Umlaut-Extravaganza: the difference between U, Ü, O, Ö

There are a lot of difficult sounds we have to produce when speaking German: The soft and hard “ch”, the mid-word glottal stop in words like "er(-)innern (to remember), the German “R”… It’s quite literally a mouth full, but the better we get in producing these sounds, the more “German” we sound. :pretzel: :bear_happy::beer:

Today I talked to a student who had difficulties with the subtle difference between the terms “wir wurden” (we became) and “wir würden” (we would).
The phonetics of the “Umlaute” is a bit tricky, so I thought I give you some tips for ü😙 and ö😚

There’s a neat trick to get the basic pronunciation right:

  • Ö-Sound: say a German “e”. Then, without changing the position of your tongue, round your lips like you’d do when pronouncing the German “o”.

  • Ü-Sound: pronounce a German “i”. Then, without changing the position of your tongue, round your lips like you’d do when pronouncing the German “u”.

When producing the ö or ü, your lips should be rounded, almost like you are whistling. Whistle a single tone and focus on the shape of your lips. This will give you a hint on how your lips should be shaped when pronouncing these Umlaute (muted vowels).

To hear the difference, switch from u to ü multiple times. Same with o and ö. This is a great way to practice the sounds. You will notice that the position of your tongue will change each time. :kissing::kissing_smiling_eyes::kissing_closed_eyes:

…wait, there’s more :shushing_face:


If you nailed the basic ü and ö, you can practice the different versions. There’s a short/open and a long/closed pronunciation in each case. You probably noticed that some nouns form the plural by changing the stem vowel into a muted vowel. Here the noun is an indicator of how to pronounce the muted vowel in the plural: if it’s short in the noun, it stays short in the plural. If it’s long in the noun, it stays long in the plural.

Examples for short / open o, ö, u, ü:

  • das Loch - die Löcher

  • die Tochter - die Töchter

  • das Wort - die Wörter

  • der Kuss - die Küsse

  • die Luft - die Lüfte

  • die Wurst - die Würste

Long / closed o, ö, u, ü:

  • der Sohn - die Söhne

  • der Ton - die Töne

  • der Lohn - die Löhne


  • der Bruder - die Brüder

  • der Zug - die Züge

  • der Fuß - die Füße

Try saying “der offene Ofen”, and “die geöffneten Öfen”.

Do you notice the difference between the short and the long vowels?


Thank you so much @Toby! This is so useful :blush: This different sounds are always a challenge when one learns the language.


@Toby Danke - Ich werde dies versuchen


I just remembered these tips yesterday and made an English-speaking friend try it. It worked! :partying_face:


Yay, I’m glad it worked for your friend! Phonetics can be soooo tricky - having a step-by-step manual for certain sounds usually helps a lot. :+1:

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Wow this really works :grinning: :+1:

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Very nice info @Toby, to add a spark of humor I also tell students that you can form Ü or Ö by rounding your mouth as if saying U or O (respectively), and then just push the upper lip a bit forward as if making the typical “duckface” for selfies. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Always earns me a good fit of laughter or a broad smile, and it usually works. :wink: