The 3 German Umlauts: Ä, Ö, Ü in the German Alphabet with Examples

If you’re learning German, you have already run into some strange letters and symbols like these: ä, ö, ü. And you might even wonder what they are?

Well, these are the 3 German umlauts that you have to use both in written German and when you’re in the middle of a German conversation. Easy German made a super easy video on how to pronounce and use these sounds:

In this blog post, we’ll answer all you want to know about the German umlauts and give you tons of examples on how and when to use them. Ready?

Los geht’s! (Let’s go!)

1. What are German umlauts?

Effortless Answers

German umlauts are special marks that we put over certain vowels to change their sound. German has three umlauts: ä, ö, and ü. These umlauts make a big difference in the meaning of words.

So, it’s pretty important to learn them correctly. Let’s break it down a little bit:

  1. Ä (also called a-umlaut): This changes the sound of the letter ‘a’. Without the umlaut, ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in “Vater.” With the umlaut, ‘ä’ sounds more like the ‘e’ in English “bed” or in German “Männer“.
  2. Ö (also called o-umlaut): This changes the sound of the letter ‘o’. Without the umlaut, ‘o’ is pronounced like the ‘o’ in “g.” With the umlaut, ‘ö’ sounds like the ‘i’ in “bird” but with rounded lips: “möchte“.
  3. Ü (also called u-umlaut): This changes the sound of the letter ‘u’. Without the umlaut, ‘u’ is pronounced like the ‘u’ in “Mund.” With the umlaut, ‘ü’ sounds a bit like the ‘u’ in “lure,” but you round your lips more: “übrigens“.

These umlauts also change the meanings of the words. Look out for them:

Without UmlautWith Umlaut
Mann (man)Männer (men)
Mutter (mother)Mütter (mothers)
schon (already)schön (beautiful)
Apfel (apple)Äpfel (apples)
Bruder (brother)Brüder (brothers)
Tot (dead)Töt (kills)
voll (full)völlig (completely)
Schloss (castle)Schlösser (castles)
gleich (same)gleichen (equal)
Köchin (cook – female)Küchen (kitchens)
Fluss (river)Flüsse (rivers)
Buch (book)Bücher (books)
Gast (guest)Gäste (guests)
Vogel (bird)Vögel (birds)
Wort (words)Wörter (words)

2. The history of German umlaut

The term “umlaut” has an interesting origin and meaning. It combines two parts: “um” and “Laut.”

  • “Um”: This part means “around” or “about.”
  • “Laut”: This means “sound.”

So, when you put it together, “umlaut” essentially means “around-sound” or “altered sound.” This makes sense because an umlaut changes the way a vowel sounds by altering it slightly.

In linguistics, an umlaut is a type of vowel mutation.

german umlauts flying through a mirror

The vowel changes because of the influence of another vowel in the word. In some cases, the vowel in the root of a word changes when certain suffixes are added. This is a historical process that has affected many words in the language – we already listed some of them in the table above.

3. How to use umlauts in German: ä

The vowel ä appears in words where it changes the pronunciation and sometimes the meaning compared to words with ‘a’.

It is pronounced like the ‘e’ in “bed”.

Here are some examples to help you understand how ä is used in German words:

GermanEnglish
ÄpfelApples
MädchenGirl
BärBear
KäseCheese
MännerMen
WälderForests
KälteColdness
HändeHands
GebäudeBuilding
SängerSinger

As you can see in the table, the umlaut ä often appears in plural forms (like “Äpfel” from “Apfel” for apples and “Männer” from “Mann” for men), in diminutives (like “Mädchen” for girl), and in some other common words.

In German sentences, it would look like this:

  • Die Äpfel sind rot. (The apples are red.)
  • Das Mädchen spielt im Park. (The girl plays in the park.)

4. German umlaute: ö

The vowel ö is pronounced somewhat like the ‘i’ in “bird,” but again, with rounded lips.

It can change the meaning of words compared to those with ‘o’.

Here are some examples of ö:

GermanEnglish
SchönBeautiful
ÖlOil
KönigKing
LöffelSpoon
HörenTo hear
HöhleCave
BrötchenBread roll
TöpfePots
MöbelFurniture
VögelBirds

In these examples, the umlaut ö often changes the word’s sound and can also alter its meaning. For instance, “schon” (already) becomes “schön” (beautiful in German) with the addition of the umlaut.

To get the pronunciation right, focus on rounding your lips more than you would for the sound ‘o’ in English.

In full sentences:

  • Das ist ein schönes Bild. (That is a beautiful picture.)
  • Der König regiert das Land. (The king rules the country.)

