8 German Capitalization Rules Every Learner Needs to Know

The written German language has a unique feature: All nouns are capitalized.

This tradition, stemming from Old High German and Middle High German, aimed to emphasize the importance of nouns.

There are some more German capitalization rules that you’ll need to remember, since some are different from what you’re used to in English.

Let’s learn them all!

Contents

All German Nouns Are Capitalized

In the German language, every noun is capitalized. This practice is consistent and applies to all nouns, regardless of their position in a sentence or the specific type of noun.

For example:

Mein Freund hat ein neues Auto gekauft.  (My friend bought a new car.)

Die Sonne scheint am Himmel. (The sun is shining in the sky.)

Unsere Familie plant einen Ausflug in die Berge.  (Our family is planning a trip to the mountains.)

Why German Capitalizes All Nouns

The capitalization of all nouns in German originated from historical practices in Old High German and Middle High German. In those periods, it was a common practice across several languages to emphasize the importance and significance of nouns by capitalizing them.

This tradition carried over into modern German, differentiating it from many other languages where only proper nouns are capitalized. The intention was to aid in understanding and clarity within written texts, highlighting the essential elements (ie, the nouns) in a sentence.

Despite the evolution of the language over time, this tradition of capitalizes all nouns remains a distinctive feature of the German language.

Capitalize Adjectives and Verbs Used as Nouns

Sometimes, adjectives and verbs can be used like nouns. This is called nominalization and there are three excellent examples in the title “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

In German, when adjectives or verbs are employed as nouns, they are capitalized.

For example:

das Gute und Schöne  (The good and beautiful)

die Schönen und Reichen (The beautiful and rich)

Don’t Capitalize All Other Adjectives

Adjectives in German aren’t capitalized when they’re not being used as nouns. This includes when nationalities are used as adjectives, which aren’t capitalized in German (unlike in English).

For example:

der kleine Garten (the small garden)

deutsche Küche (German cuisine)

Capitalize the First Word in Each Sentence

This rule aligns with the standard capitalization practice in many languages. Every word that starts a sentence, regardless of its part of speech, is capitalized to indicate the beginning of a new sentence.

For example:

Der Himmel ist blau. (The sky is blue.)

Heute ist ein schöner Tag.  (Today is a beautiful day.)

In der Stadt gibt es viele Geschäfte. (In the city, there are many shops.)

Capitalize the Formal Pronouns Sie, Ihnen and Ihr

There are three pronouns in German that change meaning when they’re capitalized:

These are all capitalized in writing to mark politeness and formality.

It also sets them apart from their lowercase forms, which have several entirely different meanings! Here’s the full breakdown:

  • sie — she, they
  • ihnen — them
  • ihr — their, informal plural you (when talking to one more than one person informally)

Phew, that seems like a lot to remember—but with this many overlaps, the capital letters are actually helpful starting point to differentiate between them!

If there’s a capital letter on the pronoun, and it’s not at the beginning of the sentence, you know it definitely means either formal “you” or “your”!

For example:

Können Sie mir bitte helfen?  (Can you please help me?)

Ich habe Ihr Buch gefunden.  (I found your book.)

Das Buch gehört Ihnen.  (The book belongs to you.)

German can get pretty picky in its pronoun capitalizations. Learn more about how to capitalize correctly by studying it in use, such as in German books or through an authentic video-based program like FluentU.

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Don’t Capitalize Informal Pronouns Like du

In contrast to formal pronouns, the informal pronouns like “du” are not capitalized.

For instance:

Hast du Zeit für einen Kaffee?  (Do you have time for a coffee?)

Könnt ihr mir bei den Hausaufgaben helfen?  (Can you help me with the homework?)

Don’t Capitalize the Personal Pronoun

Here’s another way that German differs from English: You don’t capitalize the personal pronoun ich (I), unless it is the first word in the sentence. 

For example:

Ich bin sehr müde. (I am tired today)

Gestern habe ich im Park ein Buch gelesen.  (Yesterday, I read a book in the park.)

Capitalize Titles and Honorary Forms

Titles and honorary forms, such as Frau (Mrs./Ms.), Herr (Mr.) and Doktor (Doctor), are capitalized in German. This is true even when the title is used apart from a person’s name, like der Arzt (the doctor).

For example:

Ich wusste nicht, dass Frau Müller Ärztin ist. (I didn’t know Ms. Müller was a doctor.)

Ich habe mit Herrn Schmidt über das Projekt gesprochen.  (I spoke with Mr. Schmidt about the project.)

 

You can now write in German with your new knowledge of German capitalization rules!

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