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I am Dutch and I would like to understand if a German native speaker would understand if I pronounce the 'km' abbreviation of the word 'Kilometer' as 'kaa em'.

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    I think it's more common to just say Kilometer instead of "kaa em", but that would be the way to pronounce the letters. – infinitezero Apr 2 at 21:24
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    The famous poem by Christian Morgenstern has to be mentioned here. – guidot Apr 2 at 22:03
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    Off topic: It's the same situation in Czech Language too. The km abbreviation is mostly said as kilometr and sometimes (infrequently) as "kaa em". – mishan Apr 3 at 12:09
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    Out of curiosity (as a Dutch person myself), do you ever use 'kaa em' in Dutch? – tjalling Apr 3 at 15:23
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    Yes, especially when saying km/h as "kar-em-har" (ka: ɛm̩ ha:). – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 at 17:08
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  • "km" is usually pronounced as Kilometer, ka em [kaː ʔɛm] is at least where I am very unusual in everyday spoken German.
  • ka em may be encountered more frequently in ka em ha [kaː ʔɛm haː] (km/h, the slash/division not being pronounced) as an alternative to saying "Stundenkilometer" colloquially, sometimes also Kilometer in der Stunde (sounds somewhat old-fashioned to me) or Kilometer pro Stunde.

Other units that are fequently pronounced abbreviated are kW [kaː veː] and sometimes also kWh [kaː veː haː], maybe also MW and MWh (but W, Wh, GW or GWh are usually pronounced in their "long form") and as some other answers already point out also storage capacity units may be pronounced in the abbreviated form.
μm are sometimes pronounced mü [myː].

While these "abbreviations" are common in everyday spoken language, noone would think it odd to pronounce the long form for any of these.

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    ... and "Stundenkilometer" is already a (popular) alternative to the more correct "Kilometer pro Stunde". – Nobody Apr 3 at 14:04
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    Maybe you could add the IPA notation. – mtwde Apr 3 at 16:14
  • @mtwde: Done. Can you please check whether I got it right and correct it if not? – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 3 at 18:13
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    @Nobody Note that Stundenkilomater fits ointo the common pattern of expressing A/B as "BA" (Jahresumsatz, Wochenarbeitsstunden, ...) – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 4 at 20:57
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    I agree that "ka-em" is seldomly used (sometimes when reading) but "ka-em-hah" is very often colloquial used for Stundenkilometer (km/h) – eckes Apr 5 at 12:29
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It would absolutely never be pronounced kaa em if talking about kilometers. As cbeleites unhappy with SX noted, km/h is actually often pronounced kaa em haa, but that is the exception. Usually, units are pronounced completely. Wh are Wattstunden, J in physics is always pronounced Joule, etc., and everything else would sound incredibly weird and out of place, like a physicist pronouncing kg as kay gee in English.

The only other exception I can think of is PS, which everyone just pronounces pe es, mostly because "Pferdestärken" is very archaic.

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    Another exception to the complete pronunciation: many people in many language shorten "kilogram" to "kilo", and I believe German is no exception. Or is it? – gerrit Apr 3 at 12:36
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    Marc, be aware though that the pronunciation 'kay-gee' is the norm in India. Yes it sounds funny and wrong in the US (if they even know what a kg is) – Aganju Apr 3 at 13:22
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    kB, MB, GB and TB are often pronounced with their respective letters instead of "Gigabyte". – infinitezero Apr 3 at 13:40
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    @infinitezero I dispute your "often" assertion. I can personally attest that German speaking computer scientists usually don't abbreviate like that, and neither do most laypeople. – Nobody Apr 3 at 14:02
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    I have to second @infinitezero. I have heard '16 MB RAM' ('emm-bee'), '56K-Modem' (with 'kaa' instead of the proper unit) or '5-GB-Internetflatrate' ('gee-bee') etc. quite "often". – Frank from Frankfurt Apr 3 at 16:17
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"km" is not pronounced 'kaa em'. However, if you are referring to "kmh" (kilometers per hour), it is often pronounced 'kaa em haa'.

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It is spoken as abbreviation rarely, but there are exceptions.

If you have to read a long list of such abbreviations, you probably would use the shorter "ka emm", or in a professional context, where it is used often, it might get a habit, as in the IT field, where MB is often used in abbreviated form.

Another situation might be a citation of a written text, where you like to be absolute accurate, especially if from the context it is clear, that you are talking about kilometers.

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