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It was my understanding that 'ß' is a double 's' and can be written with as 'ss', especially for computer applications which don't offer the 'ß' character. However, why are some words with 'ss' not written with a 'ß'? (z.B. müssen, not müßen?) And is it incorrect for me to write müßen? To be honest, I ask because I like using the 'ß' character due to the novelty.

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  • Gruselige Geschichte. Man denke da nur an Muße, Muse und Mus.
    – Raphael
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 14:24
  • Von Maßen und Massen mal ganz zu schweigen.
    – elena
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 14:32
  • @elena: Da ist immerhin das 'a' unterschiedlich lang...
    – Raphael
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 18:02
  • related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/255/…
    – Takkat
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 18:55
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    @RalphM.Rickenbach You should use Swiss German vocabulary, too, when using Swiss German orthography! Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 11:47

2 Answers 2

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It was my understanding that 'ß' is a double 's' and can be written with as 'ss', especially for computer applications which don't offer the 'ß' character.

Well, no. ß is a ligature (s + z, in case you were wondering) and must be used for certain words (with the exception of Switzerland, who abolished it quite some time ago and simply use ss everywhere instead.) If your keyboard does not have it (or you are writing IN ALL CAPS) you may use ss (SS) instead, but that's really an exception.

However, why are some words with 'ss' not written with a 'ß'? (z.B. müssen, not müßen?)

Before the orthography reform of 1996 the use of ß was much more widespread. These days, it's only used following a long vowel, as a rule. It's probably best to pick up the correct spelling when learning a new word. In that sense it might be easier than for native speakers who went to school ages ago, like yours truly :)

And is it incorrect for me to write müßen?

Yes, it's müssen.

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  • As an American Student who is constantly struggling with my German grammer, I would like to point out that the use ss in place of ß (Eszett [das]) in many words (e.g. müssen) is only since the latest Rechtschreibreform mentioned above. In fact, just before the official publication of the Rechtschreibreform, there was a website titled (translated): "Save the Eszett".
    – user9024
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 11:41
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    BTW, even with the old rules, "müßen" was wrong; only at the end of the word or before consonants was "ss" converted to "ß" according to the old rules. (Also note that the name "Eszett" for that letter is only used in Northern Germany, in Southern Germany the letter is called "scharfes S", that is, "sharp S".)
    – celtschk
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 20:21
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According to Zwiebelfisch, there are four rules:

  1. Hinter kurzen Vokalen steht grundsätzlich ss, auch am Wortende: "Das Fass war nass nach der Fahrt im Fluss." Wörter, die auf -nis enden (Hindernis, Erkenntnis) oder auf -ismus (Nationalismus, Liberalismus) werden am Ende selbstverständlich weiterhin nur mit einfachem s geschrieben.

  2. Hinter langen Vokalen steht grundsätzlich ß: "Das große Floß trieb träge dahin."

  3. Hinter Doppellauten (Diphthongen), das sind au, äu, eu und ei, steht grundsätzlich ein ß, da sie die Natur von langen Vokalen haben: "Ich weiß von nichts."

  4. In VERSALIENSCHREIBUNG wird das ß grundsätzlich als SS dargestellt: "ACHTUNG! SCHIESSÜBUNGSGELÄNDE!" niemals: "MIT FREUNDLICHEN GRÜßEN"

There is an interesting exception (that very few people are aware of): In case of a possible misunderstanding, SZ is used to replace ß when writing in capitals: "ER TRANK IN MASZEN"

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    Recently an uppercase ß has been gaining popularity, too: german.stackexchange.com/questions/11443/…
    – Ingmar
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 13:47
  • Any sources for the alleged “SZ” rule?
    – dakab
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 6:15
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    This exception no longer applies. Since the reform of 1996, only "SS" may be used for an uppercase ß, as it were. Before that, "SZ" was permissible in cases of possible confusion, but no more. Check Duden (duden.de/sprachwissen/sprachratgeber/das-grosse-eszett) and Wikipedia (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gro%C3%9Fes_%C3%9F)
    – Ingmar
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 6:57
  • -1 because the answer is not correct (cf. comment of @Ingmar )
    – Iris
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:51
  • This answer (and the Zwiebelfisch) simplifies. The reason why -nis words are written with a single s is that the short vowel is not emphasised. Only emphasised short vowels get the following consonant doubled.
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 20:10

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