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I mean the “official” or “traditional” alphabet, such as the one taught in schools to children. Is the ordering the same as English? Does it include ‘C’, which I notice never seems to show up in native-German words? Does it include ü, ö, ä, and ß? If so, where? Does that mean Germans think of the alphabet as having 30 letters? Or is it less than that with some of them considered variants?

It may seem like a silly question, but my wife was asking and I honestly don't know because I don't think I was ever taught these things in German class in college. I never thought about it at the time.

EDIT: To clarify, the question is: how do native Germans[1] think about their alphabet? For example, Swedes drop ‘w’ from their alphabet and tack ‘å’, ‘ä’, and ‘ö’ onto the end. Spanish speakers consider ‘ñ’ (and, depending on who you ask, ‘ch’ and ‘ll’) to be different letters, but unlike the Swedes they have inserted these into the alphabet in dictionary order. They do not consider accented characters like é to be separate letters. Speaking from that context, how then do Germans think about their alphabet?

[1] Recognizing that there will be some variation between Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.

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C shows up a lot, in combination with H and K. –  Phira Jun 5 '11 at 9:45
But CK not at the beginning of words. –  bernd_k Jun 5 '11 at 9:59
@bernd_k no, because I'm asking about both interpretations. –  maaku Jun 5 '11 at 10:19
Celle. –  RegDwight Jun 5 '11 at 21:44
Note that the spelling rules clearly list all 30 letters without differentiating between A–Z and the other four. And this is as official as you can get. Claiming that the German alphabet has only 26 letters is only to confuse school children. –  Wrzlprmft Jan 16 '14 at 22:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I learned in school that the alphabet has 26 letters, A to Z, that was in the 1970s and 80s in Germany. Somehow the umlauts and the eszet were never mentioned when the alphabet was enumerated, I suppose because they are not considered proper letters in German.

As for the letter "c", we have plenty of them, but in german words they only occur in the combinations "sch", "ch" and "ck". These is no special handling for such combinations in german.

As for the ordering, in dictionaries and encyclopedias the umlauts are sorted like the base letter, e.g. "ä" is sorted like "a". Only if there is a tie then "ä" is sorted after "a". For example, "Sage" < "Säge" < "sagen" < "sägen".

In phone books umlauts are sorted like base letter + "e", e.g. "ä" is sorted as "ae", etc. This is because phone book contain proper names, which may be written either with umlaut or with base letter + "e", and the correct spelling is not always known. With this sort order such names are still easy to find.

Since you mentioned it, in the Swedish sort order "w" was considered a variant of "v" until 2006, and "ü" is still considered a variant of "y". Both letters were abolished from Swedish words in a relatively recent reform, but continue to exist in proper names.

Edit: Just heard this little song on Arte.

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They do only occur in sch, ch, and ck except for some loanwords like Cousin, clever, Clique. –  Felix Dombek Jun 9 '11 at 22:55
Didn't learn anything different in a 90's primary school. :) –  ladybug Jun 20 '11 at 9:18
Might be nice to add an example of phone book ordering so to keep Mueller close to Müller, Schaefer next to Schäfer or w/e. Also, ß is considered a ligature, not a letter, which is why it doesn't show up. The Umlauts are probably best considered letter variants, much like accented Spanish letters. ß would be considered ss in phone books, so Thissen and Thißen show up together, wouldn't it? –  Jan Apr 10 at 22:22

The German alphabet (in German "Deutsches Alphabet" or colloquial "A-B-C") is a variation of the Latin alphabet and includes 26 capitalized letters (same as in English) plus the umlauts (Ä, Ö, Ü) and (only) in Germany and Austria the "scharfes S" (ß). The ß ist not part of the alphabet in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

If you're referring to a single letter you're supposed to use the neutrum gender: "das A, das B, das C etc."

German alphabet

Note: when I went to school (1970s and 1980s) we used to recite the 26-letter alphabet and didn't add umlauts or the ß.

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Ich möchte anmerken, dass in Österreich die Buchstagen J und Q auch als [jeː] und [kve:] ausgesprochen werden. –  Phira Jun 5 '11 at 9:55
+1: "das A, das B, das C etc." –  user508 Jun 5 '11 at 10:53
Da wir gerade vom Q sprechen, das ist doch der Buchstabe, den man analog zu dänischem Vorbild (dort ist kv üblich) bei der Rechtschreibreform bequem durch kW hätte ersetzen können. –  bernd_k Jun 5 '11 at 15:13
@bernd_k: V und X sind dann auch entbehrlich! –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 5 '11 at 19:15
@bernd_k: Wenn man das ABC "aufsagt", kommen äöü zwischendrin nicht vor, oder? –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 5 '11 at 19:40

It is the same as yours. 26 letters and in the same order. The Umlaute ä, ö, ü where seen as modifications of a, o, u by Diakritisches Zeichen and ß was not seen as full member of the Alphabet. The exact classification was a bit vague.

Later at university (mathematical linguistic) there was a strict differentiation between character set and alphabet. The first determines which letters are parts of words and the latter has the focus on sorting order.

Undoubtedly ä, ö, ü and ß are part of character set which is used by the German language.

The problem is that there where two different sorting orders for the Umlaute in use.

In Encyclopedic dictionaries ä, ö, ü where treated as modifications by diacritics and sorted like a, o, u (or just behind them in case of ties) and the sort order by phone books, which treated them as synonym of ae, oe and ue.

EDIT: In context of early computer without NLS support one had to be prepared for a sort order with äöü behind z, but that was a weakness of early machines.

@starblue thanks for correcting my memories.

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German Wikipedia writes that the official alphabet is 26 + umlauts + ß in Germany + Austria: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsches_Alphabet –  splattne Jun 5 '11 at 9:51
Wikipedia contradicts this: " In reformed orthography the grapheme ß ... is considered a separate letter". –  Tim Jun 5 '11 at 9:52
The sort order in German dictionaries sorts ä like a, and then just after a to break ties. Sorting å, ä, ö after z is done in Swedish, but not in German. –  starblue Jun 5 '11 at 15:57
Ob Wörterbuch oder Lexikon sollte keine Rolle spielen, so eine Sortierung habe ich auf deutsch noch nicht gesehen. Grimm's Wörterbuch sortiert auch "Ä" direkt nach "A". germazope.uni-trier.de/Projekte/WBB2009/DWB/… –  starblue Jun 5 '11 at 16:15
@starblue I fixed it. Thanks. Going to delete my faulty comments. –  bernd_k Jun 5 '11 at 16:36

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