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The pronunciation for ie in vier¹ is a long i sound as in Bier (IPA: /biːɐ̯/), but for vierzehn² and vierzig³, it is shorter i-sound (IPA: /ˈfɪʁtseːn/ and /ˈfɪʁtsɪç/).

What are the rules for pronunciation of the ie sound in German?

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In German, the single letter i may be spoken as a short sound as in mit, or as a long sound as in Stil. You even have both versions in the word Pazifik (the first i is pronounced long, the second is short, without any obvious indication for that).

It is supposed to be a general rule, that ie is always spoken as a long sound, as you noticed in Bier. The examples of vierzehn and vierzig are the only counter examples i know.

Conversely, most long pronounced i sounds are writte as ie, but there is a much longer list of counter examples to that, so this is a rule of thumb at most.

Finally, there is no difference in pronunciation between i and ie, if the i sound is pronounced in its long version.

  • Hi,please don´t youse the word Mitte as an example for a short i in a word. To pronounciate the i in Mitte short results of the double t after the i. In German the letter in fromt of a double letter would always be spoken short. – FrankAus5419135 Jan 10 '17 at 11:13
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    I'd like to add that there are dialects in German where vier and vierzehn are actually pronounced alike in terms of the ie. – Thorsten Dittmar Jan 10 '17 at 12:16
  • @FrankAus5419135 edited. – TheAbelian Jan 10 '17 at 13:35
  • @ThorstenDittmar interesting, I didn't know that. – TheAbelian Jan 10 '17 at 13:36
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The problem is not so much the length (as a non-native speaker you can in case of doubt always resort to some intermediate length), but whether a special separation of e applies, as discussed in this German question.

Rule of thumb: ie is mostly long. There is a noticable shortening of long ies as in spazieren to participle spaziert, which results from loss of stress. For a definitive answer where the stress is, I see no alternative to a pronounciation dictionary.

  • if two consonants follow, ie is pronounced short. – Nope, if indicating a single vowel, ie is almost always pronounced long. Vierzehn, vierzig, and Viertel are exceptional. (In fact, I challenge you to find any other word with a short ie.) – Wrzlprmft Jan 10 '17 at 8:18
  • @Wrzlprmft: generally accepted, answer revised; not much difference to siebzehn, siebzig and Siebtel however. – guidot Jan 10 '17 at 9:19

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