In this presentation I introduce the numbers in German and mention some important points that are often forgotten. The numbers are essential for beginners, and they help us to learn pronunciation and spelling. You can read this article or watch the video. If you like, switch on the subtitles. I use a simplified form of spelling for the pronunciation guide, but I also refer to the IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Many people can say the numbers in German up to 12: Eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht neun zehn elf zwölf.
But there is one number that comes before all of them and it’s often forgotten.
Null is zero and it’s often heard in the Uhrzeiten – the clock times – Es ist null Uhr – and also football results: Bayern München eins, Manchester City null. The German L is a higher sound than the English we say nil, in German it’s null.
Next it’s eins. We use eins when nothing is coming after it, for instance, Nummer eins. If it’s used with another word, then it’s ein: ein Uhr, one o’clock, ein Euro, ein Mann. If it’s a feminine noun we say eine – eine Frau, eine Stunde, that’s one hour, a period of time, 60 minutes.
After eins it’s zwei. Make sure to pronounce the z as ‘ts’ zvaee. We have the sound ei. It’s a diphthong – it starts as a and finishes as ee – aa ee. People get mixed up between ei and ie, so remember it’s pronounced like the name of the second letter in English – ei is pronounced aee.
Often forgotten is zwo. It’s an alternative form of zwei. You often hear it when people are testing a microphone – eins zwo drei. Zwo is used for clarity, as zwei and drei can easily be confused if you have a bad connection. Zwo is only one letter different from two in English. It shows us that English is a Germanic language closely related to German.
Let’s go onto drei here we can see some important pronunciation points. English speakers would say dry but in German it’s drei. In Hochdeutsch – standard German, the R is made at the back of the throat. It’s represented in the IPA as an upside down R. If you can pronounce the R like this, that’s great. If not, you can say drei (with a flapped r) which you’ll hear in south Germany and Austria. And by the way, triangle is das Dreieck, a shape with with drei Ecken – three corners.
Vier is pronounced similar to the word fear in English but there are two clear vowel sounds: fee and er, vier. At the beginning of a word, the letter V or vee is pronounced f. The R at the end is silent. Do you know what Das Viereck is? It’s a rectangle.
Fünf is easy. The vowel is ü or U umlaut. To make this sound say eee, like cheese with the tongue in the high position, then keeping your tongue in the same position, round your lips to make üüü- fünf, fünf.
Sechs presents some problems. -chs is pronounced ks – sechs. In sixteen – sechzehn and sixty sechzig, we have the ch sound (as in ich) but here it’s pronounced like an x. And remember, the sound at the beginning of the word is pronounced like z in English, not s. Don’t say s at the beginning of this number – that’s another word entirely!
Sieben also has the Z sound at the beginning and the vowel is ee. We have the letters i and e, first letter i, second in English is how we say this combination. There are two syllables – ZEE and bun. ZEE I’ve written in capital letters in the pronunciation guide as it’s the stressed syllable. And there’s something interesting about sieben. In German they say Ich bin auf Wolke sieben – I’m on cloud seven, but in English we say I’m on cloud nine, Wolke neun. In Germany they never say Wolke neun, it’s got to be Wolke sieben.
Acht presents problems for English speakers as we don’t have that sound in English. It’s acht – acht. The sound is made at the back of the throat. Represented in the IPA as an x. It’s not k. Akt is not correct. That’s a different word altogether – you can look it up in a dictionary! It should be acht. Say it! Acht! The more you practice, the better you’ll be able to say it.
Neun is an easy number to pronounce. It’s a diphthong, that means the vowel changes. It starts as o ends in ee. / noin / Neun. This number was made famous in the song Neunundneunzig Luftballons by Nena.
Now we have reached zehn – make sure to say ts – tsehn, tsehn. The h makes the e long. In the IPA that’s written using a colon – e: H is used in German to make a long vowel. Zehn is very similar to ten and teen in English. It’s added to the numbers from dreizehn upwards. We’ll cover that in another presentation.
Now it’s elf – easy to pronounce but remember the German L is different from the English L. The tongue is higher in the mouth: elf, elf. It’s very similar to eleven. Often an F in German corresponds to a V in English.
Zwölf is very similar to twelve. We have three sounds at the beginning t, s and v. Remember to pronounce them all clearly: tsvölf. We have ö – O Umlaut, pronounced ö – here it’s short – zwölf.
The great thing about the numbers is you can practice them in your head. If you’re out, look for numbers – on houses, buses and signs and just say them to yourself.
So here they are one more time: Eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht neun zehn elf zwölf