28 Common Vocabulary Differences Between High German and Swiss German

Did you just move to Switzerland and now you want to learn Swiss German?

After moving to Switzerland in 2020, I started learning High German, because I had to to be able to renew my Swiss B Permit.

I also wanted to learn Swiss German, because that is the language that is most spoken here in Zurich, where I live.

Swiss German is the dialect derived from High (or standard) German that is spoken in around 60% of Switzerland. It is not a language per se, since all official communication and also education are conducted in High German. However, the different Swiss German dialects are spoken widely throughout the country and represent a big element of the Swiss culture.

Swiss German is the German dialect spoken in Switzerland. It derives from High German and has some differences with it, mainly related to spelling, pronunciation, and changing words. Swiss German does not use the simple past tense and it also tends to shorten words.

If you just moved to Zurich, Basel, Bern or Luzern (yes, this is the same
city as Lucern) for work then knowing these very common vocab differences will help you speak Swiss German, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Swiss flag on the top of Mannlichen (Jungfrau region, Bern, Switzerland)

All of these words I have seen at least once in living here, though admittedly farmer and cat are not heard everyday. Most of the other ones are though!

I will list the High German words first so I don’t have to write “for High German”
after every word. When I do make it clear which language I abbreviate High German as HG and Swiss German as SG.

And if you are wondering this is all Zürcher Dialekt. So people in and around Zurich (including Lucerne and Bern I am told) use these words. They are likely different in more distant cantons. If there is an extra parentheses at the end of the line, that is sort of my addition to how these words are actually pronounced. I’m trying to make learning these words and their pronunciations as easy as possible for other English speakers.

Scenic summer aerial panorama of the Old Town medieval architecture in Lucerne, Switzerland

The format for this list is:
100. “German word” is “Swiss German version” (English definition) (optional pronunciation addition)

The “Swiss German version” is how they seem to be spelled by native Swiss speakers. But sometimes this spelling does not match the pronunciation, so I add my version of the pronunciation for English speakers.

  1. “Essen” is “assa” (food/to eat) (“ass-uh”)
  2. “Wir” is “Mir” (we)
  3. “Haben” is “Hand” (to have) (so “we have” is “Mir Hand” in SG)
  4. “Fahrad” is “Velo” (bike) (“velo” is the French word for bike)
  5. “Heute” is “Hut” (today) (prononounced “hoot”)
  6. “Morgen” is “Morn” (tomorrow)
  7. “Ein bisschen” is “es bitzli” (a little bit)
  8. “Katze” is “Büsi” (cat)
  9. “Bauer” is “Buur” (farmer)
  10. “Alleine” is “elei” or “allei” (alone)
  11. “Ich verstehe” is “Ich verstoh” (I understand) (“Ich vershtah”)
  12. “Letze”  is “letschti” (last)
  13. “Einkaufen” is “poste” (shopping) (“poh-shtuh”)
  14. “Manchmal” is “Mängisch” (sometimes)
  15. “Etwas” is “öppis”  (something)
  16. “nicht” is “nid” (not)
  17. “gut” is “guet” (good)  (“goo-et”)
  18. “Nein” is “nei” (no) (“nai”)
  19. “Beim” is “bim” (at)
  20. “Zum beispiel” is “zum bispiel” (for example) (almost the same pronunciation but not quite)
  21. “Arbeiten” is “Schaffe” (to work)
  22. “Stunden” is “Stunde” (hour)
  23. “Zusammen” is “same” ((pronunciation is more “tsa-ma”)
  24. “Zeit” is “Ziit” (time) (it’s more “Seet”)
  25. “Eingeladen” is “Eelade” (to invite))
  26. “Hochzeit” is “HochZiiet” (wedding) So anytime Zeit/Ziit is used it is “Ziit” Schwiizer-Duutsch
  27. “Ein bisschen” can also be “chli” (another Swiss way of saying a little bit)
  28. “aus” is “uus” (out/out of)

I’ll be adding more words to this list over time, so sign up to our email lists to stay updated about future posts.

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