Writing German on an English keyboard

The German alphabet uses the same 26 letters as the English alphabet plus an additional three Umlaute (ä, ö, ü / Ä, Ö, Ü) and the ß (esszett or scharfes s = sharp s).

Whereas all of the Umlaute can appear anywhere within a word, the ß can never appear at the beginning. As such there is no such thing as a Capital ß.

Those additional letters are vitally important for the meaning of words. It is therefore important that they are spelt out properly. An ashould therefore never be substituted for an ä.

In handwriting adding those letters is pretty much a no-brainer. Chances are, however, that if you write on a computer that you are now sitting in front of one with an English language keyboard that does not carry those letters.

What to do?

First of all you could simply spell the letters the following way

ä = ae (das Maedchen)
ö = oe (hoeren)
ü = ue (die Nuesse)
ß = ss (die Strasse)

Even though it doesn’t look very attractive, this is a very well accepted (and easy!) way to replace those additional letters. This is what I generally do when I write emails to friends or family, however, when it comes to writing official documents, articles or even blog posts like these, you would want to use the proper spelling.

There are two main ways to find these letters.

If you use WORD as your text editor of choice, you can press

Insert ==> Symbol

and a range of special symbols and letters will be displayed including those German letters that you can simply click on in order to insert them into a document.

If you write German quite frequently finding the letters this way may end up costing you quite a bit of time and instead you may want to remember the following keyboard shortcuts.

In order to type ä, you can press the Alt button on your keyboard, and while keeping it pressed you enter the numbers 0228 from your number pad to display the letter.

All those German letters can be displayed that way:

•ä = type alt 0228
•ö = type alt 0246
•ü = type alt 0252
•Ü = type alt 0220
•Ä = type alt 0196
•Ö = type alt 0214
•ß = type alt 0223

10 thoughts on “Writing German on an English keyboard

  1. Thanks for the comment. I am glad I could help. I am even more ecstatic that I managed to get a comment (and your attention) before I had even announced this site to the world. 😉

    • i use the classic qwerty keyboard layout and this really helps because i am currently learning german so thank you or in german danke

  2. I was not aware of those shortcuts. I did know they existed, but not what they were. Regretfully, they don’t work on a laptop keyboard. I usually just type the longer, less pretty version; but if I am writing a more official email I will insert the actual letters via the menu.
    It’s great that you’re listing the shortcuts; those are the kinds of things that many people aren’t aware of or just don’t know what they are.

    • Yes, unfortunately they need to be entered on the number pad which means this only really works on a desktop not a laptop. Until you mentioned this I never even considered this before! And I am using a laptop. Goes to prove how much *I* use these. LOL

      • I think it’s something a lot of people don’t realize until someone else mentions it. It is a pity, though; it would make writing a lot easier!

      • In some laptops, you can have something similar to the numpad with pressing the fn button. e.g. To write ä, you should press fn + alt + kk8 in HP Elitebook.

  3. Wish that I had known this information a few days ago. It would have saved me many headaches. I tried to just get the German keyboard on my Windows 10 PC but somehow ended up switching my whole computer to German. After many days and struggling with various you-tube videos I finally got it switched mostly back (don’t ask me how that works) and now I have a quick switch between the English and German keyboard which works great. However if I work on my laptop (mine has a side number keyboard) then I will know how to get the umlautes and the esszett. I knew there had to be a way so thank you for sharing.

  4. I have my laptop set up so that I can select German in the task bar at the bottom. The system then converts to German keyboard and spell-checks in German too! Only problem is, I can work out where the new letters are. Finding the German umlauts and sharp S is easy, what’s harder is working out where they have put the hyphen etc. that have been replaced by the German symbols. Was looking for a template when I found this. Does anyone have any ideas?

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