How to pronounce German words with ‘ei’ and ‘ie’


Unlike the chap in the video, I have not come across anybody who had problems saying “ich liebe Sie”, but sometimes my students struggle with the pronunciation of  German nouns with  ‘ie’ and ‘ei’ and they often mix them up.

And yet, there are two very easy tricks for English speakers. Both are pronounced like the last of those two letters in English.

1.The German letter combination of e+i is pronounced like the English i

Can you pronounce these words correctly?

Arbeit, alkoholfrei, bei, Bäckerei,  Bücherei,  Datei, drei, Druckerei, Ei, frei, Gärtnerei, Kleid,  Konditorei,  Malerei, Polizei, Preis, vorbei, Zeit, zwei

Check your answers:

2. The German letter combination of i+e is pronounced like the English e

How about these words?

Allergie, Bier, buchstabieren, Fliege, fotografieren, frieren, Klavier, Liebe, probieren, sieben, Spaziergang, spielen, tief, vier, wie.

Check your answers:

Now the big test! How about these words?

Arbeitsgebiet, Beispiel, Betriebszeit, Fliegerei, Liebelei, Siezerei, vielleicht

Check your answers here:

And – yes, you’ve guessed it – some exceptions!

Sometimes we pronounce words ending in ‘ie’ not as ‘e’ but as individual letters.
For example: Akazie, Bakterie, Familie, Linie, Prämie, Serie, Tragödie,
or plurals:
Batterie, Batterien,
Galerie, Galerien,
Hai, Haie,
Knie, Knie,
Kopie, Kopien

Which leaves me with two final verbs ‘schießen’ and ‘scheißen’ , where all I can say is “don’t get your ‘ei’ and ‘ie’ mixed up” ☺

For more information about the German alphabet and how to pronounce the letters, check out my online course The German ABC – a complete guide to pronunciation 

8 thoughts on “How to pronounce German words with ‘ei’ and ‘ie’”

  1. Even after speaking German daily for almost 30 years if I write more than a sentence or two in German then you can be sure i will get at least one ‘ee-ay’ the wrong way wrong (despite never when speaking). I will also get at least one article, one ending, one Umlaut and one ‘ ß’ wrong at least…and I have a university level language diploma!
    Mind you, an awful lot of Germans can’t write ‘fehlerfrei’ either, infact in a class of 25 native German adults I used to score among the top 3 for grammar which rather shocked me.

    Doing my daily German exercises a few minutes ago, I still forgot the umlaut on “Schlüssel” …ouch! Oh and I wrote ‘Schrank’ without the ‘c’!

    • Germans not writing fehlerfrei? Never! ☺

      One big problem is that we make mistakes in any language, including our native one, but we worry more about the foreign languages and get frustrated.
      You may forget the umlaut on Schlüssel, but the main thing is that you don’t forget to take it with you – unlike my neighbour, who locked himself out the other day!

      • One day the teacher or tutor asked us, a class of 25 adult native German speakers and meine Wenigkeit (NB for other readers that means something like ‘and little old me’) if anyone knew the imperfect tense of the verb ‘laufen’. No one, not even me, did. (it’s ‘lief’ btw). And we had all levels of academic achievement in that group – Abi and Uni included as well as Volks, Real and Haupt (Abi = A levels, the others are types of german schools and their leaving exams).

        • That does surprise me. I wonder if it was the term ‘imperfect’ (or Präteritum as the Germans call it) that they didn’t know. As native speakers we say grammatical things automatically without thinking (or knowing) what the case, tense etc… is.

          • “(or Präteritum as the Germans call it)”

            IME only Germans who went to the Gymnasium (that’s a grammar school/6th form) use the Latin terms for parts of speech. I may speak of ‘Nomen’ and ‘Verben’ but The Bestest Frau In The World, who went to the Realschule, talks of ‘Hauptwort’ and ‘Tätigkeitswort’.

            I don’t recall how the tutor formulated the question, I have a feeling he asked us for the ‘the simple past tense’ but i do remember he gave us examples of what he meant by ‘simple past’…ie ‘schlief’ etc
            This was in Emden in the early 90s and at that time there was an outbreak of what I always call the ‘Toot Toots’. A lot of Germans would say things like ‘der nicht sprechen tut’ which always sounded painful to my foreign ears and I often found myself correcting some native speaker my age, for it tended to be the younger generation at that time, who was overusing the verb ‘tun’.

    • LOL, the worst one I ever heard was ‘tut nicht tun’.
      I believe that the Hauptschule taught ‘tu(n)wörter (both spellings)’, the Real ‘Taetigkeitswörter’ and Gymnasium ‘Verben’. But that may have all changed since my time….and the Uni seemed to teach only ‘Fremdwörter’, I recall a lot of Uni students using words that they actually didn’t know the meaning of inorder to sound ‘gebildet’. But don’t let me get started on a rant against Fremdwörterei because I could bore for England (and Germany) on that subject. Just watching the 19:00 Heute every evening has me shouting at the laptop “THERE IS A PERFECTLY GOOD GERMAN WORD FOR THAT, Babsi Hahlweg!!”

      • Agreed! So many lovely German words seem to be disappearing because the English equivalent is so much cooler. It does make life easier for German learners but it makes me sad and/ or annoyed.
        Maybe we need to start a new trend and introduce lots of German words into the English language!


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