How to Pronounce Stop Consonants or Plosives in German

1. March 2020


The German letters P, T and K and their little siblings B, D and G often create confusion when it comes to correct pronunciation. One should think that when a D is written, a D is also said.


Alas, the rules are a bit more complex.


Nevertheless, I can assure you that correct pronunciation of the plosives is no rocket science and I promise you that it is not difficult to get the rules of how to pronounce them.


Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to

Stop Consonants or Plosives:


They are defined as consonants that completely interrupt the air flow.

Furthermore, they are classified by their place of articulation and by whether their release is voiced or unvoiced.

Each place of articulation can produce a pair of consonants, the so-called cognates which differ only in their being voiced or unvoiced.

What both, the unvoiced and voiced plosives have in common is, that air builds up either behind the closed lips (p,b), behind the tip of the tongue (t,d) or behind the back of the tongue touching the soft palate (k,g).
The result is a more or less explosive sound.

Place of articlulation Unvoiced Voiced
  Lips P as in Puppe (doll) B as in krabbeln (to crawl)
  Tongue tip T as in tag (day) D as in Dach (roof)
  Tongue back K as in Kind (child) G as in Garten (garden)


So much for theory.  Now, let’s have a closer look at the cognates:


The cognates P and B


You pronounce “p”:

– in all spellings of “p” and the double consonant “pp”:

Platz (place), Knospe (blossom), Treppe (staircase)


– when a medial “b” is followed by a consonant:

trübt (blurrs), liebt (loves)


– when a word is spelled with a final b (including compound words):
lieb (dear)                 Lieb/haber (lover)
Lob (praise)                Lob/rede (eulogy)


Exceptions:
– when a medial “b” is followed by l, n, and r where a schwa-sound has been eliminated from the word stem, it is pronounced as “b”:
übel                     üb(e)ler               übler


– the combination “ph” is pronounced as “f”:
Prophet


You pronounce „b“:

– in all spellings of an initial b

Burg (castle), blau (blue), ver/borgen (concealed)


– when a medial “b” is followed by a vowel:

Leben (life), lieben (love)


– when a medial “b” is followed by l, n or r where a schwa has been eliminated from the word stem (see exceptions under b) above)


– in all spellings of “bb”

Ebbe (ebb)


The cognates T and D


You pronounce “t”:

– in all spellings of “t” ,“tt” and “dt”:

Tat (deed), beten (pray), betten (to bed), Stadt (city)


– when a medial “d” is followed by a consonant:

Widmung (dedication), einlädst (you invite)

Exception: when a medial “d” is followed by l, n or r where a schwa-sound has been eliminated from the word stem
edel (noble)               ed(e)ler                              edler


– when a word is spelled with a final d (including compound words):

Lied (song), und (and), Abend/licht (evening light)

This also applies when “d” becomes final due to truncation:

Gnade (mercy)          Gnad’


– in spellings of “th”:

Theater (theatre), katholisch (catholic)

Attention: in German, “th” is never pronounced in a way similar to the English “th” as in “the” or “throw”!


You pronounce “d”:

– when a word or element starts with the letter “d”

Dach (roof), ver/drängen (displace)


– when a medial „d“ is followed by a vowel:

reden (speak), verwandeln (change)


– when a medial “d” is followed by l, n or r where a schwa has been eliminated from the word stem (see exceptions under b) above)


in spellings of “dd”

Widder (aries)

Exception: when two consecutive d’s belong to two separate elements:

Abend/dämmerung (dusk)


The cognats K and G


You pronounce “k”:

– in all spellings of “k”, “ck” and “kk”

König (king), Haken (hook), Spuk (spectre), Akkord (chord), glücklich (happy)


– in spellings of “ch” in words of Greek origin only:

Charakter (character), Chor (choir)


– when a medial g is followed by a consonant:

trägt (carries), legte (laid)

Exception: when a medial “g” is followed by l, n or r where a schwa-sound has been eliminated from the word stem
eigen                           eig(e)ner                            eigner


– when a word is spelled with final “g” (including compound words):

Weg (way), Weg/rand (wayside)

This also applies when g becomes final due to truncation:

fliege( fly)                  flieg’


You pronounce “g”:

– when a word or element starts with the letter “g”

Garten (garden), Glanz (shine), grau (grey), Mond/glanz (moonshine)


– when a medial g is followed by a vowel:

Wagen (wagon), Regen (rain)


– when a medial “d” is followed by l, n or r here a schwa has been eliminated from the word stem (see exceptions under c) above)


– in spellings of “gg”:

Flagge (flag)

Exception: when two consecutive g’s belong to two separate elements:

Weg/geben (give away)

Attention: the German letter g is always pronounced like the English “g” in “garden”, never like the “g” in “geometry”!
Additionally, make sure you do not start the “g” with an “n”-sound. (Read my blog article on “Phantom Sounds”)


Conclusion


Now, this seems to be a lot of stuff to remember and a lot of exceptions to bear in mind.


On second look, however, you will see that the basic rules are the same and once you understand when to use what sound, it simplifies your life as a singer tremendously!

I would love to learn about your experiences with German pronunciation in general and the plosives in particular!
Please feel free to write me an email (email@thepronunciationcoach.com) and tell me all about it.

I am looking forward to hearing from you!