Austrian German vs German: A top guide to language differences

While Austria and Germany share a rich tapestry of culture, history, and sausage recipes, their languages have some surprising differences that even native speakers sometimes trip over!

As a German language learner, there’s a good chance you’re learning standard German in your classes. Naturally, you might think you’ll be able to communicate with the locals in all German-speaking countries but watch out! Sometimes, native German-speakers don’t even understand each other.

Someone from Austria might be confused when you ask for “Plätzchen” (Christmas cookies) or ‘'Pfannkuchen” (pancakes), while a Berlin resident might scratch their head when you talk about 'Marillenmarmelade” (Apricot jam) or “Palatschinken” (also pancakes!)”.

We’ll teach you all about the differences between Austrian and German, so you’ll know which words to use where.

Women discuss the difference between German and Austrian German.

How similar are Austrian German and Standard German?

Austrian German and Standard German are remarkably similar, as they both stem from the West Germanic family of languages. In essence, they are two variations of German. Most of the vocabulary is shared, and speakers of one can generally understand the other without much difficulty.

However, when diving deeper into local jargon, colloquial expressions, and special terms, you’ll notice some differences.

Can Austrians and Germans understand each other?

Austrians and Germans can easily understand each other since they both speak German. While there are regional dialects and specific terms unique to each country, the core structure and vocabulary are largely the same.

Think of it as akin to Americans understanding the British. There might be the occasional unfamiliar word or phrase, but communication usually flows with ease.

Austrians and Germans can easily understand each other since they both speak German.

What are the main differences between Austrian German and German?

Here are some of the main similarities and differences of the Austrian vs German language:

DialectsHas a wide array of dialects, from Low German in the North to Swabian in the South. The development of these dialects was influenced by regional tribes, historical states, and external cultural influences.Features a variety of regional dialects, influenced by the Bavarian dialect and Slavic languages like Slovenian and Czech.
VocabularyUses words that might be unfamiliar or have different meanings in Austria, e.g., "Pfannkuchen" (pancakes) which in Austria are referred to as "Palatschinken."Some words are distinctively Austrian, like "Marillen" (apricots) vs. the German "Aprikosen," or "Sackerl" (small bag) vs. the German "Tüte."
PronunciationPeople from Northern regions have a sharper, clearer pronunciation while the Southern regions including Bavaria sound very similar to Austrian German.Austrian German is quite soft, with certain vowels pronounced differently. There's also a melodic lilt in the way Austrians speak.
Word orderFollows "Hochdeutsch" (High German) rules which are widely taught internationally.Austrian German generally follows the same rules.
GrammarFollows the standard rules of verb conjugation seen in most German textbooks, although regional variations can exist.Some verbs are conjugated differently or might have different past participles. For example, in Austria one might say "ich bin gesessen" (I am sat) instead of the German standard "ich habe gesessen (I have sat).

Austrian German vs Standard German in practice

Differences between Austrian German and Standard German

Words that are completely different

EnglishStandard GermanAustrian German
Apricotdie Aprikosedie Marille
Potatodie Kartoffelder Erdapfel
Small bagdie Tütedas Sackerl
Cupdie Tassedas Heferl
Tomatodie Tomateder Paradeiser
Minced meatdas HackfleischFaschiertes
Cash registerdie Kassedie Kassa
Pancakeder Pfannkuchendie Palatschinke
Stairsdie Treppedie Stiege
Refrigeratorder Kühlschrankder Eiskasten
Dentist's officedie Zahnarztpraxisdie Zahnarztordination
Chimney sweeperder Schornsteinfegerder Rauchfangkehrer
High school graduation examdas Abiturdie Matura
Whipped creamdie Sahnedas Schlagobers
Roll/bundas Brötchendie Semmel
Slice of breaddie Stulle/Brotdie Schnitte
Hatdie Mützedie Haube
Garbage candie Mülltonneder Mistkübel
Januaryder Januarder Jänner
Kissder Kussdas Bussi

