Old Spelling Patterns

The German language did not settle into more or less consistent spelling patterns until the latter half of the 19th century, and spelling was not officially regulated until 1902. Official German spelling underwent a major overhaul in 1996, generating considerable controversy, and continues to be tweaked.

Being familiar with older spelling patterns may enable you to find words in a modern German dictionary that you thought were not there. Knowledge of the general rules of pronunciation will also help you guess at alternative spellings if you can’t find a word under a particular spelling. Here are some common old spelling variations:

b p Probst>Propst Following a vowel, b and p are both voiceless.
c k Casse>Kasse Common in words of Latin origin before a, o, and u
c z Centner>Zentner Common in words of Latin origin before vowels e and i
ch K Churfürst>Kurfürst Seen in 17th-century documents
ck, ckh k Tagwerckh>Tagwerk The h was used more often in the 17th century
dt t, d Brodt>Brot
Both consonants are unvoiced at the end of a syllable
e ä Mer(t)z>März
These two vowels are pronounced the same in many German-speaking areas.
eu ei Heurath>Heirat Reflects dialect pronunciation (hoy>high)
ey, ay ei, ai Baiern>Bayern
All four of these diphthongs are pronounced the same (rhyme with English eye)
g ch Mädgen>Mädchen Soft g reflects dialect pronunciation
ß (=ss) s Hanß>Hans
often used interchangeably with unvoiced s in older texts
th t Thür>Tür
German th is pronounced like t
tz z Mertz>März
German z is pronounced like tz (as in Mozart)
ü i Hülfe>Hilfe German ü sounds like i in some dialects
u au uf>auf  
umb um warumb>warum