Since I am a doctor, I often encounter medical terms which can be very hard to pronounce. Although I can easily read the phonetic alphabet, I can not find these words in normal dictionaries like Duden or PONS. Unfortunately, my German- English medical dictionary (Reuter Medizin) does not contain the pronunciation. I do not think the usual pronunciation rules for German words apply to words from other origins. Examples:

Dyspnoe, Nephritis haemorrhagica/luica/gravidaru, Tendo calcaneus,... etc

Names of drugs: Dimenhydrinat, Ciprofloxacin... etc, (not to mention the brand names!)

How can I know how to pronounce such words accurately? How do I know the stressed syllable in such words? Are there dictionaries that have the pronunciation for these words? Are there rules?


3 Answers 3



There is an article in English Wikipedia that describes the different regional pronunciations of latin.

In the German spoken area there are two different pronunciations important (both linked articles are in German language):

In music (i.e. for singing christian masses from Italian composers) there is also important the Italian pronunciation of Latin.

The German school-pronunciation is a mixture of the reconstructed pronunciation and the usual German pronunciation. But in a scientific context the preferred way to pronounce latin words is the German pronunciation.

What are characteristics of German pronunciation?

  • Letter c before e, i, ae, oe, y is pronounced as [ʦ], otherwise as [k] (never as [s] like in English or [tʃ] line in italian)

    "caput" = [ˈkaput]; "cera" = [ˈʦeːʀa]

  • Vowels before two (or more) consonants in the same syllable are always short (double consonants count as two consonants)
  • Vowels at the end of a syllable can be long, also if the syllable ends in only one consonant
  • only vowels in stressed syllables can be long
  • Vowels are pronounced as in German:

    • "a" = [a] or [aː]
    • "e" = [ɛ] (if stressed) [ə] (schwa in unstressed syllables) or [eː]
    • "i" = [ɪ] / [i] or [iː]
    • "o" = [ɔ] or [oː]
    • "u" = [ʊ] or [uː]
    • "y" = [ɪ], [i] or [iː]
    • alternate convention for "y" = [ʏ] or [yː]
  • Also consonants are pronounced as if the word was German:

    • "b" = [b]
    • "c" = [ʦ] or [kʰ] (aspired k) (for distinction see above)
    • "d" = [d]
    • "f" = [f]
    • "g" = [g]
    • "h" = [h]
    • "l" = [l]
    • "m" = [m]
    • "n" = [n]
    • "p" = [pʰ] (aspired p)
    • "qu" = [kʋ]
    • "r" = [r], [ʀ] or [ʁ] (you can use what ever you want)
    • "s" = [z] before vowels, otherwise [s] (in Austria always [s]) (but "ss" is always [s])
    • "t" = [tʰ] (aspired t) but "ti" if followed by another vowel = [ʦɪ]
    • "v" = [f] or [ʋ]
    • "x" = [k(ʰ)s]
    • "z" = [ts]

Note, that in the middle and northern parts of Germany [b], [d] and [g] at the end of a word become [p], [t] and [k] (Auslautverhärtung)


There is also an article in Wikipedia that deals with the pronunciation of old Greek in German.

Here also exists an attempt to reconstruct the old pronunciation, but what you will hear in German spoken countries is a little bit different.

Biggest difference: Sounds, that do not exist in German language (like [θ]) will not be used in German pronunciation.

There also is no difference in pronunciation of θ and τ. Both are spoken as an aspired [tʰ]. (T is always aspired in German)

Generally spoken π, τ and κ are always aspired (i.e. [pʰ], [tʰ] and [kʰ] instead of [p], [t], [k])

Σ and ζ are pronounced like latin s and z (see above).

Χ most often is pronounced as [x] (like ch in German »Dach« = [dax]) but sometimes also like c in latin language (see above)

The greek vowels are pronounced like their Latin counterparts.

  • 3
    According to both the Wikipedia page you linked and my own experience, Chi (Χ, χ) is pronounced as either [x] or [ç], so it's like ch in "Dach" or like ch in "Ich", depending on the preceding vowel. I've never heard it pronounced as the latin c, [ʦ] or [kʰ].
    – Lykanion
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 8:15
  • 1
    Could you add a note on syllable stress, i.e. where the stress would sit in a word like calcaneus. Are there any rules or regularities that would help Abdullah to find the right syllable to bear the main stress? Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 9:52
  • 2
    @Lykanion "Chlor" (from χλωρος) = /klo:r/
    – Uwe
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 12:27
  • @Hubert Schölnast Thanks a lot. I will definitely read these articles. I bet they are very helpful. But one quick question before: Is the stressed syllable in Latin/Greek words ALWAYS predictable? Is the stressed syllable in drugs scientic/brand names, tradmarks,.. predictable as well? Are there rules for the stress position in such non-Greek non-Latin nouns?
    – user34137
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 13:09
  • 1
    @Abdullah - Good question about the predictability of stresses in Greek and Latin words. I suppose there are regularities, and I hope Hubert will find the time to describe them here. - In any case, one way of determining where a word's stress is supposed to be in Greek and Latin is to see how these words are used in Greek and Latin poetry / verses, because both stress and length of vowels are important factors for creating the desired rhythm, e.g. in Hexameter verses. (That's what I remember from my Latin classes.) Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 13:55

The German Rechtschreibrat has added a chapter on German pronounciation and, especially, a sub-chapter on how to pronounce foreign words to their set of rules. It can be found here. The rules for foreign words start on page 24. You should be able to read IPA phonetic symbols, though.

  • 1
    Err, was there not something about link-only answers?
    – Carsten S
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 8:28
  • The link is working. I will read it and I hope to find my answers in it.
    – user34137
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 13:15

Hubert's answer is excellent, but to put it short for your special use case:

  • Names of symptoms are put in the school pronounciation (c→k, t→t) because patients would hardly use it and that pronounciation is clearer.
  • Names of drugs and brand names are put in the German pronounciation (c→ts, t→z) because the patient has to pronunce the name when talking about her medication.
  • Thank you a lot, I asked Hubert the same question, but your answer is very important to me since you have studied these languages for a long time: Is the stressed syllable in Latin/Greek words ALWAYS predictable? Is the stressed syllable in drugs scientic/brand names, tradmarks,.. predictable as well? Are there rules for the stress position in such non-Greek non-Latin nouns? –
    – user34137
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 13:12
  • I think Hubert has studied Latin and Old Greek longer than I did (7/2). He's from Austria after all.
    – Janka
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 14:19
  • For non-compounds, the latin school pronounciation is 1) stress on second last syllable if it is long. 2) stress on third-last syllable if the second-last is short. Vowels with a macron in the dictionary are long and so are their syllables. In addition, all syllables whose vowel is followed by two consonants (doesn't matter if in the same or next syllable) are considered long.
    – Janka
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 14:26
  • 1
    There aren't any more rules about the stress of Latin words in the school pronouciation. It's already a simplification of the "real" latin, which has also developed over time.
    – Janka
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 14:47
  • 1
    If you can't make out the stem, it's all up to you. For example, I would stress all drug brands named -zym on that last syllable, but it's only a personal preference.
    – Janka
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 15:03

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