Ok, so I understand -er is almost always pronounced as a shwa or "uh". Often it goes all the way to an "ah" sound in German in my experience. Non-native speakers of German that come from rhotic languages (fellow Slavic speakers notably) often make the mistake of pronouncing Fischer as fish-eh-r (or fish-air with short "ai" and rhotic "r") while Germans will be like "fish-ah"/"fish-uh".

  1. My first question is how is this different than the EN speakers dropping the final -r? To me it's very similar to how some British speakers drop the last -r. How did it develop? Was it always like that, or were medieval Germans prone to say Fish-ehr? Which Germanic languages would pronounce the -er clearly today? I thought the name of a character in a sitcom was Peggy Wanka (that's how it was dubbed in Bulgarian, overcorrection?). Turns out it's actually, well, Wanker. :D

  2. I wonder if Germans are able to hear the difference between, say Joschka and Joschker? Wouldn't they be pronounced vaguely the same? In German I always hear the name of a politician pronounced as Joschka Fisha while in my native Bulgarian it has always been Joschka Fish-ehr/Fish-air with hard r and short eh in "ai".

  • Link: I'm pretty sure the Peggy character being referred to is Peg Bundy née Wanker from "Married... with Children". "Wanker" isn't common in American slang, so the humor of Al referring to his in-laws as "the Wankers" is a bit more subtle in the US than it would be England; In England I think it would be too obvious to be very funny.
    – RDBury
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 22:56
  • It is a bit unfortunate that this is two questions in one, because I too would be interested in an answer to (1), and I fear that we will not get one.
    – Carsten S
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 10:36
  • To clarify. -ka is a very frequent ending in Slavic names. Misunderstanding -k-er from cross-interfering native language habits should be, after all, understandable.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 10:51

4 Answers 4


In my question about German vowels (asked in German language) I gave examples for all the 30 different vowels in Germans words that I am aware of. Note, that long and short vowels of the same quality are counted as distinct vowels (because for example the pair »Stahl« - »Stall« can be distinguished only by the length of the vowel), and I also counted stressed and unstressed vowels as two different vowels because stress is the only difference between the two version of »umgehen« in »Er versucht die Sperre zu umgehen« and »Ich kann mit dieser Schuld nicht umgehen

Two of these 30 vowels are important for your question, because they are different than the 28 other vowels:

  • [ə] last sound in the word »Blume« ("flower")
  • [ɐ] last sound in the word »Bruder« ("brother")

Next thing you should know:

When talking about stress of syllables there are three different types of syllables in German words:

  • stressed syllables (example: 2nd syllable of »entstehen«)
  • unstressed syllables (example: 1st syllable of »entstehen«)
  • reduction syllables (example: 3rd syllable of »entstehen«)

Reduction syllables are even less stressed than unstressed syllables, and they only can appear at the end of a word. (Well, in compound words they also can appear in the middle of the compound word, but even there, only at the end of an "atomic" word like the syllable »er« in »Jedermann«.)

A German reduction syllable always contains the letter »e« in its written form, but when you pronounce it, only the vowels [ə] or [ɐ] can appear. Never ever can a German reduction syllable have another spoken vowel. They just can have no vowel at all.

  • Syllables that are spoken with [ə] (German name: Schwa, English name: schwa)

    -e: jede [ˈjeːdə]
    -em: jedem [ˈjeːdəm]
    -es: jedes [ˈjeːdəs]
    -est: zumindest [t͡suˈmɪndəst]

  • Syllables that are spoken with [ɐ] (German name: »Tiefschwa« or Fast offener Zentralvokal, English name: near-open central vowel)

    -er: jeder [ˈjeːdɐ]
    -ern: fordern [ˈfɔʁdɐn]
    -ert: hundert [ˈhʊndɐt]
    -erst: äußerst [ˈɔɪ̯sɐst]

  • Syllables that are spoken without any vowel but with a vocalized sonor consonant

    -en: jeden [ˈjeːdn̩] (vocalized N instead of a vowel)
    -el: Regel [ˈʁeːɡl̩] (vocalized L instead of a vowel)
    -eln: kitzeln [ˈkɪt͡sl̩n] (vocalized L instead of a vowel)
    -elt: kitzelt [ˈkɪt͡sl̩t] (vocalized L instead of a vowel)
    -elst: kitzelst [ˈkɪt͡sl̩st] (vocalized L instead of a vowel)

Neither [ə] nor [ɐ] can appear in a "normal" i.e. non-reduction syllable, and as the pair »jede - jeder« ([ˈjeːdə] - [ˈjeːdɐ]) demonstrates, they also must not be mixed up.

When a German word in it's written form ends in a syllable that does not contain the letter »e«, then this word can not be pronounced with [ə] or [ɐ].

