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I am wondering if the absence (or presence) of the h affects pronunciation in this particular case. My intuition is that they should be pronounced the same way. I found some online pronunciations and they do sound the same to me. Am I correct?

The second question is how sät is pronounced (as in ihr sät). Is it pronounced exactly as is written, or does the pronunciation of the infinitive (the unwritten h) affect it in any way? Are ihr seht and ihr sät pronounced differently?

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    Well, there's more than just the absence/presence of "h". There is "ä + e" versus "e + e". So, the first syllables "sä" and "se", respectively, are already pronounced different, disregarding what's following them. – Em1 Nov 5 '15 at 13:04
  • What pronounciation site did you use? A good resource for (official) pronounciations is DUDEN online: Go to säen and click the speaker symbol in the section Aussprache. The same for sehen. – Iris Nov 5 '15 at 16:39
  • @Iris: It was a big news to me that these letters can be pronounced differently. Anyway, I do hear the difference from your links, but it's still hard for me to reproduce them. I guess I'm jumping ahead of myself. With time... – Armen Tsirunyan Nov 5 '15 at 17:36
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    Regarding the role of h, note that sehen and Seen (‘lakes’) are homophones. It really only serves to indicate that the vowel is long in these cases. – chirlu Nov 7 '15 at 13:05
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No, säen and sehen are distinct in many dialects. The vowel in both verbs is long. Long e is rendered as [e:] while long ä is rendered as [ɛ:] in many dialects thus providing a clear distinction. You would have been correct if the verbs had short vowels. Short, stressed e is pronunced [ɛ], exactly like short, stressed ä.

Furthermore, sehen is an irregular verb whose vowel stem vowel changes in parts of the present tense (du siehst) and the past tense (ich sah). But even in forms with the unmodified vowel (ich sehe) is the vowel quality distinct from that of säen. Säen in the present tense always retains the same (long) vowel quantity as expected from the lack of a double consonant. And the participles (sehend/sähend; gesehen/gesät) retain the long vowels and thus the differentiation, too.

However, not everywhere are the distinctions between long ä and e kept. Especially in the North, the pronunciation of Käse as ['ke:zə] is prevalent (compare standard ['kɛ:zə]). These dialects would have difficulties distinguishing between the two.


Note on pronunciation: The [ɛ] sound is more open than the [e] sound. They can be compared to French è and é, respectively. Unfortunately, English pronunciation is too unregular for me to come up with examples right now.

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No, they are pronounced differently.

The reason, though, is not the "h", but the fact that "ä" and "e" are pronounced differently, although casually spoken language, especially regional accents or even dialects, may make them sound similar or even identical.

The "official" pronounciations, though, are distinct.

[EDIT] after the clarifications @HubertSchönalst gave (thank you!): The above is mostly valid for Germany. Apparently, in Austria the opposite is the case.

Please regard "official pronounciation" as the way a professional news reader or similar would pronounce the words.

  • »ä« und »e« werden nicht überall unterschiedlich ausgesprochen. In Österreich werden ä und e (bis auf wenige Ausnahmen) gleich ausgesprochen. »Bären« und »Beeren« klingen in Österreich genau gleich. Auch der Sämann (der, der Getreide aussät) und der Seemann (der auf der See rumschippert) werden bei uns genau gleich ausgesprochen. Und in »Wir werden ja sehen, ob man bei dem Wetter säen kann.« werden die fraglichen Wörter auch gleich ausgesprochen. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 5 '15 at 14:57
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    Aber es gibt die Adaba (AusspracheDAtenBAnk) adaba.at die für viele Wörter die österreichische, deutsche und schweizerische Aussprache, jeweils von einem Mann und einer Frau gesprochen, in Form kleiner Audio-Clips bereithält. Leider ist diese Datenbank nicht vollständig (»sehen« ist vorhanden, »säen« leider nicht) Aber das Wort »Leberkäse« ist vorhanden, und dort hört man, dass die beiden fett hervorgehobenen Vokale in Österreich genau gleich gesprochen werden. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 5 '15 at 15:37
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    @Hubert Schölnast: Zumindest der männliche Sprecher aus Österreich macht einen klaren Unterschied in Leberkäse. Auch die Lautschrift gibt an, daß das ä offener gesprochen wird, wenn auch weniger offen als ein [ɛ]. – chirlu Nov 7 '15 at 18:33
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    @Hubert Schölnast: Die Frage ist nicht, ob es anders als in Deutschland ausgesprochen wird, sondern ob es eine Opposition zwischen /eː/ und /ɛː/ gibt, wie auch immer die Laute dann realisiert werden. Das scheint mir der Fall zu sein (mit /ɛː/ als [e̞ː]); das ist bei Leberkäse, während, ähnlich und Äther jeweils der Fall. (Ächten und enthält sind nicht einschlägig, weil der Vokal darin kurz ist.) Leider ist die phonetische Transkription nicht 100% zuverlässig, wie man etwa am Eintrag enthält sieht, wo die Betonung durchgehend falsch angegeben ist. – chirlu Nov 7 '15 at 21:51
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    In large parts of the German speaking area, both in the north and in the south, ä in this context is usually pronounced exactly like eh. However, there is an awareness of the difference that is kept alive by the different spellings. Professional speakers everywhere will pronounce them differently, and almost everyone everywhere will do so when trying to resolve an ambiguity. Learners of German should therefore try to pronounce the vowels differently. – user2183 Nov 10 '15 at 8:18

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