I have trouble pronouncing ü. It sounds more like when I say it in words, like fjür instead of für.
If I were to be talking to people, would it be better or more understandable to unround it and say like Ricken instead of Rücken and fir instead of für? I just ask because I know some dialects do that.


6 Answers 6


Generally you can not replace "ü" by "i" in spoken language. It will sound even more strange to the native-speaker's ear.

Practice your "ü" instead: "ü" is pronounced like forming an "o" with your lips, but saying a German "i" with your tongue (as in Bier). If you hold an English "ee" (as in beer or cheese) and then start rounding your lips (and lips only!) like you wanted to say "o" you'll hear that you slowly get there.

  • 1
    Yes you can. Millions of Bavarians, Franconians, Saxons, Swabians etc. etc. do.
    – mach
    May 24, 2019 at 9:33
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    And it does sound strange if you do. Then you could also say that it is perfectly valid to say "sch" instead of "s", just because Millions of Swabians do in many cases, or that "d" instead of "t" is a proper replacement, because Franconians to. I assumed we're talking about standard German here and not about dialects. What happens in dialects can hardly be called a rule. An no Bavarian would say "Minchen". They either say "München" or "Minga". May 24, 2019 at 11:19
  • The OP has asked about the best replacement pronunciation since they cannot produce /fyr/. Your insistence that no replacement pronunciations should be used misses the OP's question. Furthermore, the replacement of /y/ by /i/ is a regular process observed in many German varieties, whereas there is no comparable regular replacement of /y/ by /ju/ or, even worse, by /u/.
    – mach
    May 25, 2019 at 10:22
  • Oh hell no, English ee + oe renders a whacky Saxon dialect in my mouth. Please, don't, just don't ROFL
    – vectory
    May 26, 2019 at 1:19
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    I didn't say "pronounce an O", I said "form an O and pronounce an I", which gives an Ü and is exactly what should be done to practice this (I've attended several German classes in English speaking countries and that's how it is tought). Try it yourself before you claim "don't, just don't" ;-) May 26, 2019 at 13:58

You should not attempt to replace ü with i. Instead, you should attempt to master the pronunciation of ü (some people say, if small children can learn it, so can grown ups).

The reason is that the difference between ü and i in German is phonemic. Consider the following minimal pairs:

  • für and vier

  • brülle and Brille

  • Tür and Tier

Attempting to replace a phoneme with a different phoneme will lead to you being not well understood — even if dialects exist that feature the same replacement.

  • But what replacement pronunciation would be best if you cannot (yet) say /fyr/? Would is be /fir/ or /fjur/? That is what the OP has asked.
    – mach
    May 25, 2019 at 10:50
  • @mach Reread the first line, second sentence. That is my recommendation for a replacement (i.e. do not replace, learn how to pronounce).
    – Jan
    May 25, 2019 at 10:51
  • As I understand is, "do not replace" might be a good advice, but it cannot logically be a "recommendation for a replacement". Let me rephrase: wouldn't you agree that after the standard pronunciation /fyr/, the replacement pronunciation /fir/ is the second-best option, way better than other replacement pronunciations such as /fjur/ (which appears to be the OP's current pronunciation)?
    – mach
    May 25, 2019 at 11:56
  • @mach Actually, I would perceive [ju] from a British speaker to be closer to [y] than [i], so I do not agree that /fir/ is the least worse option. The least worse option imho is /fjur/ because it features both rounding and a forward-leaning vowel.
    – Jan
    May 25, 2019 at 12:04
  • That strikes me as a very odd and unnatural preference.
    – mach
    May 25, 2019 at 12:12

To replace Ü by I is no solution:

Küste (coast) → Kiste (box)
Tür (door) → Tier (animal)
Süden (south) → sieden (to boil)
Lüge (lie, flashood) → Liege (couch)
Zügel (rein) → Ziegel (brick)
für (for, pro, per) → vier (four)

To get the correct pronunciation of the first words in my list (Küste, Tür, ...), say the second word (Kiste, Tier, ...) but with rounded lips.

If you don't know how to round your lips, watch yourself in the mirror when you say English words like "book", "food", "look" or "boot". The sound that you produce when you pronounce English words that are written with "oo" requires the same rounding as the sound for the German Ü. But inside the mouth everything is in the same position as if you would say "bee", "need", "see" or "tee".

Say "needle", then "noodle" and watch yourself in the mirror. Then say "needle" again, but round your mouth as if you would say "noodle". What you produce now is a nonsense word (in English as well as in German, it would look like "Nüdl" if written as a German word), but it contains the Ü-sound that you need for many German words.

