A question was received:


>Perhaps you have explained the absence of them already, but I have yet

>to see any umlauts above any vowels. If you are just adding an E, how

>are we to know the words with the e already in them from the e that you

>have added?


Herr Professor Pastor Doktor John M. Freiherr von Drueckhammer answers:


The word "Umlaut" indicates a change in sound.

The punctuation mark "Umlaut" is two dots above a vowel. It is like a colon on end. It is used only with "a," "o," or "u."

German has the option of adding "e" after the vowel to indicate the same change in sound. For example, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote his name that way, without the umlaut.

In fact, in older German printing, one often finds a tiny little "e" above the vowel to indicate this change in sound. The later form of the Umlaut developed from this tiny "e." It is easier in handwriting and just as clear.

I am writing "e" after the vowel in these lessons simply because Umlauts are not rendered the same way on all computer platforms. Tilde yes, Umlaut no. Such is life.

"A," "o," and "u" are "back vowels," vowels pronounced more in the back of the mouth. "E" and "i" are "front vowels," being pronounced more in the front of the mouth. The idea seems to be that the German speaker is getting reader for a later front vowel by pronouncing that back vowel more in the front. That may not make sense to you. If it does not, DON'T WORRY (be happy). But that is the only explanation I have ever found.

For the pronunciation of "ae," "oe," and "ue," see the pronunciation guide. There will NOT be any confusion for the simple fact that "e" NEVER occurs after "a," "o," or "u," except to indicate this sound-change--and "e" NEVER stands for the sound-change except when it comes immediately after one of these vowels. Since one should "never say never," I will stipulate that if there is any exception, it would occur in using a foreign word in German.

We have a few remnants of this sound-change in old English plurals: man to men, woman to women, goose to geese; also in the change from masculine to feminine in the case: fox to vixen. In each case, that is a change from a back vowel sound to a front vowel sound (even when we do not indicate it in spelling: women/wimmen).

By the way, the Umlaut is IGNORED in alphabetization; so if you are looking for a German word in a German dictionary, do not take the Umlaut (or following "e") into account.

I hope this answer is helpful and sufficient. Thanks again for asking.

John M. "Herr Professor Pastor Doktor" Drickamer, Lakeview, Oregon

Previous Lesson

Deutsch Menu

CAT 41 Main Menu

Next Lesson
These lessons are a service provided by Confess And Teach For Unity (CAT41.org) and the Rev. Dr. John M. Drickamer, Th.D., for the benefit of Confessional Lutheran pastors and laity. Dr. Drickamer retains all rights to these lessons under applicable copyright laws. To subscribe/unsub: send a blank note to <Deutsch-on@CAT41.org> / <Deutsch-off@CAT41.org>. For more information, or if any of the links on this page don't seem to work, please contact the CAT 41 Web Administrator at <web@CAT41.org>. Posted 10/21/99. Last Modified 11/15/99.