Why is the German "qu" pronounced as "kv"? Most of the languages I know of pronounce "qu" as "w" and/or "kw". What's the history behind this oddity?

  • 3
    Can you provide a few examples? From the top of my had I can only think of words where it's pronounced kw (ku) or k: quasi, Quarks, quarz, Quiche, Antiquariat, Quorum, Quanten...
    – Philipp
    Jul 27 '19 at 5:43
  • 2
    Apart from "Quiche" all these words are pronounced with /kv/, not /kw/.
    – fdb
    Jul 29 '19 at 13:27

Why do you think it's an oddity?

The sound [w] (as in the English words "wind" [wɪnd] or "weep" [wiːp]) does not exist in German language. The most similar sound that exists in German is [v].

And in English I didn't find any word where "qu" was spoken other than [kw]:

  • consequence [ˈkɒnsɪkwɛns]
  • quick [kwɪk]
  • request [ɹɪˈkwɛst]
  • quality [ˈkwɒlɪti]
  • quarter [ˈkwɔːtə]
  • squad [skwɒd]

So, beside the general usage of [v] instead of [w] the German pronunciation is the same like in English.

  • In words that come from French the English use [k] e.g. "quiche". And then there's "quay", pronounced [ki:]
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 27 '19 at 9:01
  • 2
    Plus there's "queue' [kju:]
    – PiedPiper
    Jul 27 '19 at 9:11
  • 2
    It is the same in German. Foreign words are usually pronounced as in their original language (or at least people try ...).
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 27 '19 at 15:48
  • @HubertSchölnast Don't forget Latin. "qu" is definitely not pronounced as in the modern Romanic languages. But I am not sure whether it is correctly pronounced as [kv] or [kw].
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 27 '19 at 16:02
  • @PiedPiper "quay" is pronounced [ke:], and it comes as the German loanword Kai (also pronounced in German way [kai]), as in Kaigasse, Mayburger Kai, etc. Jul 29 '19 at 12:39

Middle High German had a phoneme /w/, usually written “w”, and did not have the sound [v]. In New High German this /w/ survives in a very small number of words (I can think of “blau” and "grau"); otherwise it shifted to /v/, but retained the old spelling with “w” or “qu”. The development of “qu” to /kv/ is thus exactly parallel to the development of “w” to /v/.

  • I thought they were talking about kfark. Köllsch retains the /w/ I guess.
    – vectory
    Jul 29 '19 at 16:40

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