German orthography is now much simpler than ever and there are now far less redundancies than there ever was. One thing that has drawn my attention lately is the fact that never after an 'ie' in a word comes a double consonant (e. g. 'ff' 'ck' 'tt' etc.), in fact, whenever I see that (in surnames or town names) it seems pretty archaic to me. A single consonant after an 'i' is almost always interpreted as long (except for prepositions like 'in', 'bis', 'mit'). So that suggests we could remove the 'e' and still be able to read and pronounce everything correctly (for example 'Schiff', 'schif' instead of 'Schiff', 'schief'). The same is true to a less extent for vowels followed by an 'h' ('Ban' could be pronounced like 'Bahn' without problem). Note that I'm not talking about the word endings (those should pretty much stay the same in case a plural or conjugations depend on them like 'Kuh' 'Kühe').

Has there ever been a debate on this topic? What where the reasons to keep it? Are they considering anything about it? I'm not asking why we aren't changing it right now. That's a whole other discussion, which involves far more issues than a simple 'ie'.

  • Schiff and schief are not pronounced the same by native speakers. I know you're proposing one or the other, not both, but frankly removing a repeated consonant would be very lossy, even without also changing -ie- to -i-. So better to omit that from this question. Commented May 28, 2016 at 16:14
  • I never said they're pronounced the same. Thanks, I guess you are right, because then there would be the problem with the words of Latin origin, and you can't really mess with them (like put 'h' after vowels or anything). The only thing that seems to be bit of a problem here are prepositions and articles, which could have actually worked out considering the homophones "das" and "dass" (and still can in my opinion). Commented May 28, 2016 at 17:04
  • bin in many accents too. Commented May 28, 2016 at 21:55
  • Is there perhaps a question of intonation? Even Latinish words like Turnier and protokollieren normally carry stress on -ie-, which is not the case with -i-. Commented May 28, 2016 at 22:07
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    -iren to -ieren was a conscious decision and a relatively recent one, perhaps it's not the best example. Commented May 29, 2016 at 8:59

2 Answers 2


There are some principles when you ever attempt a spelling reform—one of them is keeping the tradition of reading and writing intact (in German, the term behutsam was used when the latest spelling reforms starting in 1998 were introduced). There was lots of outrage and resistance against those reforms much underestimated by the politicians driving it forwards.

Well-established spellings cannot be arbitrarily normalised or even be recreated from first principles in an already literate society. This is the reason why the German orthography sticks to the ie spelling (which denoted a diphthong in Middle High German that is preserved in the Bavarian dialect where "lieb" is still pronounced liab).

  • Thanks, that pretty much answers the questions, which, like I also suspected, is because it's too big of a change for people to accept, which I understand considering I was being realistic from the beginning (I had already heard people being unhappy with 'f' replacing 'ph' in some places). I also didn't know there are still differences in dialects concerning 'ie'. I'm going to mark this as the right answer, unless someone else has some useful sources to share. Commented May 31, 2016 at 16:24

The sounds "i" and "ie" are not the same; "ie" is basically a long "i". The German spelling remembers the pronunciation. The digraph "ie" plays exactly the same role as the long (acuted) "í" or "ý" in Czech language (or other Baltic and Slavic languages using the Czech diacritics and the Latin alphabet) whose pronunciation differs from the simple "i" or "y".

To replace "ie" by "i" would mean that the pronunciation in German is no longer determined by the spelling – a huge sacrifice.

Completely analogously, the German digraphs "ah" and "eh" create the long "á", "é" different from the simple short "a", "e".

If a reform should take place, German should use "á,é,í,ú,č,š,f,v" instead of "ah,eh,ie,uh,tsch,sch,v,w", and there are a few other replacements that would simplify the German spelling. I have actually written down some more detailed plans for this reform. ;-)

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    I didn't imply at all that 'ie' and 'i' are the same. My point here is, there are mostly_two_ indicators of long/short vowels in German words, one that comes after the vowel (e. g. 'e' in 'ie' or 'h' in 'ah' and 'eh') and one in the consonant following the vowel (double consonants). So in case we get rid of 'e', we'd still be able to know which vowel is represented vowel based on whether or not there is a double consonant after it. The same could probably apply to 'ah', etc., but is a bit less obvious, so I wouldn't insist on anything about those. I hope it's clear now what I mean by that. Commented May 28, 2016 at 17:09
  • Even if it's true that the double consonant always comes after "i" without "ie", wouldn't it be better to change it to a simple consonant? ;-) So spell it Schif, Schief? Commented May 28, 2016 at 17:31
  • Yeah, I did think of that originally, but then you'd have to change many vowels in words that are not of Germanic origin, because in many of those "i" is not followed by a double consonant and it does mean a long vowel. 'ie', on the other hand, is never followed by a double consonant (anywhere, except maybe old texts), so that would be definitely a better approach, in my opinion. Commented May 28, 2016 at 18:10
  • I think it's very disputable whether the "i" in these foreign words is pronounced (in the original language) closer to "i" or "ie" in German. Even if you pick e.g. the supermarket chain Lidl, in Czech, we actually do pronounce it Liedel. Both "i" and "í" is being transcripted to German as "i", so it's ambiguous whether it actually means "i" or "ie" sound. The same applies to words from many other Slavic etc. languages. Commented May 29, 2016 at 3:39
  • Maybe, but Lidl's a surname, so you can't really do much about it. In the case of words of Latin/Greek origin, it's pretty clear whether a vowel is short or long, I'd say, based on whether there is a double consonant following it, I don't know about the original pronunciation though. Commented May 29, 2016 at 7:00

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