I am trying to learn proper pronunciation and so far it is not problematic however since most is very consistent (at least for now), but I have a problem differentiating between the [i:] (long i) and [e:] (long e).

For example:

  • Vier and mehr: In both situations I hear the long i. Same with ihr and mehr. Are they supposed to sound the same, or am I hearing them as the same when in fact they are not?

  • Ich gebe and ich gäbe. In the first I hear g[i:]be, and in second I hear g[e:]be.

  • Then there are words such as Idee where I can clearly hear the difference. In other words the ee part actually sounds to me like a long e rather than the long i, which is what I hear.

Also with Google Translate, mehr on its own sounds to me like m[i:]hr, while when used with another word like in ihr mehr, I can hear the difference between the two words with Google Translate’s Listen option. In other words mehr sounds different when alone and when with ihr when I push the Listen button in Google Translate.

Even more precisely, the words den and mehr sound differently with Google Translate in these two examples: den mehr (d[i:]n m[:i]hr) and den ihr mehr (d[i:]n [i:]r m[:e]hr). Am I hearing this correctly? If I am, then: Why do they sound different and how can I know when to pronounce them differently?

Finally (also in Google Translate) for ihr Beeren the i in ihr and the ee in Beeren sounds the same to me. Is it the same sound?

So, the biggest problem I have with this is the lack of consistency concerning the [e:] (long e) and where should I pronounce it as long i [i:] (as with mehr).

Is there any guide on the specifics of this, when should I use [i:] (long i) and [e:] (long e) sounds when it comes the words that contain a long e like mehr and Idee?

To add just one more. On [this][1] page, one of the examples for the “long e” is Beet which I hear like B[i:]t. It is very confusing to me.

I apologize for not being able to better outline what is the problem for me here. Since it basically boils down to the fact that I am hearing different sounds for the same for the same words depending whether I hear them alone of with another word that uses the long e, and I am not sure if I am not hearing it correctly or is there some pronunciation rule I don’t know about.


  • 1
    Welcome to German language SE. As it stands, your question is rather unstructured and hard to follow and thus, it is hard to understand, what your actual problem is. Also, you seem to be asking more than one question.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:05
  • Either way, you might want to take a look at this vowel chart on Wikipedia to answer some of your side questions or at least clarify what vowels are supposed to sound identical.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:07
  • If you are English native speaker you should have no difficulty in hearing the differences of i and e. It might be more due to weird Google translate pronounciation.
    – user9256
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:10
  • No, I am not an English native speaker. @Wrzlprmft, sorry I will try to clarify it as best as I can.
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:13
  • possible duplicate of What is the difference in pronunciation of letters E and I?
    – user9551
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 10:20

3 Answers 3


Short answer

No they are not supposed to sound the same. Your linked video should make this clear at the 3:48 mark. Depending on the position and following characters the [i:] often rolls into an [e:] sound (especially in your example Ihr). Perhaps you can concentrate more on the start of the sound and use other examples such as "viel wenig"

Long answer

Hearing, like any other human perception, behaves strange. You hear what you expect to hear (called context effect). Try listening to a song with loud background music before you know the lyrics and after looking them up.

In your Google Translate example "Ihr Beeren", I hear a difference but only because I know that "Ehr Beeren" makes less sense. However, this is due to the slackish pronunciation of the machine generated voice. Spoken clearly by a human, the difference should be obvious to a native German speaker.

I said native speaker, because the recognition of relevant sound differences for the language is developed somewhere between month 7 and 10 of a baby's life. Therefore it might very much depend on your native language if you are able to hear the difference between [i:] and [e:] or not. The linked article states that Japanese baby's could not distinguish American R and L sounds anymore after the 10th month. Similarly, I can't distinguish the double consonants of Korean language or the various "sh" sounds of Chinese.

Usually, people have much more problems with articulating the different central near-open vowels such as [ə][ɐ] at the word ending to identify male and female endings in words like eine/einer. Also, dialect and slackish pronunciation mixes the [e] and [ɛ] (Meer/Mär). Concerning I and E there is no lack of consistency that I know of. Actually, your example Idee is excellent in hearing the difference.

