The German Umlaut

There are 3 German umlauts:  Ä, Ö and Ü


An umlaut is a symbol which describes the sound made by 2 adjoining vowels ("um" = around / "laut" = sound).

They are not separate characters of the German alphabet.

  • Ä  =  A + E  ("ae")
  • Ö  = O + E  ("oe")
  • Ü  =  U + E  ("ue")

They are easy to pronounce, and sound like a combination of the initial vowel, plus “e”.

The 2 dots above the letter are called diacritic marks, and simply symbolize the “missing” e.



Typing German Umlauts on an English-language keyboard

German umlautUmlauts on the right-hand side of a German keyboard

It's fine to write “ae”, “oe” and “ue” when you don’t have a German keyboard, although you can insert them in the form of symbols.

However, if you're regularly working in the German langugage, this will quickly drive you nuts.

If you're techno-savvy you can programme easy shortcuts on your keyboard (so I read).

If not, consider purchasing a German language keyboard!

For those of you using an English-language keyboard (UK), just use this list of commands on the numeric keypad to the right of your keyboard (or number-lock if you don’t have the keypad):

Umlaut

ALT key

Umlaut

ALT key

Ä

ALT 142

ä

ALT 132

Ö

ALT 153

ö

ALT 148

Ü

ALT 154

ü

ALT 129

Now just to be really confusing, here we have codes for the US keyboard - which also works for my German keyboard:

Umlaut

ALT key

Umlaut

ALT key

Ä

ALT 0196

ä

ALT 0228

Ö

ALT 0214

ö

ALT 0246

Ü

ALT 0220

ü

ALT 0252

And if you work on a Mac, according to my research you simply:

  • ä, ö, ü: press Option + u keys (u stands for Umlaut),  then type the vowel you want as an Umlaut (a, o, u)
  • Ä, Ö, Ü: press Option + u, and then press Shift + the vowel you want as an umlaut


German Umlauts on the web

The web doesn’t like non-standard letters, and so if there is an umlaut in a person’s name, for example, you should write their name out in full.

E.g.:  Herr Jörg Müller’s email address would be written out as  joerg.mueller@xxxx.xx


Where will I meet a German Umlaut?

1. Umlauts often signify that a noun is in its plural form, e.g.:

  • Hand – Hände
  • Apfel – Äpfel
  • Haus – Häuser


2. They are often found in the comparative form, e.g.:

  • groß – größer ( large-larger)
  • alt-älter ( old – older)


3. They also appear in the second and third person singular in the present tense of several strong German verbs, e.g.:

  • Backen ( to bake): ich backe, du bäckst, er/sie/es bäckt
  • Fangen ( to catch): ich fange, du fängst, er/sie/es fängt
  • Laufen (to run): ich laufe, du läufst, er/sie/es läuft


If you’re looking for more background and indepth linguistic information on the German umlaut and its origins, then Wikipedia (of course!) it probably a good starting point .

But if you just need to know how to use them, then I hope that, for most of us, the information above will suffice!


Other articles in this series:



Joanna Scudamore-Trezek

I'm a German to English translator living and working in Vienna,  Austria.  I turn German texts into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly and effectively.  How can I help you today?