5. Learn the German u umlaut: ü

The vowel ü is pronounced somewhat like the ‘u’ in “lure,” but you round your lips more.

It can completely change the meaning of words compared to those with ‘u’.

Here are some examples of ü in German words:

GermanEnglish
MütterMothers
MünchenMunich
TüreDoor
BlümchenLittle flower
FünfFive
SüßSweet
GrünGreen
BrückeBridge
KühlschrankRefrigerator
GlückLuck/Happiness

In these examples, the umlaut ü often appears in both singular and plural forms (like “Mütter” from “Mutter” for mothers).

Check this real-life example:

  • Die Mütter kümmern sich um die Kinder. (The mothers take care of the children.)
  • Der Kühlschrank ist voll. (The refrigerator is full.)

6. German umlaut combinations: äu

The combination äu is a diphthong: it consists of two vowel sounds that glide together within the same syllable.

Äu is pronounced like the “oy” in the English word “boy.” This makes it a bit easier to remember and pronounce for English speakers.

To pronounce it correctly, you can start with sound ‘a’ as in “cat” but shorter – the glide into the sound ‘u’ as in “moon” but keep it rounded.

The äu combination often results from historical vowel changes in the German language. Many words with äu originated from older forms where an ‘a’ was influenced by surrounding sounds to change into ‘äu’.

A few examples:

GermanEnglish
HäuserHouses
BäumeTrees
TräumeDreams
GebäudeBuildings
MäuseMice

And in German conversations, you could say these examples:

  • Die Häuser in der Stadt sind sehr alt. (The houses in the city are very old.)
  • Ich habe letzte Nacht viele schöne Träume gehabt. (I had many beautiful dreams last night.)

7. How to type the German umlauts on a keyboard (phone, PC & Mac)

Learning and using German umlauts is just one thing. Typing German umlauts is another. Using them in written text can differ based on what kind of device you are using.

how to type german umlauts on devices

We made the ultimate guide for you, so you always know how to enter umlauts in German:

Typing Umlauts on a Smartphone

  1. Open the keyboard on your Android or iPhone.
  2. Press and hold the letter you want to add an umlaut to (a, o, u).
  3. A pop-up menu will appear with various options.
  4. Slide your finger to the umlaut (ä, ö, ü) without lifting it from the screen.
  5. Release your finger to select the desired character.

Typing Umlauts on a PC (Windows)

There’s two ways to type German umlauts on a PC.

Using the Alt Code

  1. Ensure Num Lock is on.
  2. Hold down the Alt key and type the appropriate numeric code on the numeric keypad.
  • ä: Alt + 0228
  • ö: Alt + 0246
  • ü: Alt + 0252
  • Ä: Alt + 0196
  • Ö: Alt + 0214
  • Ü: Alt + 0220

Using the International Keyboard

  1. Go to Control Panel > Clock, Language, and Region > Change keyboards or other input methods.
  2. Click on Change keyboards.
  3. Add a new keyboard and select United States-International.
  4. Apply and save the settings.
  5. Now, to type umlauts:
  • ä: Press “ ” (double quotation marks) + a
  • ö: Press “ ” + o
  • ü: Press “ ” + u
  • Ä, Ö, Ü: Use the Shift key as usual (Shift + ” + letter)
  1. (Alternatively, you can choose a German keyboard input and use the German umlauts just like they appear on your keyboard.)

Typing Umlauts on a Mac (macOS)

Just like with a PC, you can also type umlauts on a Mac in two different ways:

Direct Typing Method

  1. Press and hold the letter you want to type (a, o, u).
  2. A menu will appear with various accented versions of the letter.
  3. Select the correct umlauted letter (ä, ö, ü) either by clicking on it or by pressing the corresponding number.

Keyboard Shortcuts

  1. Option (⌥) key + the letter u (this creates the umlaut diacritic).
  2. Release the Option key and then press the letter you want the umlaut over (a, o, u).
  • ä: Option + u, then a
  • ö: Option + u, then o
  • ü: Option + u, then u
  • Ä, Ö, Ü: Use the Shift key as usual (Option + u, then Shift + letter)

Learn how to pronounce German umlauts with Conversation Based Chunking

If you follow the steps and details described to you in this blog post, you’ll learn to correctly use the German umlauts in no time!

One effective method to get the true feeling of umlauts in German is Conversation Based Chunking. Chunking helps you along the way of your language learning journey because it does NOT want to teach you boring grammar rules – instead, it helps you focus on what’s truly important.

Immerse yourself in the language, have a lot of input from the language, so you can have the best output. Sign up now and get your first German Conversation Based Chunking Guide where I also share my favorite resources to learn German!

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