What is the difference between a dieresis and an umlaut?

In my personal experience, many native speakers of U.S. English are familiar with the term “umlaut” as referring to the double dots above a letter, though they are not generally aware of its actual effect on pronunciation. They are typically unfamiliar with the term “dieresis”. Therefore, they would describe the dots over the “e” in “Zoë” as an umlaut, despite it being a dieresis and not an umlaut.

What is the effect of the dieresis and the umlaut, and how do they differ?

Here are some examples of the dieresis and umlaut:

  • Dieresis: naïve, noël, Zoë
  • Umlaut: doppelgänger, übermensch
  • Metal umlaut: Motörhead, Mötley Crüe


Bryan Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage, second edition (2003) offers the following succinct discussion of the two punctuation marks (which are really one punctuation mark with two different names and functions) that the posted question asks about:

umlaut; diaeresis. These words denote the same mark consisting of two raised dots (¨) placed over a vowel, but they serve different phonetic functions. An umlaut (pronounced /oom-lowt/) indicates that the vowel has a modified sound especially in German, as in Männer (pronounced /men-ner/) A diaeresis (pronounced /dI-air-ə-sis/ and sometimes spelled dieresis) indicates that the second of two adjacent vowels is pronounced separately, as in naïve.

But the distinction is largely academic: even with modern word-processing capabilities, these marks are often omitted.

Allan Siegal & William Connolly, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, revised edition (1999) notes that the mark occasionally appears in imported proper names in which it serves a third purpose: to signal “pronunciation of a normally silent final consonant”:

accent marks are used for French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German words and names. …

The umlaut modifies vowel sounds in German, (Götterdämmerung, Düsseldorf). Some news wires replace the umlaut with an e after the affected vowel. Normally undo that spelling, but check before altering a personal name; some individual Germans use the e form. In the Latin languages, the umlaut is known as a dieresis. It denotes separated pronunciation of two adjacent vowels (naïve, Citroën, Noël), or signals pronunciation of a normally silent final consonant (Saint-Saëns, Perrier-Jouët).

Source : Link , Question Author : M. Justin , Answer Author : Sven Yargs

Leave a Comment