Verbs that are different in Austrian German vs Standard German

EnglishStandard GermanAustrian German
to takenehmenhernehmen
to see see, looksehenschauen
to sweepfegenkehren
to grouchjammernsudern
to pluckpflückenbrocken
to run awayabhauenabpaschen
to stealstehlenfladern
to evictzwangsräumendelogieren
to workarbeitenhackeln

The past tense in Austrian German vs Standard German

In Austrian German, the past tense is built like the Standard German past tense. The only difference is that in the past perfect (Perfekt), some verbs use a different auxiliary verb. While certain verbs are always used with “sein” (to be) and others are always used with “haben” (to have), in Austrian German, this might differ from standard German:

EnglishStandard GermanAustrian German
I satIch habe gesessenIch bin gesessen
I laidIch habe gelegenIch bin gelegen
I stoodIch habe gestandenIch bin gestanden

Using the diminutive in Austrian German vs Standard German

  • In Standard German, the most common diminutive suffix is "-chen." For example, when you turn “Hund” (dog) into "Hündchen" (little dog).
  • In most regions, but especially in the South of Germany, "-lein" is also used (“Haus” to "Häuslein": “house” to “little house”).
  • In Austrian German, the common diminutives suffix is "-erl". For example, "Mäderl" (little girl) or "Häuserl" (little house).
  • In some parts of Austria, you can also find "-li", as in "Hündli" (little dog), reflecting an influence from Swiss German.

Keep in mind that diminutives in German affect the gender of a noun. Regardless of their original gender, all nouns become neuter when a diminutive suffix is added, in both Standard and Austrian German. For example, "der Hund" (the dog, masculine) becomes "das Hündchen" or "das Hündli" (the little dog, neuter) when a diminutive is added.

EnglishStandard GermanAustrian German
Little girldas Mädchendas Mäderl
Little boydas Bübchendas Büberl
Little housedas Häuschendas Häuserl
Little bookdas Büchleindas Bücherl
Little dogdas Hündchendas Hunderl

Cultural differences in Austrian German vs Standard German?

Imagine Austrians chatting with a sing-songy and gentle tone, often using their own special words and phrases, and typically being quite polite and sometimes a bit roundabout in how they speak, which stands out against the more straight-to-the-point and pragmatic way most Germans tend to communicate.

Austria showcases a delightful array of unique sayings and words and there's a hearty nod to tradition, particularly in how people greet each other and use formal titles with a lot of respect and precision.

In Germany, local dialects certainly bubble up in casual chats, but official and nationwide talks stick pretty close to standard, High German.

Cultural differences in Austrian German vs Standard German.

Which language is easier to learn, Austrian German or Standard German?

Since most German classes as well as books, movies and shows are in Standard German, you will definitely find more standard German study resources than Austrian ones, but if you’re going for a trip to learn the language, it’s easiest to learn from the people around you. If you’re traveling to scenic Austria, it will probably be easier for you to pick up some Austrian slang.

Which language will be more useful to learn?

Most people might nudge you towards Standard German first, as it's widely understood in all German-speaking countries and serves as a sturdy base, especially with its robust resources for learners.

Plus, there are only 9 million native speakers of Austrian German and 80 million native speakers of standard German.

Hallstatt is a village on Lake Hallstatt's western shore in Austria's mountainous Salzkammergut region.

Learning Austrian German vs Standard German - which one should you choose?

Your choice will be highly personal, depending on your goals. You can choose standard German for broad communication across German-speaking nations, or dive into Austrian German if your focus is rooted in Austrian life, or you can just choose whichever one sounds better to you. It can be as simple as that, after all, most German-speakers do speak English and you’re probably at least partially learning the language for the fun of it.

A waltz with words

Remember, language is not just a means of communication, but a bridge to understanding people, traditions, and nuances that textbooks might miss. So whichever path you choose, embracing German in any form will unlock a beautiful world of opportunities and cultural exploration in the heart of Europe.

We like to sprinkle our German articles with fun facts about all German-speaking countries, including Austria. So if you’d like to learn more about Austrian culture including Wiener Waltz (and Schnitzel!), head over to our Berlitz German blog!

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