O Umlaut Made Easy (Ö Pronunciation Guide)

September 24, 2022

Feli from Germany smiling, next to O umlaut character.

The O umlaut is one of three German vowels that does not exist in the English alphabet. Ö does not have an equivalent sound in English. It’s kind of like the sound you'd make when disgusted by something.

Like all German vowels, the O umlaut has a long pronunciation and a short pronunciation. You can learn to make these sounds with practice.

The Ö pronunciations sound like this:

Ö Sound German English

die Flöte

the flute

der Löffel

the spoon
Click Purple Words to Play

1. What is the O umlaut?

Ö is one of the three German vowels that does not exist in English.

We have Ä and Ü, as well as the Ö we are discussing here. The two dots over the letter change how the vowel is pronounced.

2. Why is the O umlaut important?

The Ö pronunciation contributes to the unique sound and feeling of the German language, as Ö makes a sound that does not exist in English. When you correctly pronounce the O umlaut, you are one step closer to sounding like a native German speaker.

Buildings in downtown Munich, Germany.

The O umlaut occurs in many important words, including two modal verbs (können/can, as well as mögen/to like, along with its möchten forms).

Maybe you want to ask someone – “Can you speak German?” - “Können Sie Deutsch sprechen?” You’ll need the O umlaut! Or you may want to say – “I would like to learn German” - “Ich möchte Deutsch lernen.” Again, you’ll need the O umlaut!

3. How is the O umlaut pronounced?

The O umlaut makes a sound that does not exist in English. You can learn to produce this sound with practice.

Here is a tip to help you produce the Ö sound:

  1. Whenever you see the two dots over the O, think – not OH!/surprised, but instead, disgusted. Think of being disgusted by something, and try making that sound.
Feli from Germany in O Umlaut pronunciation lesson in Kleo app, pretending she is disgusted by something.

See if you can hear the Ö sound in these examples:

Example In Context
German English German English

die Flöte

the flute

Ich spiele Flöte

I play flute

das Öl

the oil

Wo ist das Öl?

Where is the oil?

die Söhne

the sons

Ich habe zwei Söhne

I have two sons

4. How can I practice producing the Ö sound?

You can develop muscle memory for the O umlaut sound with practice. Here is a good exercise:

  1. First, articulate a long German E sound, like in the German word Sehne, meaning tendon
  2. Gradually purse your lips like you want to kiss someone
  3. You will end up with “Söhne,” the German word for “sons.” And there you have the O umlaut

Try the exercise with these word pairs:

Long German E O Umlaut
German English German English









5. What are the two pronunciations of Ö (long and short)?

Like all German vowels, the O umlaut has both a long pronunciation and a short pronunciation.

For the Ö, we make a similar sound for both pronunciations. We just hold the sound for different durations. And the short Ö sound is tenser and more open.

Listen to the two pronunciations of the O umlaut:

Long Ö Short Ö
German English German English

die Flöte

the flute

der Löffel

the spoon

die Löhne

the wages


can/able to

die Söhne

the sons


to open
Father playing with two sons by pushing them in a box. The word for sons in German has a long O umlaut before the letter H.

6. How do I know which Ö pronunciation to use?

There are some guidelines for when to use the short pronunciation vs. the long pronunciation for German vowels, including umlauts.

For instance, before the letter H, use a long umlaut. Listen for the long Ö sound before the letter H in these words:

German English

die Söhne

the sons

die Höhle

the cave

On the other hand, before a double consonant, use a short umlaut. Listen for the short Ö sound before the double consonant in these words:

German English

der Löffel

the spoon


to open
Spoon full of red spice. The word for spoon in German contains a short O umlaut before a double consonant.

With practice, you will develop a feel for what sounds right.

7. How is the vowel O pronounced (not umlaut)?

So that’s the distinct pronunciation made when the letter O has two dots over it. Now you may be wondering how to pronounce the base vowel O, with no dots on top.

Like all German vowels, the vowel O has both a long pronunciation and a short pronunciation:

  • Long O: The long German O is kind of like the O in the English word “oval.”
  • Short O: The short German O is kind of like the O in the British English pronunciation of the word “not.”

Listen for the two different pronunciations of the base vowel O in these examples:

U Sound German English

das Obst

the fruit



8. How can I refine my Ö pronunciation?

You can learn to pronounce the distinctly German Ö sound with practice.

  1. Listen actively: Listen for the O umlaut used in conversation around you. Try to repeat the word out loud (if the setting permits) or silently to yourself.
  2. Keep track of your words: Keep a list of the Ö words you encounter throughout your day. Reserve a set time to work with these words, listening to them and trying to refine the pronunciation.
  3. Do your word pair exercises: Practice the word pairs we shared, transitioning from a long German E sound to the Ö sound.
  4. Improve with productive feedback: Try the interactive Pronunciation lessons in Kleo, featuring Feli from Germany and top German experts. In these interactive video lessons, you can learn powerful tips and receive real-time feedback on your pronunciation. With Kleo, you can keep working at it until you get it just right.
  5. Practice the Ö sound in context: The best way to build muscle memory is by using new sounds in real-life situations. It can be difficult to get this opportunity on a regular basis. Fortunately, some of Kleo’s most popular interactive video lessons feature the Ö sound. For example, Feli from Germany helps you make polite requests using "Ich möchte" for "I would like." This is a great way to practice speaking German in context.

9. What are other German sounds that do not exist in English?

Since the Ö sound does not exist in English, working to master this sound is challenging and rewarding. There are more German sounds that do not have an equivalent in English.

For example, the U umlaut (Ü) makes the sound like you've smelled something unpleasant. Also, for the German CH, you can hiss like a cat for the soft pronunciation and cough something up for the guttural pronunciation. Fun, right? You can practice all of these sounds in Kleo's interactive pronunciation lessons.