How to pronounce bye, by, and buy

How to pronounce bye, by, and buy

Every week, I hear conductors working for Deutsche Bahn say good-bye to passengers. And every week, the word bye is pronounced incorrectly. If you enjoy making fun of Deutsche Bahn English, read on to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

What happens is that German speakers tend to pronounce bye exactly like the German word bei. While quite obvious to those with ears trained for English pronunciation, the mistake is actually rather subtle. In fact, bye and bei have almost the same phonetic spelling:

byebeiThe important difference is that in the English language the beginning of the diphthong [] is formed further back in the mouth. Listen to the English and German pronunciation of bye and bei, and then speak these words out loud a couple of times to notice the difference. An incorrect pronunciation of by can be quite confusing. For example, on German radio, adverts sometimes include phrases such as

Kaufen sie Produkt x by Firma y
(Buy product x by company y)

Because the rest of these adverts is in German, pronouncing by like bei leaves the impression that the product is not made by company y, but rather sold at company y (bei in this context means at):

Kaufen sie Produkt x bei Firma y
(Buy product x at company y)

Hence, even in German, the correct pronunciation of by is important.

The same principle applies to other words that contain [], such as
Hi (not the same as the German Hai), high, my (not Mai), and cry.

Finally, the words buy, by, and bye have identical pronunciations.


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