Capitalization in German
Groß- und Kleinschreibung
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Capitalization in German
Groß- u. Kleinschreibung
Spelling Reform: Double-s
Spelling Reform: Newsstand
Reform der Reform
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But in all the wrangling over how German should be properly spelled there has been one prominent sacred cow: the capitalization of all nouns. German is the only language in the world that requires the capitalization of ALL nouns. There are only a few fringe groups calling for German capitalization rules similar to those in most other languages. Headquartered in Zurich, the Bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung (note the spelling of the BVR's name, "Federation for simplified spelling") dates back to 1924. While there are a few rebels who write their German email like e.e. cummings, most German-speakers still cling to their sacred Großschreibung (capitalization). Although Kleinschreibung had its advocates, the framers of the 1996 German spelling reforms felt it was simply not politically feasible to call for the elimination of noun capitalization. As it was, they had quite enough controversy without adding Groß- und Kleinschreibung to the list.
In a way, leaving the noun-capitalization rule largely untouched was a good thing for students of German. It certainly makes it easier to spot a noun (das Substantiv, das Hauptwort) in German, something that many students find difficult to do in their own language! The rules for capitalization in German are in fact no more complicated than those for English or most other languages, but there are some differences that a student of German should be aware of. These differences can be a source of interference problems for someone learning German.
First of all, consider what must be capitalized in English but not in German: I/ich, American car/amerikanisches Auto and German wine/deutscher Wein (adjectives of nationality). Yes, it's a very short list!
Going the other way, there is only one word (besides all nouns) that German capitalizes but English does not: Sie (the formal "you" and its variations, i.e., Ihnen, Ihr). Although many German speakers continue to capitalize the informal "you" forms (du, dich, ihr, euch, etc.) in a letter or email, under the new rules, the formal Sie is the only pronoun requiring capitalization. (A logical rule, since the capitalization of Sie expresses distance and formality versus the closeness and familiarity of du.)
With the exception of German's all-noun capitalization, English capitalizes most of the same things that German does: Henry/Heinrich, First Union Bank/Deutsche Bank, Ms. Smith/Frau Schmidt (proper names, titles); Friday/Freitag, Juni/June (days of the week and months; many other languages don't, including French, Spanish and Italian), and the first letter in a sentence.
German capitalization rules only become a bit tricky (even for Germans) when it comes to details like am besten (superlative) versus zum Besten (superlative phrase) and some changes resulting from spelling reform (heute Morgen, Rad fahren, auf Deutsch, etc.). On the next page you'll find more examples and a closer look at the rules of German capitalizationand its history.