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I watched a few videos on the German alphabet, like these two: 1, 2.

It seems that the difference between E and I is very subtle – both sound like the English ee to me. How do I make sure I pronounce it correctly?

This question is about pronouncing the letters E and I themselves, outside words.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The English ee, as in speech, is the same sound as the German I [iː]. There is no exact equivalent to German E [eː] in the standard varieties of English (Received Pronunciation, General American).

The difference in pronunciation is the degree to which the jaw is opened; [e] is less open than [i]. The position of the tongue is the same for both vowels (this is in the front).

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Thanks, but I still don't understand. Could you give a couple of examples for I and E? I feel like "neben" and "isst" are good examples on how to say E and I; am I right? – Oleksiy Sep 12 '13 at 6:17
Neben is fine; but isst has a short i that in German is not only shorter, but slightly less open and less front as well. Examples with a long i: sie, die, Biene, niedrig. – chirlu Sep 12 '13 at 6:29
@Oleksiy But only the first e in "neben". The latter one is either is omitted (nebn) or may sound almost like ä in some regions (nebän). – Em1 Sep 12 '13 at 7:07
@Oleksiy There might be differences based on your dialect, but I believe the German "e" to sound like the expression "meh" while the German "i" sounds like "me". – npst Sep 12 '13 at 10:25
In addition, in many regions the sound "ä" is more and more pronounced as an "e": ähnlich --> ehnlich, schräg --> schrehg etc. – marsze Sep 12 '13 at 12:23

This is only marginally an answer to your question, but if you are spelling out words and want to make sure not to be misunderstood, you can follow the e with an Emil and the i with Isidor or Ida from the spelling alphabet. Even if you pronounce it as i-ish as possible, nobody would assume Imil or Eda, because they’re just so used to the usual table.

The entire table can be found on German Wikipedia.

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I as ie in briefing, or ee in beef.

E as a in say, or hay.

Actually it's like E in latin: "Errare humanum est."
Or the Spanish E in Espagñol.

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What is breefing? Do you mean briefing? The sounds in say, Berber, Ethiopia are quite different (and some differ even between dialects of English), so they are not a good example for how something should be pronounced. Finally, it’s certainly not how errare and est were pronounced in classical Latin, and modern pronunciation again varies heavily between and even inside countries. – chirlu Jun 22 at 12:10
What do you know about classical pronounciation of latin? Even if they are different in various countries, in Latin each letter has an intrinsic value. Quite unlike English, where pronounciation and writing is specific to each word, and even to the context. [How do you pronounce the i "lives"? - It depends on the context (he lives, the lives)!] – Jonas Jun 23 at 9:14
Yeah, English is particularly horrible, but Latin is far from phonological spelling, too. In particular, the letter e can stand for a short, more open or a long, more closed vowel; and it so happens that both in errare and est, the e is short (and hence open, similar to the German short e or ä in, e.g., Fest, of which we are not speaking here). In any case, referring to Latin words is not a useful pronunciation hint; Latin regional pronunciation on the English Wikipedia is an interesting read regarding this. – chirlu Jun 23 at 10:45

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