Whether you’ve only recently started learning German, or if you’ve been studying the language for a while, you’ve probably noticed that German uses a lot more capitalization than English.
The German capitalization rules can be confusing at first, but once you get the hang of these simple rules you’ll be able to correctly capitalize German without thinking about it.
After reading this post you will know:
- How and when to capitalize nouns, verbs, pronouns and adjectives in German
- How German capitalization looks with example sentences
- The differences between English and German capitalization rules
German Capitalization Rules in a Nutshell
Let’s start by taking a look at an overview of the German capitalization rules. Later in this post we’ll take a deeper dive in the rules, but for now here’s what you need to know:
- All proper nouns are capitalized like in English: e.g names and place names (Emma, Deutschland etc.)
- All nouns are capitalized: e.g objects (anything that can have ‘the’ (der / die / das) in front of it)
- Verbs are capitalised only when used as nouns: e.g the verb essen (to eat) can become a noun das Essen (food) and is then capitalized
- Some pronouns are capitalized and some aren’t: The formal ‘you’ Sie is always capitalized in all it’s forms. All other pronouns aren’t capitalized
- Some adjectives are not capitalised unlike in English: e.g das deutsche Auto (the German car)
- But some adjectives are capitalized when they are used as nouns: stolz (proud), der Stolz (the pride)
- German capitalizes the first word in a sentence, like in English.
Let’s take a look at this all in action with an example:
Wussten Sie, dass Jan gerade ein neues deutsches Auto gekauft hat? Es ist ein Mercedes. Die erste Fahrt war erstaunlich! Es ist sein ganzer Stolz.
(Did you know that Jan just bought a new German car? It’s a Mercedes. The first drive was amazing! It’s his pride and joy.)
In this example you can see most of the German capitalization rules in action, we’ve used proper nouns, nouns, pronouns, verbs when used as nouns and un-capitalized adjectives & capitalized adjectives.
Did you know? The German spelling reform in 1996, which intended to simplify German spelling, made a number of changes to capitalization of German. Throughout this post you’ll see mentions of this, but you can read the full story here.
Let’s start with a simple one, nouns. Every noun and proper noun is capitalized in German, which not only makes German look quite different to English because of the sheer amount of capitalization going on, but also make nouns very easy to spot.
Don’t forget that nouns are anything that you can put ‘the’ in front of: der / die / das.
|Ich treffe meine Freundin am Flughafen.||I’ll meet my friend at the airport.|
The two nouns here are die Freundin (the female friend) and der Flughafen (the airport).
This is why phrases like guten Tag (good day / hello) are capitalized, der Tag (the day) is a noun, so must be capitalized.
Just like in English, ‘proper nouns’ are always capitalized, so people’s names, place names, countries, books etc. Here’s an example with proper nouns:
|Ich fliege bald mit Eva nach Österreich.||I’m flying with Eva to Austria soon.|
In this example the two proper nouns are Eva and Österreich (Austria).
Adjectives & Verbs when used as Nouns
Like in English, in German you can change some adjectives and verbs into nouns, for example the verb suchen (to search) can become a noun, die Suche (the search). Since it is now a noun, indicated by having ‘the’ (der, die or das) in front of it, this former verb is now capitalized like a normal German noun.
|Die Suche nach meinem Pass dauerte 3 Tage!||The serach for my passport took 3 days!|
The same rule applies to adjectives which have turned into nouns, for example the adjective abenteuerlich (adventurous) can change to der Abenteuer or die Abenteuerin (the adventurer, male / female).
|Ich werde eine Abenteuerin.||I’m going to become an adventurer.|
Since the German spelling reform in 1996, the only pronoun to be capitalized is the formal ‘you’ (Sie) in all it’s forms:
- Sie (‘you’ in the nominative & accusative cases)
- Ihnen (‘you’ the dative case)
- Ihr (‘your’)
All other pronouns are not capitalized, however before the spelling reform in 1996 all pronouns would be capitalized when used the written form so du, dich, dir, er, sein etc. would be Du, Dich, Dir, Er, Sein etc..
The good thing about this distinction is it makes it immediately obvious when reading that Sie sind means ‘you (formal) are’ and sie sind means ‘they are’.
Let’s see this in action:
|Frau Weber, das Taxi wird Sie und Ihre Freundin um 7 Uhr abholen.||Ms. Weber, the taxi will pick you and your friend up at 7am.|
Unlike in English the first person singular ich (I) is not capitalized unless it’s at the start of a sentence.
There’s another difference between English and German capitalization rules, and that is with adjectives. Adjectives are not capitalized, even adjectives describing nationality. In English nationality adjectives are capitalized:
|Ich habe einen britischen Pass und Eva hat einen deutschen Pass.||I have a British passport and Eva has a German passport.|
So there you have it, all the German capitalization rules you’ll ever need. Hopefully that’s made things a bit clearer, and before you know it you’ll know how to capitalize German like a pro.