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I have a problem about the pronunciation of "st". I read that it is pronounced "sht" when it appears in the first syllable but I saw some words when it is pronounced "sht" in the middle. for example: Verstehen, Einstein. I want to ask if those words are just exceptions ?

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Basically, the rule you read was incomplete. It's pronounced as sht (from now on /ʃt/) if the cluster is at the start of a syllable. Some examples:

Just like any other rule in the German language, there are exceptions. I picked still previously on purpose to show that orthography is not always to be trusted. Mostly because of foreign words. Something that comes immediately to mind is the word

As you can hear from the recording, the first sound wasn't /ʃt/, but a simple /st/.

If separating words into syllables isn't exactly intuitive, and you're dealing with a compound word, try separating the root words.

Haltestelle - halte/stelle

If you're dealing with prefixes eliminate them.

bestrafen - be/strafen

Lastly, if you have the chance, check websites like forvo.

  • and then there are schwaben, who use sht everywhere :( – BЈовић Nov 18 '14 at 7:47
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    @BЈовић And that's how a Swabian identifies the Reingeschmeckte because it is not true ;) – Harald Nov 18 '14 at 10:58
  • @BЈовић: Des schdimmd fei gar net! – Deve Nov 18 '14 at 14:18
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    Ich kenne "Stil" in beiden Aussprachen, und hier in Hessen vorzugsweise mit /ʃt/, auch wenn der Sprecher Hochdeutsch spricht. Der Duden kennt ebenfalls beide Aussprachen. – dirkt Nov 18 '14 at 20:47
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No, these words are not exceptions. The phenomenon you are observing is quite common. The rule that you are quoting holds also when words are composed or used with a prefix: ver-stehen (prefix "ver", base word "stehen"), Ein-stein (it's a name anyway, but same principle), aus-steigen, Fahr-stuhl (composition of "fahren" and "Stuhl") and so on.

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At first: there are some German dialects (in the hanseatic region), where st and sp is not pronounced sht and shp respectively but at face value. I agree with clinch, that in most cases and most regions, it is pronounced sht and shp. Unfortunately there are exceptions, especially at the end of a word (Last, Lust, Mast, fast, List), if the s is doubled to shorten the preceeding vowel (frisst) and of course, where a composite word was formed and the word border runs between s and t like Mus-topf (literally a jar holding purée, used in negative context like in the phrase "aus dem Mustopf kommen" meaning "being narrow-minded, limited").

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    You might still want to explain what a Mustopf is. I think it's a rare and old word that is difficult to understand for German non-natives. – Matthias Nov 17 '14 at 21:27
  • "aus dem Mustopf kommen": a saying that could be loosely translated to "being clueless / disoriented/ dull-witted".. FYI: in southern German dialects all st get pronounced scht. e.g "du bist" -> "du bischt". Quite a difference in dialects :) – GameDroids Nov 17 '14 at 22:55
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    Make that some Southern German dialects, please. – Ingmar Nov 18 '14 at 6:57

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