side of the family it originated as Gudel- (latinized), where later the “d” became a “t” upon arrival in the English Colonies. I’ve done a little research and suspect there has been a change in spelling over the centuries from Gödel to Gudel-, perhaps to be in tune with local populations at some point in history, just as Gudel- became Gutel-.

    Is there any reference for a change in spellings with the letter “ö” to have become a “u”? If so, it would indicate a Celtic origin of the name since Gödel, according to some sources, is also the name given to the Celts in the British Isles prior to the arrival of the Romans.

    The Celts spread through southern Europe to Spain and on to the British isles, possibly when connected between Spain and the isles when the English Channel was a shallow plain.

    The dating of mainland European Celts, including those in Spain and England is much more recent according to historical accounts than the appearance of the plain between Europe and England, however.

    Please give me your best guess if such a connection MIGHT or DOESN’T exist and I’ll use that as an indication on whether to look further. I realize that over the passage of so many centuries such a connection could be tenuous at best, so I’m only looking for any statements from authoritative sources. Language seems to be a better indication of how family names arose than do very old historical records still available in church archives since many older records have disappeared.

  4. James,

    It is certainly possible that sounds could have shifted over time. And even other sounds in the name that you aren’t considering could have changed (a common correspondence is G < -> K). It is also possible that both of these variants came from a common earlier form.

    To complicate matters even further, there was not ONE German language, but a whole range of German dialects, so it would be possible that a word pronounced one way (e.g. Gödel) was pronounced differently (e.g. Gudel) in another German-speaking area. If you compare cognates in related languages, such as German and English, you can see how words that once came from the same root can evolve in different ways — for example in English (i.e. from Anglo-Saxon German dialect)/modern German: hound-Hund, thou-du, bone-Bein, free-frei, way-weg, chin-Kinn, two-zwei.

    So, while I can’t give you a definitive answer about the relationship between the two variants, it is certainly possible that they are related. On the other hand, they could be entirely unrelated. If you keep searching, you may find evidence to support one premise or the other.

  5. Northumbrian says:

    Ö is very similar to the ‘ur’ sound in British English found in words such as hurt, world or word.

  6. Mai Queeck says:

    To my ears the shape of the sound – as opposed to the length – of the long ö and the short ü appear to be very similar. But since I’m not a native German speaker, it’s hard for me to be sure.

    But I came across a video that says the same thing, even warning students not to be confused (https://goo.gl/lzCx7X). It says phonetically that
    long ö = long [ø]
    short ü = short [ø]
    short ö = short [œ]
    long ü = long [ü]

    So, for example, Brücke would be pronounced Br[short ø]cke, not Br[short ü]cke.

    How does this, uh, “sound” to you? I would love it if you could make another an audio clip comparing long ö words with short ü words.

    By the way, really appreciate your site. These word pair comparison audio sets are extremely helpful.

    • I think you will find at least something close to an answer to your question here: http://soundsofspeech.uiowa.edu/german/german.html

      Watch the clips for /Y/ and /œ/. The points of articulation (perhaps what you are calling the “shape” of the sound) are close, but they are slightly different.

      Of course, these examples are sounds in isolation. When you start putting the vowels into words, their actual pronunciation can shift depending on the place and manner of articulation of the consonants that precede and follow them. Maybe that is what the YouTube video is trying to get at. However, I don’t think these pronunciation anomalies are something learners have to worry about. If you strive for standard pronounciation of sounds, those shifts happen naturally as your mouth quickly adjusts shape to pronounce words.

  7. ali hassan says:

    Very helpful with voice method

  8. Sharon Smith says:

    How will I know if the vowels are long or short?

    • Fortunately, German orthography is a help to us in determining whether vowels are long or short.

      A vowel is long when:

      • it is followed by a single consonant that would belong to the next syllable if separated (e.g. ledig(le|dig), mag, hören (hö|ren), Ofen (O|fen))
      • it is doubled (e.g., Staat, Beet)
      • it is followed by an h (e.g., fahren, ihn, Jahr)

      A vowel is short when:

      • it is followed by a double consonant (e.g., Bett, offen, männlich)
      • it is followed by two or more different consonants, usually (e.g., Stadt, Kunst, denken)
      • it appears in a common one-syllable word followed by a single consonant (e.g., es, im, ob)

      There are some exceptions, e.g. foreign words, but these rules will apply in most situations.

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "How to pronounce ö and ü"
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