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'.

  • 7
    I think it's more common to just say Kilometer instead of "kaa em", but that would be the way to pronounce the letters. Apr 2, 2020 at 21:24
  • 12
    The famous poem by Christian Morgenstern has to be mentioned here.
    – guidot
    Apr 2, 2020 at 22:03
  • 1
    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, 2020 at 12:09
  • 4
    Out of curiosity (as a Dutch person myself), do you ever use 'kaa em' in Dutch?
    – tjalling
    Apr 3, 2020 at 15:23
  • 4
    Yes, especially when saying km/h as "kar-em-har" (ka: ɛm̩ ha:). Apr 3, 2020 at 17:08

4 Answers 4

  • "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.

  • 7
    ... and "Stundenkilometer" is already a (popular) alternative to the more correct "Kilometer pro Stunde".
    – Nobody
    Apr 3, 2020 at 14:04
  • 1
    Maybe you could add the IPA notation.
    – mtwde
    Apr 3, 2020 at 16:14
  • @mtwde: Done. Can you please check whether I got it right and correct it if not? Apr 3, 2020 at 18:13
  • 3
    @Nobody Note that Stundenkilomater fits ointo the common pattern of expressing A/B as "BA" (Jahresumsatz, Wochenarbeitsstunden, ...) Apr 4, 2020 at 20:57
  • 1
    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, 2020 at 12:29

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.

  • 8
    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, 2020 at 12:36
  • 2
    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, 2020 at 13:22
  • 5
    kB, MB, GB and TB are often pronounced with their respective letters instead of "Gigabyte". Apr 3, 2020 at 13:40
  • 2
    @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, 2020 at 14:02
  • 8
    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". Apr 3, 2020 at 16:17

"km" is not pronounced 'kaa em'. However, if you are referring to "kmh" (kilometers per hour), it is often pronounced 'kaa em haa'.


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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