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A 'v' in the beginning of a word can be pronounced in one of two ways:

  • /f/: Vater, verrückt, vier, Vogel.
  • /v/: Vanille, Verb, Villa, Vokal, vulgär.

My question: Is there a way to know how a word should be pronounced without looking it up?

Bonus question: Wiktionary has a lot of ver-words transcribed with /v/, e.g. verleben, vergammelt, vernetzen. Are they pronounced like that in some dialect?

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I couldn't come up with a /f/-word that begins in "vu" or "vi" (but not in "vie"), but would love to have such an example if there is one. – Tim Jun 25 '11 at 21:22
vulgär, Vulkan, both /v/ (foreign origin). Words beginning with "vi" only are all of foreign origin and pronounced /v/. Words beginning with "vie" are most likely of Germanic origin, vier, Vieh, viel. – teylyn Jun 25 '11 at 23:46

In most cases (and true for your examples):

Germanic words are pronounced /f/ loan-words (especially Latin) are pronounced /v/.

In particular, true German words starting with "ver-" are pronounced /f/, but not "Verdikt", say.

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True German words starting with "ver-" are pronounced /f/, not /v/. – teylyn Jun 25 '11 at 23:47
I think this is another example of a difference most people wouldn't notice. At least for myself I can say I've never noticed that "Vater" and "Vanille" start with a different sound. It's much the same as the different "S"s, I think. – ladybug Jun 27 '11 at 8:50

The letter V is pronounced /f/ except for words of foreign origin.

Vanille, Verb, Villa, Vulgär, Vulkan, Vase

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I never heard a German dialect that uses /v/ for words like ver(-)gammelt. I have lived in the west and north of Germany and in Berlin.

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