In the German language, K always produces the [k] sound in English words like "king" and S produces either the [s] sound, but often the [z] sound aswell especially when it is the first letter of a word (ex: Sonne) and also the [sh] sound when part of consonant clusters St and Sp (ex: Stock). If that's the case, why is the Sk in German word "Ski" pronounced "Shi" as opposed to "Skizzieren" pronounced "Ski-tsi-eren"? Why is K silent in the "Ski" unlike in "Skizzieren" when both words have the same digraph followed the same vowel?


So according to some research, the reason behind it is the origin of words: Ski and Skizzieren The first one occurs from the Norwegian word "Ski" which is pronounced a lot like the "Sh" sound in Norwegian aswell. That's due to the fact that in Norwegian, K before I and Y sounds a lot like the "ch" in German "ich" so therefore, in Norwegian "Ski" is pronounced with an Sh sound and that word was borrowed into German. The latter comes from the Italian word "Schizzo" where the "Ch" is used for the hard [k] sound before I and E in Italian. So I understand the origin of the "Skizzieren" word but now the question comes, why isn't Ski spelled "Schi" when "Sch" makes the same sound but much less ambiguously?

  • 2
    K always produces the [k] sound in English, like in knight and knowledge? Jan 4 at 0:38
  • 3
    Hi Akshat Goswami, and welcome to German.SE! It is quite cool that you found the answer to your question by own research. It is perfectly acceptable, actually it is even encouraged to answer your own questions here! Jan 4 at 0:55
  • @user unknown: Read my sentence: "In the German language, K always produces the [k] sound in English words like "king" Yes in English, K is often silent especially when it comes before N in words like "knight", "knowledge", "doorknob", etc. In German, K is always [k] except in "ski" like words and other words that have been adopted from Norwegian where it might be making an "sh" sound. Jan 4 at 0:59

3 Answers 3


You are right about the origins of the words: schizzo (pronounced "skitso") is an italian word and means "splash" or "splodge". The German "Skizze" just mimics how the word is originally pronounced. "Ski", on the other hand, is from the Norwegian "ski", which itself comes from Old Nordian "skið" (piece of wood, log). See also: Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache.

Speaking of Kluges book, in fact the lemma "Ski" just points to "Schi", which is an accepted form of writing it. Without having checked what the "Rechtschreibkommission" has to say about it I suppose both variants "Ski" and "Schi" are common.

Generally speaking integrating a word into the German language is a lengthy process and changes in writing and meaning take some time. "Skizze" is perhaps much longer used in German than "Ski/Schi" (Seebold, the current custodian of the aformentioned "Kluge", claims "Schi" is used since the 18th century).

You can see that with words like "Büro", which is derived from the French "bureau". When it was introduced into German it was written like the french word, over time the spelling changed and now mimicks the french pronounciation but using german spelling rules. The greek "φῶς" ("light", genitive "φωτός") from which "photo-" comes, was written like the English version, with a "ph" transliterating the greek "φ" (phi). Over time "ph" was replaced by "f". Now, "φῶς" is related to the verb "φαίνειν" (to make visible, to bring to light), from which words like "phenomenon" (German: "Phänomen"), but also "epiphany" (German: "Epiphanie") come. But the phi here was transliterated with "ph". The same with "Physik".

You see the process is not only lengthy, it is also inconsistent. Most Germans write "Mayonaise" but some insist on "Majonäse" and "Soße" in general instead of "Sauce".

After all being said and done, language is what people say and write. Grammar is just an afterthought, trying to categorize what was said and written before. All the committees trying to prescribe (instead of describe) how language should be used and done ultimately have failed so far. So, the best answer for your question is probably to shrug with the shoulder.

  • 3
    "Schi" is not common and Duden doesn't recommend it.
    – Nobody
    Jan 4 at 9:23
  • 1
    @nobody I think "doesn't recommend it" is pretty much overstating the meaning of "alternative Schreibung". BTW: Duden doesn't "recommend" any words over others, it just lists them.
    – tofro
    Jan 4 at 11:54
  • 1
    @tofro Duden online literally has a section "Von Duden empfohlene Schreibung"
    – Nobody
    Jan 4 at 12:28
  • 1
    Regarding "bureaux": "-aux" is plural, the singular is "bureau" (fr)/"Bureau" (de, outdated). My personal feeling is that the plural "Bureaus" was more common in German than "Bureaux". (Wiktionary lists both.)
    – Heinzi
    Jan 4 at 13:23
  • 1
    Would most Germans not write Mayonnaise (with two n’s), rather than Mayonaise? Also, I have seen edh miswritten as đ before, but with a tilde through the ascender is a first for me! The correct form is of course ð, so skíð. Jan 5 at 11:47

Everything has been correctly said about why Ski is pronounced with a sh (English) or sch (German) sound while skizzieren is pronounced /sk/. This leaves the question on the spelling of the word (Ski versus Schi).

As has been asked and answered elsewhere on this site, German generally tends to keep the foreign spelling of loan words while their pronunciation is adapted to German phonology in varying degrees. Therefore, it makes sense that the loanword Ski retains its Norwegian spelling.

Rarely, the spelling of loanwords is adapted to German conventions. Examples of this are platzieren (derived from French placer, used to be spelt placieren) or Fotograf. The 1996 reform suggested a larger number of these adapted German spelling, especially for words that are no longer generally recognised as loanwords. Ski would be one of those words, so spelling it Schi would make sense.

And, in actual fact, it is spelt Schi … in Austria. As an avid skier, former skiing instructor and a long time ago student of a skiing school, I got to see a variety of skiing places near my home in southern Bavaria (50-ish km from Austria), Austria and, to a lesser extent, South Tyrol. I have not yet come across any place in Bavaria (or elsewhere in Germany) that wrote the word as Schi. On the other hand, I do not recall ever having seen Ski in Austria (but I am less certain about that).

I have not been skiing or to wintersport regions in Switzerland so I cannot comment on Swiss German usage. I have not been in South Tyrol enough to be certain whether they prefer Ski or Schi. However, Austria generally overwhelmingly prefers Schi. And Germany practically exclusively uses Ski.

An Austrian would most likely write:

Ich kaufe meinen Schipass an der Kassa.

Meanwhile, a German would write:

Ich kaufe meinen Skipass an der Kasse.


You found the answer yourself. In German we often retain both the original spelling and the original pronounciation of loanwords. Over time the spelling is changed to reflect the pronounciation with German spelling rules.

Skizze had been loaned from Italian way earlier than Ski had been loaned from Norwegian. Skiing is only popular since the beginning of the 20th century in Germany.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.