ß Pronunciation And Meaning (It’s Easier Than It Looks)

September 18, 2022

Feli from Germany smiling, next to ess-tset character.

The German letter ß, called ess-tset, does not exist in the English alphabet. Though the ess-tset looks different, it makes a sound that is likely familiar. ß is pronounced just like the double-s in English, like in the word “miss.”

The ß sounds like this:

German English



die Straße

the street
Click Purple Words to Play

1. How do I pronounce ß in German?

Though the ß looks different, it makes a sound that is likely familiar. The ß is pronounced just like the double-s in English, like in the words “miss” or “hiss.”

The ß pronunciation is an unvoiced sound

When you make an unvoiced sound, like the double-s sound for ß, you will not feel any vibration on your throat.

Feli from Germany in Kleo lesson, placing fingers on her throat to demonstrate lack of vibration for unvoiced S.

Compare this to saying the English word “closet,” where the letter S is a voiced sound, and you will feel a vibration on your throat.

Try making the ß sound now. Remember, the pronunciation is just like the double-s in the English words “miss” or “hiss.” Make sure you do not feel any vibration on your throat for the unvoiced ß sound.

2. Where will I encounter the ß?

Several high frequency words contain the ß letter.

It is common to see the ß after the vowel combination EI. Listen for the double-s ß sound in these EI words:

Example In Context
German English German English

Ich heiße

I am called

Ich heiße + Name

I am called + Name

Du heißt

You are called

Wie heißt du?

How are you called?

Ich weiß

I know

Ich weiß nicht

I do not know



Es ist heiß

It is hot

It is also common to see the ess-tset following long vowels. In these examples, listen for the double-s ß sound after a long vowel:

Example In Context
German English German English



Es ist groß

It is big

die Straße

the street

Die Straße ist groß

The street is big

When it comes to positioning within a word, we have seen the ß used in the middle of a word (like in die Straße) and also at the end of a word (like in groß). Note that you will never encounter the ß at the beginning of a word.

3. Does German use the actual double-s in words?

In addition to the ß, which is pronounced like a double-s, note that the actual double-s construct also exists in German. The pronunciation of the ß and the German double-s is identical. Both are just like the double-s in English and are unvoiced sounds.

In these words, notice how the German double-s is identical to the ß pronunciation we have been discussing:

German English

das Wasser

the water

das Essen

the food

4. How do I write the ß character?

To reflect an ß in written word, it is easiest to use a double-s in place of the ß letter. In fact, some German documents default to replacing the ß with two S letters.

There are various keyboard strokes that will type the ß, but using the double-s works just fine.

5. Does ß have any other pronunciations?

No! Unlike many German letters, the ß has only one pronunciation. ß is always pronounced like the double-s in “miss.”

The pronunciation of the ß is always the same, regardless of where the ß occurs in a word and regardless of what letters the ß occurs alongside.

6. Where does the ß come from?

Castle in Germany under beautiful sky.

The ß reflects the evolution of German pronunciation over the centuries. The ß is rooted in history stemming back more than a thousand years.

At that time, the so-called second Germanic sound shift moved through the country. Among other changes, people began to articulate an S instead of a T in some cases.

From the 14th century onward, the spelling "sz" was used for the sound. The ß character visually resembles the side-by-side placement of the long S and the Z in the old Fraktur script.

7. What are other German letters that do not exist in English?

The ß is one of four German letters that does not exist in the English alphabet. The ß is the easiest of this group to pronounce, as the ß makes a single sound with a direct equivalent in English.

The other three unique letters are the umlaut vowels Ä, Ö, and Ü. You can learn to make these sounds with practice. In Kleo's interactive video lessons, you'll find powerful pronunciation tips and face-to-face speaking practice for these letters and more.

8. How can I practice using and pronouncing the ß?

When it comes to the ß, you can likely already produce the required double-s sound. The key is remembering to associate the ß with the right sound. This connection will solidify as you use more ß words.

  1. Get feedback on your pronunciation to improve: Check out the interactive video pronunciation lessons in Kleo. You can practice the pronunciation of specific sounds and words, as if you were face-to-face with German friends. Feli from Germany even hosts a popular pronunciation lesson featuring the ß. You can practice important ß phrases with Feli, including many of the examples we’ve covered here.
  2. Produce the ß in context: Use ß words in real-life situations to build muscle memory. The next time you run into someone, try using “Ich heiße” and “Wie heißt du?” to exchange names. In the Kleo app, you can practice speaking these phrases, as well as other ways to share your name.