Kläglich, Mädchen have both long ä sound. I know that the basic rule is when two consonants follow the vowel it would be short, z. B. Keller, Kellner, Lerner the e is short.

So that rule of thumb doesn't work with ä?

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    The length of a vocal is rather determined by the kind, not number of consonant(s) following it: "Mädchen"<->"Glätte", "d", "g", "h" require a long vocal, "t(t)", "k", "ck", "n(n)" short ones. – tofro May 17 '18 at 6:24
  • And if it's a double "g" like the word "seggen". Then it would be short right? – Tomas May 17 '18 at 6:43
  • Doubling "soft" consonants like g or b is actually pretty rare in German. But yes, a double-g would make the vocal short. – tofro May 17 '18 at 7:06
  • Cool thanks. What about the word "Genen" here there is an "n" and the e is long not short as your rule. And also "Gen" which was mentioned in the answer below. – Tomas May 17 '18 at 7:20
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    @tofro: I disagree with your initial comment. The number of consonants is indeed quite significant. That's why words like "Hut", "gut", "Blut", "Schwan", "Ekel", "Makel", and "Kran" have a long vowel in front of the consonants discussed here while the relevant vowels in "blubbern", "schwabbeln", "Kladde", "Edda", "verheddern", "Widder", "Bagger", "Flagge", and "Dogge" are short. – O. R. Mapper May 17 '18 at 14:05

The rule of thumb about double consonants applies to consonants within the same morpheme. So "Gen" sounds a long e, and so does "Gentechnik", because the n and t belong to different parts of the word, but "Gent" has a short e.

Similarly, "raten" has a long a and "Ratten" a short one, because the stem of the verb is rat- and of the noun, Ratt- (or perhaps "Ratte"). But "ratsam" (advisable) keeps the long a because it's just a compound of "rat-".

And so, because "kläglich" is a compound of "klag-", and "Mädchen" is a compound of "Maid", the vowels remain long.

(I'm aware that "Mädchen" might actually derive from "Magd" rather than "Maid", and that this seems to contradict the rule. Sorry. Nothing is ever quite that simple in linguistics...)

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    "and that this seems to contradict the rule" - not necessarily. "Magd" has a long 'a', so this fits with "Mädchen". DWDS traces "Magd" back to "ahd. magad", which might explain why this consonant pair 'gd' "does not count". – O. R. Mapper May 17 '18 at 14:14
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    In "Ratten" are there 2 morphemes? "Ratte" - and "n". Can a letter be considered as a morpheme? – Tomas May 18 '18 at 10:41

There is the rule that a vowel before double consonants is spoken short, but note that not only vowels before double consonants are short. It's just that if there is a double consonant, the vowel preceding it is spoken short.

Examples of words where the vowel is short despite no double consonant is following are mit, in, an, Bus.

Also note that a double consonant is not the same as two consonants; rather a double consonant means the same consonant twice (with the exceptions of tz — where the "t" doubles the "t" sound in "z" — and ck — which actually stands for kk).

So of your examples, Keller and Kellner indeed have double consonants, but Lerner does not. And indeed, if you have true double consonants, the rule also applies to umlauts: Kännchen, Füller, völlig, hätte, Rüssel.

On the other hand, there are many words which have a long vowel followed by several consonants (but not double consonants), like Bart, Sarg, halb, Sorge, morgen , gelb.

Note however that, at least according to my observation, in German vowels that are not explicitly marked as long (by doubling the vowel, like Haar, or by adding a Dehnungs-h, like Hahn), are more often short than long.

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