When studying German, you will quickly encounter the letter combination “ch.” Since there are two different options for pronouncing it, many students get confused when to use soft or hard pronunciation. This article explains to you everything that you need to know about this topic. 

“Ch” or “ch”?

In German, we have two options of pronouncing “ch,” and though there is also a “ch” in the commonly used “sch” (as in shy), this article only focuses on “ch.”  The first way to pronounce it is a hard “ch” as the English “kh” or the phonetic [x]. Examples are the words “Dach“, “Buch“, “Tochter” or “machen“. The second option is to pronounce it soft as [ç] in phonetic spelling or “like an angry cat,” as German teachers like to refer to it. Examples for the soft “ch” are “ich”, “Bücher”, “vielleicht” or “sprechen“.

Depending on your first language, the one or the other way will be more challenging to pronounce, but as we all know, practice makes perfect. Yet, the more important question for many students is when to choose the soft or the hard pronunciation. Therefore, we will check this out in the following.

If you would like to work on your spoken German at home, you should also check out the self-studying books for better pronunciation for levels A1A2, and B1.

A hard German “ch”

The “ch” gets a hard pronunciation when it stands after the letters “a,” “o,” “u,” or “au.”

For example:

  • Dach (roof)
  • Tochter (daughter)
  • suchen (to search)
  • rauchen (to smoke)


A soft German “ch”

The “ch” becomes soft, when it stands after the letters “i”, “e”, “ö”, “ä”, “ü”, “eu”, “ei”, “n”, “l”, “r”, “- chen”.

For example:

  • sich (oneself)
  • fechten (to fence)
  • Töchter (daughters)
  • Dächer (roofs)
  • Bücher (books)
  • Seuche (epidemic)
  • vielleicht (maybe)
  • manche (some)
  • welche (which)
  • Kirche (church)
  • Mädchen (girl)


Remember the “ch”

Now, that is a lot of information to remember to be honest. Therefore, you can try to study the shorter list and simply use the good old exclusion procedure. By this I mean, that you can remember “a,” “o,” “u,” or “au” as causing the “ch” to become hard. If you have any other letter before the “ch” (as in the list of the soft), you can pronounce it soft.  This way, it will be easier for you to remember how to pronounce a word with “ch” the next time you encounter one.

If you are interested in letters, I highly recommend you to check out the 10 most important German abbreviations.


Bis bald!



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