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Donkey with coffee

Kapitel 5: Diphthongs and Triphthongs

This chapter takes a closer look at sound- and letter-combinations in German involving vowels. Diphthongs, as the name suggests, consist of two vowels, while triphthongs consist of three vowels.

1. DIPHTHONGS

A diphthong is a vocalic double sound. This means that one vowel "merges" with the other. Just think of English words like house (diphthong: [aʊ]), eye (diphthong: [aɪ]), and boy (diphthong: [ɔɪ]). You really should be able to pronounce any and all German words with complete ease… The following are the three diphthongs in German: au, ei/ai, and eu/ä.

Click on the audio symbol to hear the pronunciation of these words. Roll mouse over German text to view English translations.

Diphthong Phonetic Symbol Examples
au [aʊ] das Haus die Maus laufen
ai / ei [aɪ] das Einzelkind Freitag im Mai
eu / äu [ɔɪ] das Neujahr deutsch läufst

There is one more diphthong that occurs pretty much in one interjection only: [ʊɪ] as in Pfui! (yuck!)

Note the difference between the 'ie' and the 'ei' sequence! The former is pronounced like the 'e' in the English "even", whereas the latter is pronounced like "I":

Point of interest: You may encounter some dialects in Germany which have a few more diphthongs than the German you have been learning in Deutsch im Blick. For example, High-Bavarian has two additional diphthongs: ua and oa.

Diphthong Example from High-Bavarian
ua Bua "Bub" (boy)
oa zwoa "zwei" (two)

2. TRIPHTHONGS

A triphthong is a sound that consists of three vowel sounds and forms exactly one syllable – as you can imagine, the number of triphthongs in standard German is very limited.

Click on the audio symbol to hear the pronunciation of the words. Roll mouse over German text to view English translations.

Triphthong Phonetic Symbol Examples
iau / jau [jaʊ] Miau jauchzen jaulen
aue [aʊɛ] klauen trauen schauen
aua [aʊa] Aua

Triphthongs are scarce in Standard German because they were simplified over time into diphthongs and simple vowels. However, in certain dialects like Styrian (Austrian dialect) or Bernese Swiss German diphthongs and triphthongs appear more often.

Point of interest: There is another subgroup of vowel clusters composed of a diphthong plus a dark schwa (remember Kapitel 4?). They inevitably include an e + and r:

[aɪɒ] die Eier die Feier
[ɔɪɒ] euer das Feuer
[aʊɒ] Bauer sauer dauern

Finally, here are some fun tongue-twisters for you to practice with!

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