How to pronounce "Was sind …" and other consequence when a final voiceless consonant meets an initial voiced consonant?

When [t] and [z] meet:

Wie alt sind Sie?
nicht sehr

(together as [tsʰ], [ts], or [dz]?)

When [s] and [z] meet:

Was sind Sie von Beruf?
das Sofa

(together as [s], [z], or [sz]?)


Ich suche

  • 4
    German has distinct syllable and word borders. You must articulate each word as a separate entity with a very short pause between them. So your combinations simply not exist, each word is self-contained and pronounced always the same.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 3:21
  • Note "word borders" would also be considered the connection in compound words which German has an endless supply of - so, even within such words there is no binding of consonants.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 12:38

3 Answers 3


When /t/ and /z/ meet, they are pronounced as [ts], when /z/ and /z/ meet, they are pronounced as [sː] (a long [s]).

In northern German varieties lenis obstruents such as /z/ become voiced when surrounded on both sides by voiced sounds (vowels and other sonorants). In your examples, the /z/ is preceded by other obstruents, so voicing is blocked.

At least for southern dialects of German, it is typical that all fortis–lenis differences are neutralized when a sound is next to any voiceless sound (see Heuslers Gesetz). However, the southern varieties of Standard German may no longer have such a neutralization insofar as they have adopted the aspiration of fortis stops (originally only found in the unshifted stops of northern varieties).

As in all other languages, German pronunciation is continuous. There is no such thing as a pause or caesura between words. The impression of a pause might especially arise from the glottal stop that is inserted before stem-initial vowels in many varieties of German.

  • »At least for southern dialects« - Not only dialects. What you wrote is also true for the southern variation of standard German. A dialect is not just the same language with a "funny" pronunciation. Dialects have their own grammar and their own vocabulary. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:31
  • @Hubert Schölnast: I do not get the point of your comment. Of course it is also true for southere varieties of Standard German in principle, except it is no longer true for fortis stops if they have taken on aspiration. Which is precisely what I have written in the answer.
    – mach
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 8:02
  • This answer could be greatly improved by providing examples.
    – Crissov
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 19:28

German has no rule for pronunciation that goes across the border of words. Each word is pronounced independent of its predecessors and successors.

There is only the melody of the sentence itself (intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm) (prosodie) that has an influence that affects larger parts of the speech, but pronunciation is only word by word.

There is just an effect that influences the last consonant of a word (or syllable), which is called Auslautverhärtung (final-obstruent devoicing): When a consonant, that normally should be pronounced voiced is at the end of a word or syllable, it will be pronounced voiceless.


Ich gehe baden. [ˈbaːdən] (When not at the end of a syllable, »d« is pronounced as [d])
Ich gehe ins Bad. [baːt] (At the end of the word »d« is pronounced as [t])
Ich gehe ins Badezimmer. [ˈbaːdəˌʦɪmɐ] (Inside a syllable: »d« = [d])

Ich werde nach Ulm radeln. [ˈʀaːdl̩n] (Inside a syllable: »d« = [d])
Ich kaufe mir ein Rad. [ʀaːt] (At the end: »d« = [t])
Ich nehme am Radrennen teil. [ˈʀaːtˌʀɛnən] (Inside a word, but still at the end of a syllable: »d« = [t])

What I did show here for »d« = [d]/[t] works also for »b« = [b]/[p] and »g« = [g]/[k], where in the later case you more often will hear [ç] instead of [k] (»König« = [ˈkøːnɪç] in Berlin, [ˈkøːnɪk] in Munic and [ˈkøːnɪg] in Graz), but this is another topic.

But Auslautverhärtung is just a feature of northern regions of German sprachraum. You will hear it in Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover and Berlin, but not in Munich, Vienna and Zurich.

And again: This effect is not influenced by the next word. This is just an in-word-rule, like all German rules for pronunciation. (And it is not a global rule, but just regional)

And, also note what Janka wrote in his comment: In German there is always a small caesura (a short break) between two words, and often even between Syllables within a word. This is what gives German a sound that often is described as hard or military. We do not slide one word into the next like it is done in Italian for example. We make short breaks between consecutive words.

When speaking about voiced/unvoiced consonants:
S is never voiced in the south. When ever people from northern regions (lets say Hamburg) use the consonant [z] (»Seele« = [ˈzeːlə]) you will hear the same word pronounced with [s] in the south (lets say in Graz) (»Seele« = [ˈseːlə]). Also [p] and [k] are often replaced by [b] and [g] (or something in between [p] and [b] respectively [k] and [g] in the south.

  • Thank you very much. So the three cases should be described as [t˭·z] [s·z] and [ç·z]? And could you recommend some materiale about German Phonetics?
    – wodemingzi
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 13:51
  • 1st question: Yes. 2nd question: Sorry, I don't know any good resources. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 20:14
  • 1
    Nobody says "was sind" with "a short break" between the two words. You are confusing spelling with pronunciation. Mach's answer is correct.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 17:57
  • @HubertSchölnast Die Aussage "In German there is always a small caesura (a short break) between two words, and often even between Syllables within a word" mag für Bühnenaussprache gelten; für die Umgangssprache kannich das nichumbedingt bestätigen.
    – Uwe
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 18:50

Many German speakers pronounce word-initial "s" as voiceless [s] anyway (although it might be a "lenis" [s] rather than a fortis one—whatever that means exactly phonetically). But setting that aside, German, like English (and unlike e.g. Dutch or Polish), does not have any rule of voicing word-final obstruents when they come before voiced obstruents, so we definitely wouldn't expect to hear [dz] or [zz] in such contexts.

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