German/Level I/Bitte buchstabieren Sie

Lesson I.3: Bitte buchstabieren Sie

This lesson is about the German alphabet. We also have a closer look at the word order in questions and at articles.

Dialogue edit

Read and listen to this short phone conversation. Try to read it aloud. The translation of words and phrases is given below the text.

Dialogue: Directory Assistance — Fernsprechauskunft
Auskunft Auskunft, guten Tag.
Franz Guten Tag. Ich hätte gerne die Telefonnummer von Frau Claudia Bolliger aus Bern.
Auskunft Wie schreibt man das? Bitte buchstabieren Sie.
Franz Natürlich. Claudia: C wie Cäsar, L wie Ludwig, A wie Anton, U wie Ursula, D wie Dora, I wie Ida, A
wie Anton. Bolliger: B wie Berta, O wie Otto, zweimal L wie Ludwig, I wie Ida, G wie Gustav, E wie
Emil und R wie Richard.
Auskunft Danke. Die Nummer lautet ...
Vocabulary: Vocabulary — Wortschatz
English German
the directory assistance die Auskunft
I would like to have... Ich hätte gern(e) ...
the phone number die Telefonnummer
from Berne aus Bern
How do you write this? Wie schreibt man das?
please bitte
(to) spell buchstabieren
of course natürlich
A as in Anton A wie Anton
twice zweimal
The number is... Die Nummer lautet ...
Problems: Working with the dialogue
By now you might be familiar with the tasks:
  1. Translate the dialogue to English.
  2. Listen to the recording without reading and try to understand the meaning of the words.
  3. Read the dialogue aloud.
  4. Listen to the recording without reading and write down the dialogue in German.
  1. Translation to English:
    Assistant: Directory assistance, hello.
    Franz: Hello, I would like to have the phone number of Mrs. Claudia Bolliger from Berne.
    Assistant: How do you write the name? Please spell it.
    Franz: Of course. Claudia: C as in Cäsar, L as in Ludwig, A as in Anton, ...
    Assistant: Thanks. The number is...

The German Alphabet edit

Grammar: The Alphabet — Das Alphabet
Characters Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Umlauts Ää Öö SS ß Üü
Examples Ärger (anger) Ökonom (economist) Übermut (high spirits)

The 26 letters in both German and English are shown above. One, the ligature ß (eszett or scharfes s), is written as SS if capitalized; however, it is pronounced just like a normal s. It is only used when the preceding vowel is long, for example: der Fuß (the foot). Note that the ß is not used in Switzerland. There you always write double s instead, even after long vowels. For example: der Fuss (the foot).

Another difference between German and English is the umlaut. The vowels a, o, and u can take an umlaut (the double dots above), becoming ä, ö, and ü. The umlaut changes the sound of the vowel. For pronunciations of all the letters, go to the pronunciation guide.


  • In English, the word umlaut refers to the two dots. The German word Umlaut usually refers to one of the vowels ä, ö, or ü.
  • In German, the vowels ä, ö, and ü are even used when spelling; i.e., you make the sound of an ö (like the "u" in "turn") instead of saying "o umlaut". Common words used to clarify a given letter are Ärger (anger), Ökonom (economist) and Übermut (high spirits). To say "umlaut" after the letter is an English custom used when spelling German words in English.
  • If there is no way to type the umlaut, the vowels ä, ö, and ü must be substituted with ae, oe, and ue. This spelling is also used in some names, e.g. Goethe, or in crosswords.
  • In most search engines and online dictionaries, a vowel with umlaut can be entered as either the simple vowel or in vowel-plus-e form. For example, if you wish to find Ärger you may enter any of the following three search strings: Ärger, Aerger, or even the incorrect Arger.
  • Unless you have a German keyboard with the special German letters, you will have to use one of the following ways to type the umlaut.
  • On a Macintosh, hold down the Option key and type “u” (this will create an umlaut), then let go of the Option key and type the vowel you want to put the umlaut on. The Option key and “s” will produce ß.
  • In Windows, you will need to use the Alt key and numbers from the right side of your keyboard. Windows users also have the option of setting their keyboard settings to “English-international”, which allows them to create umlauts by typing a quotation mark before the umlauted vowel.
  • Linux users can generally designate a Compose key using their keyboard configuration options in their system settings (or alternatively if such menu is not available may use commandline programs xmodmap, or setxkbmap), from then on allow the user to enter umlaut letters by pressing the Compose key plus the Double Quotation Mark key and then the designated letter. The ß can also be created by pressing the Compose key and then pressing the “s” key twice.
Misc.: Alt keys for German characters — Alt-Tastenkombinationen für deutsche Buchstaben
ß Alt + 0223
ü Alt + 0252
Ü Alt + 0220
ö Alt + 0246
Ö Alt + 0214
ä Alt + 0228
Ä Alt + 0196
Problems: The German Alphabet

1. Recite the alphabet as fast as you can. If you want, try to get your time under four seconds.

2. Try to spell your name out loud. Spell others' names out loud, too, until you get the hang of it.

3. Spell the following words aloud:

  1. warum
  2. Franz
  3. Mädchen
  4. gut
  5. woher
  6. danke
  7. Herr
  8. morgen
  9. bis dann
  10. wiedersehen

There is no answer for this.

