german pronunciation - ä sound rules?

hallo! : )

i noticed that usually the "ä" in german makes an "ay" sound but sometimes it doesn't seem to, like, with "männer" for example. i was wondering if there is a rule that i don't know about which determines when and how the "ä" must be pronounced differently?

maybe it's DL's recorded examples being inconsistent?

please share your knowledge on the topic.

vielen dank!

August 9, 2019


the ä is like the "ay" in "say" when it is long, but like the "e" in "bet" when it is short.

EDIT - I forgot, there is also the "äu" combo, which sounds more like "oy" in boy

August 9, 2019

sorry but what do you mean by long and short? "it" represents what in your examples? thanks. : )

August 9, 2019

I don't think there is a hard-and-fast rule, but in German mostly the vowels are long. A vowel sound is generally short if it is followed by a bunch of consonants all together, except when the first consonant is "h" - "äh" becomes (or stays) long.

Often you will find umlauts have been added at some point in history to change (or more accurately, reflect) the way the word needs to be said to avoid knotting your tongue up - i.e. if the word would be harder to say without changing the vowel sound.

EDIT - long / short = relative length of the sound within the word. So you linger longer on a long sound and sprint short sounds... (just a bit)

EDIT2: think of Spät, and Männer: long in the first, short in the second, so pronounced "shpayt" and "menner" with English sounds.

August 9, 2019

so it's not so much that "ä" has only one sound but that it is changed by which consonant follows it?

August 9, 2019

Exactly - i've added the bit about length too - say the words and you will notice the slight delay in the longer sounds

August 9, 2019

interesting. thank you. : )

August 10, 2019

The intonation of German isn‘t consistent at all in the real world, there does not need to be a real pronunciation difference for audible differences.

August 10, 2019

Genau. Pronunciation in Germany is regional, just as it is in the US. Where I live in Rheinland Pfalz, and have learned primarily from my native German husband, I don't percieve a difference in pronunciation between Männer, Mädchen, später, zusätzlich, wählen, Wäsche. But when we go to Nürnberg, Stuttgart, Austria or Switzerland, both of us have to listen carefully.

August 13, 2019

interesting. thanks for the reply. : )

August 13, 2019

Ok, this one won't help much: Listen to the sounds that sheeps produce. In German, they are called mäh, mäh!

August 10, 2019

German vowels can be long or short. You can often (but not always) tell from the spelling. and might help if you want to learn more about that.

The short "ä" is pronounced like the "e" in English words like "men", "bed", "met" and "get" for most English speakers (if "Männer" doesn't sound like it starts with the English word "men" in your accent, you'll need to find different words).

The long "ä" is the same sound but held for longer. The best way to practice it, in my opinion, is to imagine you're having to shout the words to someone far away: "Meeeeen! Beeeeed!" etc. :)

However, the long "ä" has merged with the long "e" (which sounds similar to "ay" in English but is closer to the French é or Spanish e) for quite a few German speakers (mostly northern accents) - those people would pronounce "Bären" and "Beeren" exactly the same. I don't know which words you're thinking of, but that might be what you're noticing.

Note that while the spelling often indicates whether the vowel is long or short, it's not the following sound or even which consonant follows that changes the vowel. For example, "Hütte" has a short "ü" followed by a "t", while "Hüte" has a long "ü" followed by a "t". "kämmen" has a short "ä" followed by an "m", while "kämen" has a long "ä" followed by an "m".

August 20, 2019

very interesting and thorough. thank you.

August 21, 2019, 8:23 AM
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