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The German Consonant 'r' Includes sound files!

The German consonant 'r' is one of the most difficult sounds to master. Not only will you hear a vast range of variants in the German-speaking country depending on region, context and style, but all of the German 'r' sounds differ from their English equivalents. As it is beyond the scope of this guide to examine all of the regional variants, we shall instead concentrate on two forms:

  • 1) the vocalic 'r' which is used in unstressed prefixes and suffixes and after long vowels
  • 2) the consonantal 'r' which is used in all other positions.

The consonantal 'r'
The German consonantal 'r' is described as a 'roll' or 'trill', by which we mean that the speech organs strike each other several times in quick succession in the articulation of this sound. In northern and central Germany, this sound is made towards the back of the vocal tract, with the back of the tongue raised towards the uvula in order to create a narrow passage. When the airstream moves through this passage, the friction thus created causes the tongue to touch the uvula either once (uvular flap) or several times (uvular roll). The 'r' sound thus created has a rasping throat-clearing quality which can be equated to a less extreme version of the sound produced when gargling.

The sound called the 'uvular fricative' is similar to the uvular sounds outlined above, but this time there is no contact with the uvula when the back of the tonge is raised and nor does the uvula vibrate as it would if you were gargling. The best way to reproduce this sound is to form an 'ach' sound, remembering to articulate it right at the back of the mouth. If you gradually start to vibrate the vocal cords while forming this sound, then the uvular fricative 'r' emerges. Although originally used in informal contexts, this variant of consonantal 'r' is slowly emerging as the most common pronunciation of the sound in Germany.

In South Germany and Austria, on the other hand, the 'r' sound is formed much further forward in the mouth. With the alveolar roll or apical roll, the tongue touches the alveolar ridge quickly and repeatedly.

Which variant of the German consonantal 'r' you adopt will depend either on your teacher or on the region of the German-speaking world that you visit or live in. While it is probably advisable for beginners to adopt an uvular 'r', as it less easy to confuse this sound with English 'r', the most important thing is to be consistent and not mix and match different types of consonantal 'r'.

Click here to listen to the soundsBut enough of the theory! Click either here or on the sound icon on the left to hear eight German words containing the German consonantal 'r' in initial position. The words are listed in the box below along with their English translation. How would you describe the 'r' sound used by the German speaker?

(on the right)

Click here to listen to the soundsNow click either here or on the sound icon on the left to listen to the following consonantal 'r' sounds, all six of which appear in the medial position immediately before a vowel. The words are supplied in the box below along with their English translation:

(to disturb)
(to hear)

Click here to listen to the soundsFinally, click either here or on the sound icon to listen to the consonantal 'r' in final position. It is used here instead of vocalic 'r' because the preceding vowel is short.


Weiter! How to pronounce German 'r' with other consonants

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