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I know that these little useful words er, eh, ehe and eher have different meanings and usage. The problem is that when I try to pronounce them, they sound very, very similar. Especially inside a sentence and not as single, clearly pronounced words (which I can find in any online dictionary).

I wonder if natives, in everyday speaking, pronounce them in the same way or not. In this case is the pronunciation important in order to get the right meaning or is it just a matter of context and position of the word?

I'm asking because I'm interested in achieving a good German accent and since I didn't know about their existence, I haven't clearly heard these words pronounced by natives yet (except for er).



[edit: added er as suggested in the comments]

  • 5
    Another word to consider is er, which is quite close in pronunciation to eher. But no two of these words are pronounced the same. – chirlu Nov 24 '15 at 6:45
  • How about "air", " yay"", "yay uh", and "A air"? – Zubin Mukerjee Nov 24 '15 at 23:12
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    @ZubinMukerjee Is that German? – c.p. Nov 25 '15 at 7:44
  • No, English, my attempt at finding words that resembled the sounds in OP's question – Zubin Mukerjee Nov 25 '15 at 7:45
  • @ZubinMukerjee I see. That's a good idea. But I'm afraid that's maybe impossible. – c.p. Nov 25 '15 at 23:15
3

The four are actually pretty discernable once you know what you need to do. We have two variants that end in er and we have two that don’t. And we also have three variants that have an additional eh in the beginning and one that doesn’t. We can consider the cases independently:

  • eh at the beginning means that a long [e:] is added.

  • er at the end is pronounced with a vocalic r

  • e at the end is reduced to a shwa [ə].

Which leaves us with plain er. That one should just be a vocalic r but the e preceding it is pronounced in some way. It can be rendered more or less as any of the short /e/ sounds ([e] or [ɛ]).

Putting it all together we have:

  • /e:/

  • /e:ə/

  • /e:ɐ/

  • /eɐ/ or /ɛɐ/ or /ɛ/ or some variant of it.

Only er is an odd one out, but ‘you’ll know when you need to hear it’.


†: This question exists, basically saying that r remain unpronounced in German. However, er is always distinguishable from plain e in some way, be it that one is reduced to the e-shwa and the other to the a-shwa.

7

The prerequisite for this answer is knowing how to pronounce er and sehen (which you might hear in the very first lesson of a German course). The IPA signs for the words you asked for are:

  • for eh, [eː] long e as the [eː] in sehen
  • for ehe (or Ehe, which is not the same), [ˈeːə]. I.e. the same long e as above and then the second e of sehen.
  • for eher, [ˈeːɐ], the sound concatenation of the words eh and er, but stress in the first.
  • for er, [eːɐ]. Well, my percepcion is just that eher's first vowel is longer.
  • I thought [ˈeːʰə] was an accepted variant for Ehe - but OK, the question was about ehe – Walter Tross Nov 24 '15 at 11:25
  • Still difficult for me to pronounce them in a clear different way, but definitely useful. Now I understand better the difference. Can you add also "er" (see latest edit) ? – Cindie Nov 24 '15 at 11:32
  • @WalterTross I meant Ehe is meaningwise not the same as ehe (which is clear for advanced basic-levels, but basic-basic levels are those who might read this answer [not saying the OP is one of them]). – c.p. Nov 24 '15 at 14:45
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I have thought about how I can answer you without speaking, so I have searched for a few videos in which you can find your answer.

Ehe (1:35 Min): https://youtu.be/1p2cTwcqt_M

Eh: Like "Ehe", without the last syllable.

Eher (1:30) https://youtu.be/JcmDlftUzck

  • 3
    Welcome to german.stackexchange. As a new user, you are probably unaware of the fact that we tend to avoid "link-only-answers". That is, the links you provided are likely to be unreachable in the future and makes your answer pretty much, well, meaningless. That being said, I agree that questions about pronunciation always require some kind of verbal response. That makes it hard to answer such a question, but luckily there's a phonetic alphabet (IPA) that can be used to describe pronunciation. – Em1 Nov 24 '15 at 9:11

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