I know that Standard German pronunciation is strictly governed by rules, i.e. the pronunciation of originally German words are to a large extent predicted. However, I don't know whether there is a general rule for realizing a-schwa before vowels as [r] when it occurs at words boundaries.

Examples of [r]:

hieraus, vorauf, voran, hierauf but not hier auf dem Tisch

Examples of [ɐ]:

überall, überaus, allerorts, Vorabend, Lehrerassistent

I can make my own rules to fit the real pronunciatioin such as compound words vs. separate words or prepositions vs. content words and so on, but I can't see the difference between voraus and überaus for example? Is there a rule or should I always learn the pronunciation of each word separately?

  • Vowels as "r" ? Oct 13, 2018 at 10:06
  • @Christian Geiselmann No, before vowels like those in the beginning of aus, an, all, auf, assistent, abend, orts..
    – Abdullah
    Oct 13, 2018 at 10:14
  • 2
    I don't know if there is a known rule, but I think it might be that the first group are 2-syllable words and the second group words consist of more than two syllables.
    – Javatasse
    Oct 13, 2018 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


Phonetics/Phonology is not really my area of research, so someone else may be better equipped to respond, but it appears to me that this has to do with the boundaries of the (phonetic) syllables. If you look at hieraus, voran, hierauf, their common feature is that the r sticks to the preposition: hie|raus, vo|ran, hie|rauf. Unlike in your second group of examples, the word boundary is not the same as the syllabic boundary. Looking this up, this seems to be a pattern with specific prefixes. E.g., Wiese, The Phonology of German, 1996, 66, notes that

Prefixes in general constitute their own, separate domain of syllabification. There are two well-defined sets of exceptions. The prefixes her+, hin+, and vor+ in combination with prepositions (her+an, hin+aus, vor+an) are syllabified so that their final consonant is onset to the second syllable [...] The other exception is the suffix in-, which assimilates to following consonants as in illegal, irregulär, impotent.

  • 1
    Is "dar-" as in "darauf", "darüber" also related to this?
    – sumelic
    Oct 15, 2018 at 8:37

One possible rule:

1. If we have two combined prepositions, r sticks to the next preposition (vo|rauf, vo|ran).

2. If we have a preposition combined with other word classes e.g., nouns, adverbs, verbs… etc., r sticks to the preposition and pronounced accordingly (für|einander, hie|raus).

3. If we do not have a preposition, a-schwa is still pronounced a-schwa (aller|orts, Lehrer|assistent).

Two exceptions: herein and vorüber pronounced with r.

In order to give a precise answer, I had to do a systematic search of all possible combinations of a compound adverb which is obviously the main culprit here. In the following I will provide some examples for each possible combination (some of them do not involve a-schwa but mentioned to clear the issue more):

1. Adverb + Adverb (total 233 results): achteraus, herein, hierorts, hintenheraus, obenherein, obenherum.

2. Adverb + Preposition (total 95 results): herab, heraus, heran, herauf, herüber, herum, herunter, hieran, hierauf, hierunter, hierin, hieraus.

3. Preposition + Adverb (total 41 results): überaus, vorab, überübermorgen, vorerst, vorüber.

4. Preposition + Preposition (total 13 results): voran, voraus, vorauf.

5. Preposition + Pronoun (total 33 results): füreinander, hintereinander, überall, übereinander, untereinander, voreinander, widereinander.

6. Noun + Adverb (total 72 results): bergab, bergan, kopfvor, jahraus, jahrein, türaus, türein.

7. Adjective + Adverb (total 78 results): geradeaus, hochauf, kurzum, querab, querüber, weitaus.

The big idea here lies in word formation. Some words can be a preposition and an adverb e.g., ab, aus, vor, über… etc. The same word is a preposition in some words but an adverb in others sometimes in an unexpected way.

Example 1: aus is a preposition in heraus, hieraus, voraus but an adverb in überaus, achteraus, jahraus, weitaus.

Example 2: ab is a preposition in herab but an adverb in vorab.

Example 3: über is a preposition in überaus, überall, herüber but an adverb in vorüber and querüber.

Example 4: Vor is a preposition in voran, voraus, vorauf, vorerst, vorüber but an adverb in kopfvor.

Note 1: I did not look for all possible combinations of words other than compound adverbs such as compound nouns or adjectives. but I will assume that this rule applies unless counterexamples are provided.

Note 2: In my search, I used canoo to get these possible combinations and dict.cc to check the pronunciation.

  • While I appreciate the work, do you plan to use these results in some other way than self-study?
    – Janka
    Oct 15, 2018 at 0:13
  • 2
    @Janka Of course not. It's for private usage only, but I posted it here because it might help someone in the future who has the same question in mind.
    – Abdullah
    Oct 15, 2018 at 0:38
  • I asked because we had to check if those observations are accurate, one by one.
    – Janka
    Oct 15, 2018 at 1:24
  • 1
    I think you may be over-complicating this issue. As far as I can see, my suspicion that you may simply need to remember the set of prefixes that potentially "give away" their r in prefix+preposition compounds remains unchallenged. Going through all of your examples, you apparently still could only come up with "[ʁ] words" that begin with her-, hier- and vor- and whose second element is (also) a preposition. The only false positive of this algorithm is vorab (as far as I can see).
    – johnl
    Oct 15, 2018 at 4:47
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    Well, sure, as I said, I don't know what the rule is, so we're both speculating here. I'm skeptical about your rule because it rests on premises that seem unnatural. In particular, the whole "acts as a preposition/adverb" distinction doesn't sound plausible to me. You're deep in morphological waters here - speakers don't know that. Take the word vorauf. Nobody uses that word. 95% of Germans will tell you they've never heard of it. Yet I bet most would still pronounce [ʁ]. But they have no clue what it means, and no clue if this is, etymologically, adverb auf or preposition auf.
    – johnl
    Oct 15, 2018 at 7:56

What a puzzling question! What is an "a-schwa"? Should we read "... a general rule for realizing a schwa before consonants as [r]". And even if, where would these schwa's be in the following examples?

hieraus, vorauf, voran don't have schwa's. hier in hier auf dem Tisch has one: /hi:ə/, but what does /hi:ə/ have in common with vorauf /for'auf/ ?

überall, überaus, allerorts, Vorabend, Lehrer, Assistent do have a schwa: /y:bə/, /ɑlə/, /a:bnt/, sometimes /a:bənt/ etc.- but what do these examples and their schwa's have to do with the previous examples?

Is it possible that you have not yet understood that a schwa is this one: /ə/, and only this one?

Take a look at the Vokaltrapez on https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vokaltrapez. The only phoneme that was given the name 'schwa' is the ə right in the middle.

You might want to reconsider your problem and your question(s). :-))


  • 5
    There's nothing wrong with the question. It refers to de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_offener_Zentralvokal ("a-Schwa"), [ɐ], a vowel sound between [a] and [ə].
    – johnl
    Oct 14, 2018 at 11:29
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    Maybe an example would clear it up: vor ends in a schwa but when vor is added to auf (vorauf), the schwa is pronounced r but when vor is added for example to Abend, the schwa is still pronounced a schwa and not r. The same applies for the rest of my examples.
    – Abdullah
    Oct 14, 2018 at 12:11

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