The German Umlaut

The German alphabet has 3 Umlauts – Ä, Ö and Ü.

These are symbols which describe the sound made by 2 adjoining vowels ("um" = around / "laut" = sound). They are not in themselves separate characters of the German alphabet.


In principle, they are easily pronounced, just as though they were a combination of the initial vowel plus “e”,

ä = “ae” , ö = “oe” and ü = “ue” .

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

Typing Umlauts on an English-language 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.

umlaut, german language, umlauts, diacritic

However, if you're regularly doing German translations or working in the German langugage then this is going to drive you quickly nuts. If you're techno-savvy you can programme easy shortcuts on your keyboard (so I read), if not, do consider purchasign a German language keyboard!

For those of you using an English-language keyboard (UK), then, according to my mum, 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):

UmlautAlt KeyUmlautAlt Key
Ä Alt 142ä Alt 132
Ö Alt 153ö Alt 148
Ü Alt 154ü Alt 129
….. …..ß Alt 225

Now just to be really confusing, here we have codes for the US keyboard (and it also works for my German keyboard:)

UmlautAlt KeyUmlautAlt Key
Ä Alt 0196ä Alt 0228
Ö Alt 0214ö Alt 0246
Ü Alt 0220ü Alt 0252
….. …..ß Alt 0223

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

Hold down the Option + U keys simultaneously (U stands for Umlaut), then release, then type the vowel you want as an Umlaut (a, o, u), either in its upper or lower case form, as required.

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 for internet based communications.

E.g.: A Herr Jörg Müller’s email address would be written out as follows:


When am I going to come across an 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 (See Wikipedia, Germanic Umlaut). 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 German language series include:

Guide to pronouncing the German alphabet

German currency – the Euro!

German holidays and customs

Common German abbreviations, their meanings and translations

The world of German SMS language – from A to L

The world of German SMS abbreviations – from M to Z

German loan words – so familiar we forget they’re German!

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