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How are abbreviations (whose first letter is usually not capitalized, like z. B. or a. a. O) handled at the beginning of a sentence? Is there any specific rule for it? For instance, should I write

o. B. d. A seien ...

or

O. B. d. A seien ...

or just stick with the safe (but long)

Ohne Beschränkung der Allgemeinheit seien ...

Or how about:

Zum Beispiel kosten Taschentücher im Spätkaufladen 1 € mehr als im Supermarkt.

Would I write

Z. B. kosten Taschentücher im Spätkaufladen 1 € mehr als im Supermarkt.

(but Z. B. looks ugly to my eyes) or just avoid that specific wording entirely?

3 Answers 3

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According to Duden (and all of my typographic handbooks), the following rules apply to abbreviations at the beginning of a sentence.

A simple abbreviation is written with a capital initial letter:

vgl. → Vgl. …

An abbreviation consisting of several parts should preferably be written out in full:

m. a. W. → Mit anderen Worten … (not: M. a. W.)

m. E. → Meines Erachtens ... (not: M. E.)

z. B. → Zum Beispiel ... (not: Z. B.)

d. h. → Das heißt … (not: D. h.)

The abbreviations i. A. (im Auftrag) and i. V. (in Vertretung) are written with a capital initial letter if they are used in front of an isolated signature. However, within a valediction or following the name of a company, they are written with a small initial letter:

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
i. V. Karl Müller

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Think about it this way: o.B.d.A. is the abbreviation of ohne Beschränkung der Allgemeinheit, while O.B.d.A. is the abbreviation of Ohne Beschränkung der Allgemeinheit. But no, really, the first letter of a sentence is always capitalized, unless you start with an apostrophe. Same for z.B. vs. Z.B. (which really is ugly). Alternatively you can use zB/ZB.

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  • OK, so it's OK if I capitalize Z.B. and O.B.d.A??
    – user3323
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 9:39
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    @Thornshadow17432 In the beginning of a sentence, you have to (if you decide to follow the societal consensus).
    – user6191
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 9:41
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    @Grantwalzer: Some notes: 1) zB or ZB are not really a valid spelling (which somewhat depends on the usage, but I have never seen this). 2) Capitalising such abbrevations at the beginning of the sentence is not only common consensus but also according to the official spelling rules (who do not make an exception for abbrevations). 3) There are some more exceptions to the capitalisation of the first letter of a sentence, e.g., the first real sentence of this comment (but none apply here). 4) It is often advised against starting a sentence with an abbrevation for stylistic reasons.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 9:50
  • @Wrzlprmft With consensus I was actually referring to the "official" spelling rules. ZB was listed in the Duden as an alternative, I see it has been removed. Still, the two dots are superfluous at best. I don't quite understand #3, but I wanted to look into this myself, anyway. Btw., you don't need to ping me under my own post ;)
    – user6191
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 10:57
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    Take note that there should be a space between the period of the first letter and the second letter in the abbreviation: z. B. is correct, z.B. is not. Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 14:55
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Am allereinfachsten ist es natürlich den Satz so umzuformen, dass er nicht mit einer Abkürzung anfängt... in manchen Fällen ist das sogar die einzige Möglichkeit, da man nicht alle Abkürzungen ausschreiben kann, man denke etwa an "pH-Wert" (nein, potentia hydrogenii ist keine Lösung). Mit ganz wenigen Ausnahmen ist am Satzanfang immer großzuschreiben.

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