  • And if the OP cannot reliably produce an /y/, what replacement pronunciation would be best: /ju/ or /i/?
    – mach
    May 28, 2019 at 12:46
  • @mach: If the OP cannot reliably produce an [y], he should try to learn it. When I learned English, I could not reliably produce [ð] ("this") and [θ] ("thin"). "Thing", "thin" and "north" sounded like "sing", "sin" and "norse". "With", "then" and "clothe" sounded like "whizz", "zen" and "close". Guess what I had to do? I had to learn those sounds. If you can't pronounce [ð] and [θ] your English will always be weak. And if you can't pronounce [y] ("übel"), [​ʏ​] ("Nüsse"), [x] ("ach") and [ç] ("ich") your German will always stay weak. May 29, 2019 at 19:52
  • But just try and imagine that the OP really cannot reliably produce an /y/ yet and that therefore, they must resort to a replacement pronunciation. Would you say that the choice between different replacement pronunciations does not matter (e.g. /fjur/, /fir/, /fur/, or /fɜːr/ for für), or would you be able to discriminate between better choices and worse choices, and what would be the best choice?
    – mach
    May 30, 2019 at 6:02
  • @mach: I never met any German native speaker who was able to pronounce [i] and [u] but unable to pronounce [ʏ​]. So I think, everybods who can produce the sounds [i] and [u] can learn to produce [ʏ​] too. If you can correctly pronounce the English words "needle" and "noodle", you will be able to learn to pronounce the German word "nützen". If you can speak the words "Kiste" and "Kustos", yo will be able to pronounce "Küste" too. If you can say "mitte" and "Mutter", you will be able to learn how to say "Mütter". May 30, 2019 at 12:46
  • So you think the different replacement pronunciations are all equally good (or bad)?
    – mach
    May 31, 2019 at 14:13

Under the condition that you cannot pronouce the Ü as a proper /y/, the best replacement pronunciation is /i/. (The condition by itself appears to be a surprisingly contentious since most other answers refuse to recognize it.)

Sure, a proper /y/ may be preferrable, but if you must resort to a replacement pronunciation, then /i/ is much better than other replacement pronunciations such as /u/, /ju/, etc. There are a number of reasons why it is the least worst option:

  • /i/ is phonetically closest to /y/, diferring solely in lip rounding.
  • /i/ instead of /y/ is widespread in the original regional dialects of German. A proper /y/ is only indigenous to the dialects in the North and in the extreme Southwest. Even though the original dialects are being replaced by a Northern standard pronunciations that has /y/, the (formerly) widespread use of /i/ still means that it is an indigenous and natural alternative.
  • In German poetry, riming /y/ with /i/ is still admissible, whereas /y/ can never rime with /u/ or /ju/ etc. Historically speaking, this has originated in a time when the /i/ pronunciation of what is now /y/ was more common, that is to say, in the time of the classical German literature two centuries ago, before the Northern pronunciation became common in the wake of Prussia's (a Northern state) rise to dominance.
  • Even the modern (Northern) standard pronunciation shows a certain interchangeability of /i/ and /y/. There are words like "Brille" or "Tisch" where the /i/ is often pronouced as /y/ (due to coarticulatory effects).

In a similar way, /e/ is the best replacement pronunciation if you cannot pronouce the Ö as a proper /ø/.

  • 1
    You say "phonetically closest". This could be either or both articulatory and auditory closeness. The advantage of articulatory closeness in particular is: As soon as you manage to add lip rounding, your pronunciation will be spot on. Also, one caveat: While native speakers will tolerate and understand dialects that only have front unrounded vowels, they might balk when a language learner does it. It's a double standard, but it's there.
    – David Vogt
    May 24, 2019 at 9:54
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    It is close both articulatorily and perceptually. While native speakers might balk at learners unrounding the front vowels, they would balk much more at learners using unnatural replacement pronunciations such as /u/ or /ju/ that are only motivated by the spelling. That is the point of my answer: not all replacement pronunciations are equal – some are better (/i/), some are worse (/u/, /ju/) – there are good reasons.
    – mach
    May 25, 2019 at 10:46

This speach impediment has given us the Fjurer and thus the epic pun in the movie title Kung-Fury, about a furious Kung-Fu fighter fighting Hitler. Correcting it is a matter of muscle training, and correct guidance. Hitler is certainly not the Vierer, but one has to start somewhere.

First loose the glide /iu/ and the rhotic r, as in: pure - poor - poo; ford - fought; lord - laud - *lewd - lure (loo-uh(-r) under my German accent).

Rather compare foot - Ger. Füß' /fys/ (pl. of Fuß) for example, because rhotic r is a semivowel that pulls the glide low. The glide is otherwise not all that wrong, considering the transcription ü~ue, but it should be rather shallow.

