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I was taught (several decades ago) to write a capital D for all pronouns such as Du, Dir, Deine, when writing to my German penpals.

I am afraid it would look antiquated or very formal these days. Is it true? At least it seemed odd at the time.

Would you use it in chat/email exchange as well?

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Hope you don't mind my just saying thank you. Sites like this are an invaluable resource. I'm a linguist (French and Italian). I learned German too, a long time ago. I ended up here via Google because I'd Googled a line of German (Schon is jeder Tag, den D(d)u mir schenkst Marie-Luise) and I couldn't understand why half the listings had upper-case Du and half, lower-case du. Much light shed on the subject. Many thanks. Ysabel –  Ysabel Howard May 24 at 19:56

8 Answers 8

up vote 24 down vote accepted

You can capitalise personal pronouns, but you don't always have to:

  • If you are speaking formally, always capitalise Sie, Ihre, and so forth.

  • If you communicate with someone informally, you have a free choice - though capitalising personal pronouns is more polite.

  • In general, informal text (as opposed to private correspondence), never capitalise informal personal pronouns.

    And finally, be consistent:

  • If you use "ihr" to adress more than one person informally, do not capitalise "ihr".

Note that it seems the Duden (though I don't have one handy to check) doesn't distinguish between the sort of text, but rather the nature of the relationship between the corresponding parties. I always try to categorise text as either private or public writing when I'm unsure.

Please also note that when I say personal pronouns, I am talking only about Du, Sie, and their derivations (deiner, dir, dich and Sie, Ihrer, Ihnen, and Sie respectively).

Addendum:

I didn't think this was going to be controversial. According to wikipedia, the current rules are rather straightforward:

In der Schriftsprache werden das Pronomen „Sie“ und die davon abgeleiteten Formen großgeschrieben. Bis zur Rechtschreibreform 1996 gab es auch eine Höflichkeitsform für „Du“ in der Schriftsprache, in der dieses Wort großgeschrieben wurde. Von 1996 bis 2006 wurde „du“ in neuer Rechtschreibung ausschließlich kleingeschrieben. Seit der neuesten, inzwischen vierten Revision der Rechtschreibreform kann „Du“ bei persönlicher Anrede wieder großgeschrieben werden.

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%B6flichkeitsform (my emphasis)

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Capitalize Ich, "and so forth"? Seriously? Das möchte Ich sehen! –  RegDwight May 25 '11 at 10:07
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Only Sie and Ihre need to be capitalized. –  Octavian Damiean May 25 '11 at 10:07
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@Ocatvian, can you quote sources for that? Das möchte ich auch sehen! –  teylyn May 25 '11 at 10:11
    
@teylyn I can only link you to Wikipedia for a written source but my source is my German professor at school. –  Octavian Damiean May 25 '11 at 10:20
    
sorry, I had to vote -1 for "You can capitalise possessive pronouns". That's wrong. Why possessive pronouns: "mein", "dein", "sein"? –  splattne May 25 '11 at 10:44

Wikipedia says it was mandatory to capitalize Du in letters until 1996, then it was forbidden until 2006, now it's optional.

In my experience, most people who learned to read and write before 1996 are perfectly fine with capitalizing Du in letters, it's definitely not too formal.

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in a chat context, it would seem strange, though. but then, you usually don't use capital letters in a chat anyway. @question: worst that can happen to you is that young people find it a bit old-fashioned. If you can live with that, just use it the way you learned. –  ladybug May 25 '11 at 12:55
    
I think you should clearly emphasise that only capitalising ‘Du’ was forbidden between 1996 and 2006. The word ‘Sie’ with the grammatical meaning of a second person pronoun (singular or plural) but the flexion of third person plural has never been forbidden. –  Debilski May 31 '11 at 22:30
    
@debilski thx, edited "Sie" out out the answer –  Jan Jun 1 '11 at 7:18
    
+ It is good to see that German spelling norms are as those in Holland! Ours change into opposites every few years as well. –  Cerberus Jun 1 '11 at 22:04
    
@ladybug: Ich schreibe mit 10 Fingern und fände es anstrengend mich für Chats umzugewöhnen. Ich setze auch Satzeichen und Anführungsstriche im Chat (genauso falsch wie sonst, leider, aber nur, weil ich es nicht besser weiß). Ich habe gelernt Du/Sie seien Höflichkeitsformeln und wüßte nicht, wieso ich im Chat unhöflich werden sollte. –  user unknown Oct 6 '13 at 20:29

This is part of the revision of the revision of German orthography.

The first revision disallowed the use of a capital letter for du and ihr. The second revision allows both versions.

As far as I know, Sie was never affected and is always written with a capital S.


To answer the question: I know many people that wouldn't think twice over writing Du and Ihr in mail of any form. In my opinion this expresses some form of respect for the other party. So yes, by all means use it.

Chat is something else. Most people don't pay attention to capitalization of any word there (at least in the chats I have been. YMMV).

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+1 for "Sie was never affected" –  splattne May 25 '11 at 10:42
    
I think I've wrote "du" even before '96... but then, that's just me ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard May 25 '11 at 11:21
    
@downvoter: Anything I can do to improve my answer? –  musiKk May 25 '11 at 11:24

I don't know about others, but I painstakingly capitalise "Du", "Dir", "Dich", "Dein" etc, in written communication, be they paper or E-mails. For me, the personal pronoun is the equivalent of the person's name and it is a matter of respect to capitalise it.