Articles edit

In English and German, there are two different types of articles: definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a and an). In German, however, there are different forms of each type of article. Here we discuss only the articles of subject nouns (the most important nouns in sentences, which are in the so-called nominative case). In this case, the form of the article depends only on the gender and number (singular or plural) of the noun.

The three genders of German nouns are: masculine (examples for masculine nouns are Junge (boy) or Mann (man)), feminine (e.g., Frau (woman) or Blume (flower)) and neuter (e.g., Haus (house) or Mädchen (girl)). The forms of the definite and indefinite articles for nouns of the three genders are given in the following table. For plural nouns the definite article is always die and (as in English) there is no indefinite article for plural nouns.

Grammar: The Definite Article in the Nominative Case — Der bestimmte Artikel im Nominativ
German English
singular masculine der Junge the boy
feminine die Frau the woman
neuter das Mädchen* the girl
plural masculine die Jungen the boys
feminine die Frauen the women
neuter die Mädchen the girls

*Note that Mädchen is neuter. (In fact, almost all words with the ending -chen are neuter.)

Grammar: The Indefinite Article in the Nominative Case — Der unbestimmte Artikel im Nominativ
German English
singular masculine ein Mann a man
feminine eine Frau a woman
neuter ein Mädchen* a girl

*Note that Mädchen is neuter.

Problems: Articles
Fill in the blanks in these conversations.
  1. Heißt _____ Mädchen Ulrike?
  2. Nein, _____ Mädchen heißt Ute.
  3. O.K. Und wie heißt _____ Frau?
  4. Sie heißt Frau Schmidt.
  5. Und wer ist _____ Mann?
  6. Das ist _____ Lehrer.
  7. Wie heißt er?
  8. _____ Lehrer heißt Herr Schmidt.
  1. Heißt das Mädchen Ulrike?
  2. Nein, das Mädchen heißt Ute.
  3. O.K. Und wie heißt die Frau?
  4. Sie heißt Frau Schmidt.
  5. Und wer ist der Mann?
  6. Das ist der Lehrer.
  7. Wie heißt er?
  8. Der Lehrer heißt Herr Schmidt.

Test edit

The test consists of three parts: grammar, vocabulary, and translation. The grammar part is about articles, the vocabulary about question words, and the translation is very similar to the dialogue of this lesson.

Problems: Grammar
Translate the following phrases using the correct article.
  1. a boy
  2. the boy
  3. a man
  4. the man
  5. the boys
  6. a girl
  7. the woman
  8. the girls
  9. a woman
  10. the girl
  11. the women
  1. ein Junge
  2. der Junge
  3. ein Mann
  4. der Mann
  5. die Jungen
  6. ein Mädchen
  7. die Frau
  8. die Mädchen
  9. eine Frau
  10. das Mädchen
  11. die Frauen
Problems: Vocabulary
Translate from English to German:
  1. why?
  2. how?
  3. what?
  4. where?
  5. who?
  6. when?
  1. warum?
  2. wie?
  3. was?
  4. wo?
  5. wer?
  6. wann?
Problems: Translation
Translate from English to German:
  1. Hello! I would like to have the phone number of Mrs. Susanne Meyer from Berlin.
  2. How do you write this? Please spell it.
  3. B as in Berta, E as in Emil, R as in Richard, L as in Ludwig, I as in Ida, N as in Nordpol.
  4. Berlin? No! How do you spell Meyer?
  5. M as in Martha, E as in Emil, Y as in Ypsilon, E as in Emil, R as in Richard.
  6. Thanks. The number is...
  1. Hallo! Ich hätte gern die Nummer von Frau Susanne Meyer aus Berlin.
  2. Wie schreibt man das? Bitte buchstabieren Sie.
  3. B wie Berta, E wie Emil, R wie Richard, L wie Ludwig, I wie Ida, N wie Nordpol.
  4. Berlin? Nein! Wie schreibt man Meyer?
  5. M wie Martha, E wie Emil, Y wie Ypsilon, E wie Emil, R wie Richard.
  6. Danke. Die Nummer lautet ...

(edit template)   Level I Lessons (discussion)

  I.0 Introduction

Section I.A:   I.1 Wie heißt du? (1. Teil)  I.2 Wie heißt du? (2. Teil)  I.3 Bitte buchstabieren Sie  Review Section I.A

Section I.B:   I.4 Freizeit  I.5 Geburtstag  I.6 Essen  Review Section I.B

Section I.C:   I.7 Kleidung  I.8 Familie und Nationalität  I.9 Schule  Review Section I.C

Section I.D:   I.10 Das Fest  I.11 Privileg und Verantwortung  I.12 Wetter  Review Section I.D

Section I.E:   I.13 Zu Hause essen  I.14 Filme  I.15 Das Haus  Review Section I.E