As a first approximation you don't wanna say fewer for "für" I guess, but fever ~ feva without the v, *fe'er, and barely any r--fe'eh, not fear. That would get you a long way, but of course it's missing the details. It gets you pretty close to many dialects, as @mach said. Nevermind different R's in German are besides the point though, that can come back later.

Comparing a couple of pairs I guess i - ü may be a worthy correspondance: thin - Ger. dünn, sin - Sünde, stir - steuern (where it's just a matter of convention not to write steüern), stick - Stück (cp. Yiddish shtick; but don't miss stock - Stock - stack - stuck, staaken -Stiege - stecken - sticken - stoked - stink, stank, stunk ), stew - Stau (I mean, just cp. jam as a kind of traffic brew, lol), girdle - Gürtel.

Although Linde, dick etc. or hurdle - Hürde ruin the picture (different words taken from different dialects). Whereas joke - Djohk, e.g. shows how the diphtong is flattened when Germanized (in the Northern dialects at least), Jux shows an older correspondance (is juke-box related?), yoke - *jochen, Joch-Bein and yew - Eiche show historical correspondances (though to o in joch- might be a preterite alternation?), few - ... Pfennig (?; penny); prude - prüde shows a close relation but compare pride (not closely related to Pracht), likewise rude (not rewd) - rüde - rot - red; thunder - Zunder, zünden (ignite) not Donner (thunder), Zinder, tinder. [This paragraph needs was not double checked].

Also try to listen and repeat Fr sucre "sugar, Zucker" vs Ger. Süße "sweetness". German doesn't have /'sy/, it's always (I guess?) lenited to /zy/, or at least not rounded. It strikes me as much harder to get that one wrong, because /s/ prohibit's voicing the onset as you do.

Indeed, sweet should have rounding because of the w, too. But ee is to high. Instead try to find a difference between swerve and the nonce word swirv, where the latter is pretty close to Würfel that's distinct to imperative wirf, that's a doublette of werfe and implies that Wurf is a backformatiin of Würf (cp. whirl, warp, etc.). I would accept Wirfel without batting an eye. I've also come to think that werden~würde is due to wird, from the preterite ward.

Likewise try wirken (to work, have an effect) and würgen (to strangle, shunt). While past tense ich wirkte/würgte shouldn't be confused, the difference is less of a problem for these short vowels, than it is for long ones (i.e. für).

  • (where it's just a matter of convention not to write steüern) - there is no "ü" in the pronunciation of "eu" in German - so it's not a convention, it's simply a different sound. May 26, 2019 at 14:00
  • @ThorstenDittmar there is certainly no u in eu, toy, oil, so what's your point again? There certainly is liprounding in *teuer, but maybe you say teier, teyer, I wouldn't know.
    – vectory
    May 26, 2019 at 14:23
  • My point is that "steuern" does not fit the list you're making above about the shift from "i" to "ü" (thin -> dünn, sin, Sünde, etc.). You claim that it's just a matter of convention we don't write "steüern", which in my opinion is wrong. "eu" is a completely different sound altogether, which does not contain an e, u or ü sound at all. May 27, 2019 at 9:04

The i in fir sounds like a German short ö, not short ü.

  • short ü sounds like the y in English physical.

  • to practice the long ü as in Mühe, say Moohe in English pronounciation first, then change the pitch towards the y sound from English physical.

When you replace ü by i, you sound as someone from Saxony, Sudetenland or a native speaker of Yiddish speaking Deutsch.

  • 5
    According to Wiktionary, "physical" is /ˈfɪzɪkəl/ both in US and UK. The vowels in "physical" are certainly not rounded (unlike German short "ü", i.e., /ʏ/, and long "ü", i.e., /y:/).
    – Uwe
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:30
  • dict.leo.org/ende/index_de.html#/… It should be clear these are all approximations and the answer is to help the asker, nothing else.
    – Janka
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:56
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    The OP has difficulties to pronounce a rounded vowel. You tell him that it's pronounced like the unrounded (!) vowel in "physical". I don't think that this is helpful in any way. I also don't know what your link to leo.org is supposed to show.
    – Uwe
    Nov 15, 2016 at 0:10
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    Feel free to join the discussion at ELU. I have the impression that the natives consider your opinion that "y" in Greek loans should be pronounced as a rounded vowel in English as bizarre.
    – Uwe
    Nov 15, 2016 at 17:11
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    What do you mean by "don't use i as in fir either, as it sounds like ö (because of the r)"? Are you thinking of the vowel in the English word "fir", as in "fir tree"? I don't think that's what Scott meant. I think he was just asking if it would be OK to say /fiɐ̯/ instead of /fyɐ̯/.
    – sumelic
    Nov 15, 2016 at 22:30

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