1. Education

Capitalization in German 2

Regeln: Groß- und Kleinschreibung

German Capitalization Rules with Examples
Comparing English and German Rules

Capitalization > Part 1 | Part 2 | Quiz

In most cases German and English capitalization rules are similar or identical. I have pointed out those similarities in Part 1. But here is a closer look at the most important differences:

1. SUBSTANTIVE (Nouns)

All German nouns are capitalized. This simple rule was made even more consistent by the new spelling reforms. Whereas under the old rules there were exceptions in many common noun phrases and some verbs (radfahren, recht haben, heute abend), the 1996 reforms now require the nouns in such expressions to be capitalized (and set apart): Rad fahren (to ride a bike), Recht haben (to be right), heute Abend (this evening). Another example is a common phrase for languages, previously written without caps (auf englisch, in English) and now written with a capital letter: auf Englisch. The new rules make it easy. If it's a noun, capitalize it!

History of German
CAPITALIZATION
750 The first known German texts appear. They are translations of Latin works written by monks. Inconsistent orthography.
1450 Johannes Gutenberg invents printing with movable type.
1500s At least 40% of all printed works are Luther's works. In his German Bible manuscript, he only capitalizes some nouns. On their own, the printers add capitalization for all nouns.
1527 Seratius Krestus introduces capital letters for proper nouns and the first word in a sentence.
1530 Johann Kollross writes "GOTT" in all caps.
1722 Freier advocates the advantages of Kleinschreibung in his Anwendung zur teutschen ortografie.
1774 Johann Christoph Adelung first codifies rules for German capitalization and other orthographic guidelines in his "dictionary".
1880 Konrad Duden publishes his Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, which soon becomes a standard throughout the German-speaking world.
1892 Switzerland becomes the first German-speaking country to adopt Duden's work as an official standard.
1901 Last official change in German spelling rules until 1996.
1924 Founding of the Swiss BVR (see Web links below) with the goal of eliminating most capitalization in German.
1996 In Vienna, representatives from all of the German-speaking countries sign an agreement to adopt new spelling reforms. The reforms are introduced in August for schools and some government agencies.
MORE:
Rechtschreibreform -
A Timeline
The reformers of German spelling have been criticized for a lack of consistency, and unfortunately nouns are no exception. Some nouns in phrases with the verbs bleiben, sein and werden are treated as uncapitalized predicate adjectives. Two examples: "Er ist schuld daran." (It's his fault.) and "Bin ich hier recht?" (Am I in the right place?). Technically, die Schuld (guilt, debt) and das Recht (law, right) are nouns (schuldig/richtig would be the adjectives), but in these idiomatic expressions with sein the noun is considered a predicate adjective and is not capitalized. The same is true of some stock phrases, such as "sie denkt deutsch." (She thinks [like a] German.) But it's "auf gut Deutsch" (in plain German) because that is a prepositional phrase. However, such cases are usually standard phrases that one can just learn as vocabulary.


2. PRONOMEN (Pronouns)

Only the German personal pronoun "Sie" must be capitalized. Spelling reform logically left the formal Sie and its related forms (Ihnen, Ihr) capitalized, but called for the informal, familiar forms of "you" (du, dich, ihr, euch, etc.) to be in lower case letters. Out of habit or preference, many German speakers still capitalize du in their letters and email. But they don't have to. In public proclamations or fliers, the familiar plural forms of "you" (ihr, euch) are often capitalized: "Wir bitten Euch, liebe Mitglieder..." ("We bid you, dear members...").

Like most other languages, German does not capitalize the first-person-singular pronoun ich (I) unless it is the first word in a sentence.


3. ADJEKTIVE 1 (Adjectives 1)

German adjectives — including those of nationality — are NOT capitalized. In English, it is correct to write "the American writer" or "a German car." In German, adjectives are not capitalized, even if they refer to nationality: der amerikanische Präsident (the American president), ein deutsches Bier (a German beer). The only exception to this rule is when an adjective is part of a species name, a legal, geographic or historical term; an official title, certain holidays, or common expression: der Zweite Weltkrieg (the Second World War), der Nahe Osten (the Middle East), die Schwarze Witwe (the black widow [spider]), Regierender Bürgermeister ("ruling" mayor), der Weiße Hai (the great white shark), der Heilige Abend (Christmas Eve).

Even in book, film or organizational titles, adjectives are usually not capitalized: Die amerikanische Herausforderung (The American Challenge), Die weiße Rose (The White Rose), Amt für öffentlichen Verkehr (Office of Public Transportation). In fact, for book and movie titles in German, only the first word and any nouns are capitalized. (See the article on German Punctuation for more about book and film titles in German.)

Farben (colors) in German can be either nouns or adjectives. In certain prepositional phrases they are nouns: in Rot (in red), bei Grün (at green, i.e., when the light turns green). In most other situations, colors are adjectives: "das rote Haus," "Das Auto ist blau."


4. ADJEKTIVE 2 (Adjectives 2)
   Substantivierte Adjektive & Zahlen
   Nominalized Adjectives & Numbers

Nominalized adjectives are usually capitalized like nouns. Again, spelling reform brought more order to this category. Under the former rules, you wrote phrases like "Die nächste, bitte!" ("[The] Next, please!") without caps. The new rules logically changed that to "Die Nächste, bitte!" — reflecting the use of the adjective nächste as a noun (short for "die nächste Person"). The same is true for these expressions: im Allgemeinen (in general), nicht im Geringsten (not in the slightest), ins Reine schreiben (to make a neat copy, write a final draft), im Voraus (in advance).

Nominalized cardinal and ordinal numbers are capitalized. Ordnungszahlen and cardinal numbers (Kardinalzahlen) used as nouns are capitalized: "der Erste und der Letzte" (the first and last one), "jeder Dritte" (every third one). "In Mathe bekam er eine Fünf." (He got a five [D grade] in math.)

Superlatives with am are still not capitalized: am besten, am schnellsten, am meisten. The same is true for forms of ander (other), viel(e) (much, many) and wenig: "mit anderen teilen" (to share with others), "Es gibt viele, die das nicht können." (There are many who can't do that.)

NEXT > Capitalization QUIZ

MORE > German Grammar (also see links below)


Related Pages

German Capitalization Quiz
Have you paid close attention to our capitalization guidelines? Take this quiz to find out.

Spelling Reform Hits the Newsstand
The German media began using die neue Rechtschreibung on August 1, 1999. What does it mean for German-learners.

Spelling Reform: Double-s
How did German spelling reform affect words with a double-s spelling?

Comparison & Superlatives
A look at how the comparison of adjectives works in German.

German Grammar
All the German grammar references here at our site.

German Numbers and Counting
The ordinal and cardinal numbers in German.


Related Web Links

BVR - Bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung
Headquartered in Zurich, the Swiss federation for simplified spelling has been fighting for that goal since 1924. Its basic immediate goal is the introduction of capitalization only for proper nouns and the elimination of th, ph and rh. The BVR believes the 1996 reforms did not go far enough. In German.

Wichtige Ereignisse - Bubenhofer
An interesting timeline related to various facets of German spelling, including capitalization. In German.

Capitalization in French
From the About Guide for French, Laura Lawless.


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