There are two expression which a very similar in German

Schuld haben


schuld sein

Is there a difference in meaning, maybe a subtle one?

Why is the first "Schuld" capitalized and the second one not?

  • Just for fun: There's a running joke in our family: "Der Mann hat immer Recht!". Because that's not fair to the woman, we decided that the woman should also have something, just for her, so we came up with "Die Frau hat immer Schuld!" -- May take some time to get used to, but the upside is: Kein Streit!! :-))
    – teylyn
    Aug 15, 2011 at 11:51
  • Makes me think of the management phrase, We didn't say it was your fault. We said we're going to blame you. Aug 16, 2011 at 10:00
  • Nur eine vage Vermutung: Wenn die Schuld bei mehreren liegt, würde ich eher sagen "X hat Schuld." als "X ist schuld." Mit beiden Begriffen lässt sich aber ausdrücken, dass nicht nur einer Schuld hat/schuld ist. Jan 25, 2020 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


IMO there's almost no difference. "Schuld sein" may be a little more colloquial than "Schuld haben" or "Schuld tragen". Capitalization is an interesting point - according to canoo.net, in this case "Schuld" is a "verblasstes Nomen" (i fear there's no nice-fitting english translation?), a substantive used as it were an adjective. Since they aren't substantives any more, lower case is mandatory.

  • Also "schuld sein" implies more of a moral implication, whereas "schuld haben" implies (failed) responsibility. But that's just how I read it
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 1, 2019 at 9:18
  • fossilized would be the nearest translation for verblasst. It's less specific about the mechanism, but more specific to the effect. That, is nobody intends to say is owing, in debt, has Should (which looks almost like past tense, was supposed to). The whole phrase fossilized, after it was reanalyzed from the legal sense, which is retained in Schultheis, Schulze. I'm pretty sure, but did not check.
    – vectory
    Jan 25, 2020 at 20:33

Duden lists both examples alongside so I don't think there is much of a difference.

There is also a link to the reason why schuld sein is written with lower case (Rule 70): It's a definite adjective and those are written with lower case.

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