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German Punctuation

Zeichensetzung - Interpunktion

Punctuation Marks in German

 More of this Feature
• German Punctuation
• Punctuation Differences
• Ger. Character Codes 1
• Ger. Character Codes 2
 Related Resources
• Capitalization in German
• Can Your PC Speak German?
• German Grammar
• German Grammar Glossary
• German Spelling Reform

Punctuation graphic 1 The German word for dot, point or period, der Punkt, and the English word punctuation both have the same Latin source: punctum (point). Among many other things that German and English have in common are the punctuation marks they use. And the reason most punctuation marks look and sound the same is that many of the signs and some of the terms, such as der Apostroph, das Komma and das Kolon (and English period, hyphen), are of common Greek origin.

The period or full stop (der Punkt) dates back to antiquity. It was used in Roman inscriptions to separate words or phrases. The term "question mark" (das Fragezeichen) is only about 150 years old, but the ? symbol is much older and was earlier known as the "mark of interrogation." The question mark is a descendant of the punctus interrogativus used in 10th century religious manuscripts. It was originally used to indicate voice inflection. (Greek used and still uses a colon/semicolon to indicate a question.) The Greek terms kómma and kólon originally referred to parts of lines of verse (Greek strophe, German die Strophe) and only later came to mean the punctuation marks that demarcated such segments in prose. The most recent punctuation marks to appear were quotation marks (Anführungszeichen)—in the eighteenth century.

Fortunately for English-speakers, German generally uses the same punctuation marks in the same way that English does. However, there are some minor and a few major differences in the way the two languages use common punctuation marks.

Der Bandwurmsatz ist die Nationalkrankheit
unseres Prosastils.
- Ludwig Reiners

Before we look at the details of punctuation in German, let’s define some our terms. Here are some of the more common punctuation marks in German and English. Since America and Britain are “two countries separated by a common language” (G.B. Shaw), I have indicated the American (AE) and British (BE) terms for items that differ.

German Punctuation Marks
Deutsch English Zeichen
die Anführungszeichen 1
„Gänsefüßchen” (“geese feet”)
quotation marks 1
speech marks (BE)
„  “
die Anführungszeichen 2
“chevron,” „französische“ (French)
quotation marks 2
French “guillemets”
«  »
  Note: In German books, periodicals, and other printed materials you will see both kinds of quotation marks (type 1 or 2). While newspapers generally use type 1, many modern books use type 2 (French) marks.
die Auslassungspunkte ellipsis dots
omission marks
das Ausrufezeichen exclamation mark !
der Apostroph apostrophe
der Bindestrich hyphen -
der Doppelpunkt
das Kolon
colon :
der Ergänzungsstrich dash -
das Fragezeichen question mark ?
der Gedankenstrich long dash
runde Klammern parentheses (AE)
round brackets (BE)
(  )
eckige Klammern brackets [  ]
das Komma comma ,
der Punkt period (AE)
full stop (BE)
das Semikolon semicolon ;

On the next page we'll summarize some of the more important differences between English and German punctuation.

NEXT > Punctuation Differences - German vs. English

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