The pair Joschka - Joschker is not a good example, because the word »Joschker« doesn't exist, so there is no defined pronunciation for it. But I have another pair for you:

  • Anka (female first name from Bulgarian and Serbian language)
    Pronunciation: [ˈaŋka] (first and second vowel differ only in the amount of stress, but are of the same quality)
  • Anker (English; anchor, keeper)
    Pronunciation: [ˈaŋkɐ] (first and second syllable are two differnt sounds)

another pair (although the first syllable has vowels of different lengths):

  • meta (bound lexeme like in Metaphysik) (same word as in English)
    Pronunciation: [ˈmeta]
  • Meter (physical unit, same as in English)
    Pronunciation: [ˈmeːtɐ]

What is the difference between [a] and [ɐ]?


I'd like to confirm what @RDBury also wrote: <a> and <-er> are usually realised by two different vowels in German.

  • <a> relates to [a] or [​aː]
  • <-er> relates to [ɐ] (sometimes called Tiefschwa 'low schwa' or a-Schwa): lower and more central than [a]

So at least when spoken carefully, it is possible to distinguish Joschka from Joschker, as well as Opa from Oper and Klara from klarer. However, it is possible that speakers mumble to the extent where the sounds become very similiar, e.g. intentionally in the pun name Klara Fall (resembling klarer Fall 'clear case').

Difference to English: As @RDBury explains, a RP speaker would pronounce großer like große, while in German the two are pronounced different: [ˈɡʁoːsɐ] vs. [ˈɡʁoːsə], because:

  • Unstressed short <e> relates to [ə], the proper schwa (or e-Schwa)

So Tiefschwa [ɐ] and (e-)Schwa [ə] need to be distinguished from each other as well.

  • I agree in general, except that "[it is possible to distinguish] Opa from Oper". Hard disagree on lexical grounds! I rely chiefly on DPs with gendered determiners for this one and let context do the heavy lifting. Opa is in fact a determinet (if used like a pornoun). The lexems are far from minimally distant, one a nursery word, the other a high brow loan from Italian opera (where the Ablaut is liable to decline as seen in operette, opus, see also O.P. /'o.pe:/, ora, labora, prét). After all, only ancient people go the opera, so the homonyme is fully justified.
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 11:34

I'm not a native speaker, so I'm only going by IPA notations, various sound files (for example in Wiktionary), and speech to text programs (for example in Google translate and dict.cc). A native speaker might be able to fill in more detail. Wiktionary gives the IPA symbol /ɐ/ to the final -er sound in German, while it gives the final "-er" sound in an English accent (RP) as /ə/. To my (American) ears the nonrhotic "-er" is a bit more open than the "o" in unstressed "of", which is also represented as /ə/ in IPA, but perhaps that's just me. The a in etwa is given the IPA symbol /a/ which is not the same as /ɐ/. Wiktionary also gives the /ə/ symbol to the final -e in Tasche, though to my ears there's a shade more "e-ness" to the sound than the "o" in unstressed "of". So, at least according to IPA notations, the final -er, final -e, and final -a are all different in German; how they compare with the British "-er" or American schwa is debatable (in my opinion).

In any case, all these sounds are unstressed and presumably sound more similar when spoken quickly. I think there's also a tendency for differences to be heard when not spoken. A German speaker expects to hear -er at the end of der Fisch- and -e at the end of die Fisch-, so they will usually hear that regardless of which one is actually spoken. My understanding is that the American accent is rather notorious for this phenomenon, though as an American I don't really notice it myself.


How it came to be: The "weakening" (replacement with some kind of weak vocal or Schwa sound conserved in orthography as e, then complete annihilation in prononciation) of the vocals in the terminating syllabes was probably a long term effect of the initial stress of proto germanic. This effect continued with the terminating consonant -r and produced some kind of a or a-Schwa sound instead of -er.

In German, the precise sound actually spoken depends on the region/dialect and on the situation: In formal speech, people tend to over-correct prononciation, for example 'bru:der (Bruder, engl. brother). But in an informal conversation they will say 'bru:dɐ where the dialects do have the respective Schwa-sound. For example in Austria, speakers will use a weakly spoken a instead of the ɐ-Schwa, as the dialects there do not have Schwa-sounds.

To further illustrate the latter: Some time ago, there was an advertisement for pudding from a german company on austrian TV. It was targeted towards children and contained a rhyme like "Die [Kuh] Paula mit der Brille..." ("the [cow] Paula with glasses..."). The word Brille (glasses) was prononced the "german" way, that is, with an e-Schwa, but for austrian ears this sounded like "Brillö", and kids were "amused" by the strange prononciation.

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