I know that 'strict' is a relative term, so I would like to ask more specifically the effect the German orthography reform of 1996 has had on the legal profession? Do legally binding documents have to be written and signed in full accordance to the reforms?

I am aware that various media outlets have boycotted the changes to this very day. Has this left an impact for the status of Rechtschreibreform within the law (of Germany)?

  • 13
    Are documents that contain misspellings legally void in your country?
    – Carsten S
    Nov 2, 2014 at 17:44
  • If they were written in a form of English resembling the kind found in the KJV Bible, then probably yes. Not the best analogy, but using out of date spelling as a matter of house style would raise a few eyebrows to say the least. Nov 2, 2014 at 17:48
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    Not an issue in Germany. Remember, todays' lawyers, judges etc. were all taught pre-reform spelling in school. Sure, most have made the switch by now, but nobody is offended by encountering the occasional "old" spelling.
    – Ingmar
    Nov 2, 2014 at 19:03
  • It is not only many major media outlets such as national newspapers in Germany who are boycotting the so-called Rechtschreibreform, but many individuals, too. Like me, for instance. Nov 3, 2014 at 18:28

3 Answers 3


There is no law about the spelling. So you may spell your contracts as you like (well, it should be understandable ;) ).

There are some short articles about the legal status of the 'Rechtschreibreform' (English version). If you work in a school, you are obliged to use the new spelling. But that is no law, but a decree. Same for public authorities.


Apart from a few exceptions, there are no formal requirement concerning contracts in Germany. Basically you can make a billion dollar deal without signature and written contract. So spelling won't be a problem.

  • AFAIK that's right. The crucial point is whether someone will agree to that.
    – user6191
    Nov 2, 2014 at 18:43
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    Actually, that's the only important thing when talking about contracts. There are a few exceptions, but as a rule you can have an oral contract, or a written one in English, French or Pig Latin as far as the law is concerned. You may also use your own secret language or refer to your wine cellar as "library", if both parties know what they are talking about. We have had court rulings as poems and sonnets, too. In short, spelling is really not a legal issue.
    – Ingmar
    Nov 2, 2014 at 19:08
  • @Ingmar this might give problems when the other party later denies this contract (or a certain part of it). Nov 2, 2014 at 21:15

The only situation I can think of where official spelling might matter is if a sentence in the contract would have one meaning according to pre-reform spelling and another one according to post-reform spelling.

In such a (theoretical; I cannot come up with any such example) case, it’s conceivable that a court would decide, absent any other information, that the post-reform spelling interpretation is the valid one.

  • As a Gedankenexperiment this might make sense, but I don't think you'll be able to come up with an example. If at all possible, it probably would have to involve ß / ss (Maße vs. Masse, Buße vs. Busse) but even there I'd be (very) hard-pressed to find a sufficiently confusing and not totally implausible example.
    – Ingmar
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:37

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