Ich weiss nicht, wie andere es halten, aber ich achte peinlich genau darauf, "Du", "Dir", "Dich", "Dein" usw. mit Grossbuchstaben zu schreiben, egal ob in Emails oder auf Papier. Für mich ist das Pronomen dem Namen gleichgesetzt, und es ist einfach höflich, es gross zu schreiben.

Kann natürlich sein, dass dies in Zeiten des SMS und TXT speak völlig veraltet ist. Wenn ich eine Nachricht mit "du" und "dein" erhalte, zucke ich innerlich.

Vielleicht scheiden sich hier die Geister?

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Ich finde es auch schöner "Du" und "Dein" zu verwenden, aber gerade bei SMS kann ich es verstehen, wenn es aus "Effizienzgründen/Faulheit" weggelassen wird :-) –  bjoernz May 25 '11 at 10:22
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I was used to it, but I made the transition to "du" in emails and letters. I think we should simplify the language, our kids will have to learn one less illogical rule. :) –  splattne May 26 '11 at 8:45
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Wenn man wie ich mit "Du" aufgewachsen ist, fällt der Übergang zu "du" schon ziemlich schwer. Vor allem da außer, wir machen es jetzt anders, kein überzeugender Grund für die Änderung zu erkennen ist. –  bernd_k Jun 3 '11 at 11:47
    
@bernd_k: ich bin auch mit "Du" aufgewachsen, bin aber gerne der Vorschrift von 1996 gefolgt. Für mich ist die Vereinfachung ein sehr "überzeugender Grund" (ich bin also total mit splattne einverstanden). Leider hat man jetzt aufgegeben, den privaten Schriftwechsel zu normieren, was andererseits auch verständlich ist. –  Walter Tross May 27 at 16:02

I am using this all the time, and have been for as long as I can remember. Never heard a single objection. Ever.

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+1. I was taught to use lowercase d for Du, Dir, etc, but then when I began working at the university here, everybody used a capital D, and basically told me that capitalising Du, Dir, etc is the norm. –  Glen Wheeler May 25 '11 at 10:27

I was born in 1968. Writing "Du" or "Sie" as an Anrede in written communication in lower case looks equally wrong to me, and I would never do it. They have to be capitalized.

I know that technically it is optional now, but the orthographic reform and the reform of the orthographic reform are something that felt wrong to me either. As far as I know, this is the case with most germans.

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I also learned it several decades ago (in elementary school). I still use it, even in e-mails. But it is probably mostly a matter of taste, respect, and convenience.

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Personally, I must say that I have never understood why one would have a different capitalisation depending on the form of the text. Why should ‘Du’ be capitalised in a letter but not, say, in a dialogue of a novel? If it is considered a thing of respect then why wouldn’t the characters in a book be respectful to each other as well?

It is easy with ‘Sie’, of course: The word is capitalised every time it is used. It does not depend on context or whether it was written down using a pencil or a computer keyboard. It conveys its respectful meaning everywhere.

(That is, if the capital ‘S’ really is the sign of respectfulness and not simply a sign which says ‘I’m really not the third person plural “sie” but the version of it which describes a second person (singular or plural) but which looks and inflects just like the third person plural pronoun.’ – This argumentation might be more obvious if one thinks of the Pluralis Majestatis which attaches a singular meaning to plural form pronouns by – exactly – capitalising its initial letter. Obviously, following that argumentation makes no sense for the inherently singular ‘du’.)

So, if anybody wants to use ‘Du’ with a capital ‘D’, I think the writer should be consequent enough to really use it universally. (Of course, I do not know a single book where someone has followed this argumentation, so it is rather unorthodox.)

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Well, the rule as I understood it is quite simple: An uppercase "Du" directly addresses the reader of the text, a lowercase "du" doesn't. I never considered the form of the text relevant. For example, in a letter I might write: Franz hat mir gesagt: "Das kannst du doch eh nicht!" Findest Du das nicht auch unfair? The first "du" is not addressed at the receiver of the letter, therefore it's lowercase, despite being in a letter. The second one is addressed at the reader, therefore it is uppercase. –  celtschk Oct 23 '12 at 13:06
    
Sure, that’s how it’s been done. Still, personally, I find that inconsistent. A du always addresses someone directly. It should not matter whether this person is a reader or a listener. –  Debilski Oct 23 '12 at 14:53
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The distinction is "receiver" vs. "other addressed person", not "reader" vs. "listener". Of course where the rule matters the receiver is always a reader because you can't speak uppercase or lowercase, but that's secondary. The crucial question is: Is the one addressed by the "du" identical with the one addressed by the text? –  celtschk Oct 23 '12 at 15:27
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But how would you write: Franz hat mir geschrieben: „Das kannst du/Du doch eh nicht!“ Findest Du das nicht auch unfair? The person addressed is still someone else, so one might want to write it in lowercase (as in the hat mir gesagt example); on the other hand, however, as a direct quotation one certainly feels obliged to use uppercase ‘D’. My point is: even in the gesagt example I’d consider it a quotation (of a spoken text) and therefore render it exactly the way it would have been written by the person who spoke it, if s/he had not spoken it but written it down. –  Debilski Oct 23 '12 at 15:43
    
But well, honestly, I don’t mind how people write their ‘Du’. :) –  Debilski Oct 23 '12 at 15:44

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