  • It makes sense that for some reason I am unable to hear the difference between especially trough the speakers rather than live voice. For example with den I hear d[i:]n I really have to strain and focus to hear a very subtle [e:] that it is almost an [i:]. Thankfully other than that specifics ([ə][ɐ] didn't pose much problem once I became aware of the actual difference ) I think I have no problem with other sounds.
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 14:06
  • 1
    @Brotkorb Get rid of Google Translate! The pronunciation of sentence fragments such as den ihr mehr is just plain awful! From other sources I would be puzzled how you can hear an [i:] in den? Maybe its the other way round? What you hear is an [e:] and you should try hearing the [i:] in other words.
    – Harald
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 10:59
  • Makes sense, will try to find a better audio source. @rogermue provided me with some so I will pay attention for that point of view (hearing [i:] in other words etc).
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 17:11
  • @Brotkorb If you can get your hands on it, I recommend Google Wavenet text-to-speech. It sounds very accurate.
    – Cacambo
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 10:08
  • It's worth mentioning that learning the distinction between new sounds as an adult is not impossible. For example, I had a really hard time distinguishing [ɕ] and [ʂ] because I grew up with only [⁠ʃ⁠]​. The distinction is made in Chinese and Polish, for instance. What helped me was understanding phonetics and my target language's phonology, as well as minimal pair tests.
    – Cacambo
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 11:58

First of all, some facts that hold for most non-loanwords:

  • i (in spelling) is either pronounced [ɪ] (short i) or [i:] (long i).
  • ie and ih are always pronounced [i:] (long i).
  • e is either pronounced [ɛ] (short e/ä), [e:] (long e) or [ə] (schwa) – except in reduced syllables at the end of a word, where it can also be fully surpressed.
  • ee and eh are always pronounced [e:] (long e).
  • ä is either pronounced [ɛ] (short e/ä) or [ɛ:] (long ä). Note that the difference between [ɛ:] (long ä) and [e:] (long e) is subtle and some native speakers do not pronounce this difference.
  • äh is always pronounced [ɛ:] (long ä).
  • At the end of a syllable, r (or rr) is usually pronounced as [ɐ̯] (yes, it’s a vowel), which is “diphthongised” with the preceding vowel.

Telling whether a vowel is short or long is a science of its own, but that does not seem to be the main source of your problem. However, note that Idee is usually pronounced [ideː], i.e., with a short [i], and thus does not follow the above rules (which is due to Idee being a loanword). To all other words you mentioned, the above rules do apply though and should thus allow you to tell where you should hear differences.

From this, I have the following advice for you:

  • Consult a dictionary that contains IPA pronunciation, e.g., Wiktionary, so you know what you should hear.
  • In the beginning, avoid words where the vowel is followed by an r, as the additional vowel adds difficulty.
  • Whe comparing words, avoid to compare words in which the vowel is followed by an r and those where it is not.
  • With the most other stuff, such as schwa (and dark schwa, vocal r) as well as the r (consonantal) and ch (front and back) I don't have much problems, if at all. Even the ü and ö are not that hard. But this specific instance simply confuses me.
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 13:34
  • @Brotkorb: I got that. But at least part of your confusion seems to come from not knowing where you should hear a difference and I hope that I can at least tell you this.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 14:14
  • Yeah, in other words not to allow the r at the end to drive my attention away as it does in mehr. Thanks :)
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 14:22
  • There are areas in Germany (Ostwestfalen...) where the sentence "Der Maler hat Farbe am Arm" would be pronounced without a single discernable "r" unless the speaker really pays attention. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 16:01

Your ear is not trained to hear the difference of /i:/ and /e:/. There is a clear difference between mir and Meer and Mär.

But it's no use listening to the pronunciation of online dictionaries of single words. Work with audiobooks where you have the text and the audio facility and train your ear. But it takes some time to find suitable texts online with a good speaker.



  • Thank you for taking the time to find suitable audio, will listen to it.
    – Brotkorb
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 17:09

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