How Many Letters are in the German Alphabet?
The German alphabet (a.k.a. das Deutsche ABC) consists of the standard 26 letters, which are known to the English speaker, as well as four additional letters that are sometimes a bit confusing to beginners. The German alphabet letters (a.k.a. die Buchstaben) that exceed the standard 26 are:
- ß or ss (s-z ligature only spelled in lower case)
Using German Letters of the Alphabet after the 1996 Spelling Reform
Students working with the German alphabet will notice that letters and communications drafted prior to 1996 are sometimes radically different than contemporary writings. When the 1996 spelling reform took a long, hard look at the German alphabet, it changed some of the methods for letter usage. The s-z ligature underwent the most far-reaching change in use.
The ß may be used after diphthongs (usually ei, au, eu, eh, or nu) and long vowels, including Ä/ä, Ö/ö and Ü/ü. The double-s (ss) must be used after short vowels, once again including Ä/ä, Ö/ö and Ü/ü. For example, ‘küssen’ (to kiss) features a short ü and thus demands the use of ss. On the other hand the word ‘Füße’ (feet) features the long ü and therefore offers the opportunity for the use of the s-z ligature.
Understanding Consonant Groupings and Double Vowels
While it is common in English to see a single letter c, in German letter writing it is rare to see a standalone letter c — unless it is accompanied by an h or a k that immediately follows. Common consonant groupings include the ck, ch, ph, pf, qu, sch, sp, st and th. With respect to vowels, German alphabet letter groupings include the double vowels of ai, au, ei, ie, eu and äu.
Using the Computer Keyboard for German Alphabet Letters: ALT Codes
English-speaking students of the German language sometimes transliterate the German ä as an ae in letters and other written communications. Although in a pinch this might be acceptable, it is frowned upon when drafting correspondence or addressing anyone other than a close personal friend.
The good news is that with just a bit of computer savvy, these letters may become part and parcel of the English keyboard. Relying on ALT-codes is the quickest method possible to incorporate the letters into daily written correspondence.
- Enable the Num Lock key on the right side of the keyboard. The numbers must be typed in via this keyboard, not the top row of numbers that appear above the letter keys!
- Hold down the ALT key while typing in 0228 for a lower case ä.
- ALT + 0196 for an upper case Ä
- ALT + 0246 for a lower case ö
- ALT + 0214 for an upper case Ö
- ALT + 0252 for a lower case ü
- ALT + 0220 for an upper case Ü
- ALT + 0223 for the ß
With the keyboard equipped to handle German alphabet letters, it is now time to learn how to write various letters and other written communications.
This post is part of the series: Corresponding in Written German: Letters for Business, Love and Fun
- German Alphabet Letters for Writers
- Tips on Eliminating False Friends in German
- How to Write German Letters in a Business Environment: Wirtschaftsdeutsch
- Writing Sweet German Love Letters and Phrases: Liebesbriefe