"Nahrung" is presumably formed from "nähren" through an extremely productive verb-to-noun derivation, and there's plenty of information about this process.

What I'm puzzling over though is the loss of the umlaut. The introduction of an umlaut in this and many other derivations is well attested, but I've struggled to find any specific information on this phenomenon (if indeed it's not merely a one-off).

Certainly it can't be particular to "nähren", since there are a whole host of words derived from it which retain the umlaut; indeed there's also "Nährung" anyway which is formed in the way one would expect.

Of course, it may be that my initial assumption that "Nahrung" is derived from "nähren" is false!

Nevertheless, is this just a one-off, or is this but a single example of a broader class of words in which a derived form has a de-umlauted vowel?

  • 2
    '"Nahrung" is presumably formed from "nähren"' That's simplified too much. Both of these words are modern German. In Old High German, the corresponding words were "narunga" (10th century) and "nerien", "nerren" (8th century). DWDS claims "narunga" derives from "nara" (salvation).
    – user6495
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 12:23
  • Okay, so the two words are best seen as having different origins altogether. Nothing to see here then! It was actually the DWDS entry which I'd initially checked with too, and it implied that "Nahrung" is formed from "nähren" and "-ung", but I guess I'd really not read it properly. Thanks for the clarification! Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


If a word with long e-sound origins from a word with ah, we write ä.

nah → Nähe

Gefahr → gefährlich

Stahl → stählern

Nahrung → nähren

So it's not a one-off, there are certain spelling rules when we use an ä instead of n e and introducing or loosing an "Umlaut".

Usually, the words with ä are derived from words with a. Therefore we usually write ä when there are related words with a, and e when there are no related words.

You can find further information and exceptions to this Rule e.g. in this article or the "Duden" itself.

Interesting in this context is also the formation of the "Dehnungs-h" in these cases.

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    Thanks Hannah. I've learnt something from this because I wasn't aware derivations from words with ah require an umlaut. That's very useful to know! I assume such vowels are always emphasized? I'm a little confused by the assertion that "nähren" is derived from "Nahrung" though; I'm aware of the generalized and very common process taking place in the opposite direction, but this here surprises me, as it would at least suggest that there are other ways that nouns ending in -ung can be formed (unless "Nahrung" here itself is seen as being indivisible?) Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 12:25
  • As far as I know, the origin of Nahrung develops from Ernährung which is in late Latin nutritio - "Ernährung", and "nutrire" - "nähren" in Latin. But maybe I am wrong? Happy to research this further. Have you got any references or indication we could work from? Just saw the other comment above around the origin. Seems like different sources provide a different origin. This is interesting to investigate further!
    – Hannah
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 13:51
  • It's only the same DWDS link, and really I should've read it more closely. I suppose I was thrown because searching for "Nahrung" took me to "nähren"; but quite rightly too because it's the fact that the two words have different origins (despite their related modern meaning) that makes them particularly worthy of note. Still, my original query as to whether there are derivational processes in which an umlaut is lost still remains, and indeed you mention in your answer “certain ... rules ... introducing or losing an Umlaut”; could you give me an example? Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 16:36
  • Sorry, I was that focused on trying to fit my comment to within the limited number of characters, I wasn't clear in what I was querying: what I'm particularly interested in is whether there are examples of derivational processes in which an umlaut is specifically lost (rather than gained). Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 8:27

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