While trying to translate the German text in the following image, I was struck by the fact that some words are capitalized which wouldn't be capitalized in English.


The words in question are:

  • Interesse (interest)

  • Bruchstück (fragmentary)

  • Schluss (ending; closing)

  • Bestand (ingredients?)

Is this an idiosyncrasy unique to this author, or a feature common to older German texts (as I believe it is in older English texts), or are the rules for capitalization different in German?

closed as off-topic by Barth Zalewski, boaten, Burki, Ingmar, guidot Aug 18 '15 at 7:31

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  • 11
    Did you ask Google? The very first paragraph in the very first link that Google gave me for "German capitalization", tells me that "all nouns are capitalized in German". – Em1 Aug 9 '15 at 9:05
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    @Em1: I feel that this question is of so high general interest that it belongs into every repository of information about the German language, including ours, irrespective of how easy it would be to Google an answer. Furthermore, regarding the "general reference" clause, it is relevant for people who aren't learning German and hence don't have access to a grammar. – chirlu Aug 9 '15 at 9:57
  • 5
    You did not find any modern German texts to check if they also have so many capitalisations? ;) – Carsten S Aug 9 '15 at 17:44
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    It's probably one of the most basic questions ever but objectively speaking it should stay open and it does NOT deserve 4 downvotes. Downvotes are not a measure for a "duh"-factor. – Emanuel Aug 9 '15 at 22:36
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    @Emanuel it's a valid, and maybe even interesting question, but it hits smack in the middle of "This question does not show any research effort", which is the primary criterion for a downvote. (Partial quote taken from the tooltip of the downvote button, emphasis mine.) I'm torn on what to do with it. – hiergiltdiestfu Aug 14 '15 at 11:58

Yes, the rules of capitalization are different.

In English, only the beginning of sentences as well as proper names (of people, of organisations, of "special things" such as specific celebrations, e.g. "Christmas") are generally capitalized.

In German (not only in older text, but also according to the contemporary spelling rules), all of these are capitalized, and in addition, all nouns are capitalized.

The respective statement in Duden is:

Die Grundregel lautet, dass Substantive (Nomen, Hauptwörter), Satzanfänge und Eigennamen mit großem Anfangsbuchstaben geschrieben werden.

in English:

The basic rule requires that nouns, beginnings of sentences, and proper names be written with a capital first letter.

As chirlu correctly pointed out, some words that are considered names in English are not considered names in German, however. Notably, this includes toponyms - names of countries and continents ("Frankreich", "Afrika") are capitalized in German when they are used like nouns, but for no other reasons; the adjectives derived from them are not capitalized in German ("französisch", "afrikanisch"). Especially for some toponyms (generally only used on the levels of federal states or smaller), on the other hand, there is a specific form of adjectives that are capitalized, which is created by using the toponym + "er", as in "Berliner Bär", "Reutlinger Ladenstraße".

In your text excerpt, the noun "Text" is an additional example for a word whose English counterpart ("text") would be written with a small letter.

  • 1
    Note, however, that there are some differences in what is considered a name (and hence capitalized). In particular, adjectives such as englisch (English) or deutsch (German) are not capitalized, unlike in English. Unless they are used as nouns, of course: die Deutschen. And there are some special cases, too. – chirlu Aug 9 '15 at 8:00
  • @chirlu: I knew there was some exception. I just couldn't remember what it was ;) Thanks, added the respective remark! – O. R. Mapper Aug 9 '15 at 8:03
  • The exception to the exception, of course, is adjectives derived from toponyms using -er: Schweizer Berge (Swiss mountains), Berliner Straßen (Berlin roads). I can't agree with the statement that Afrika are capitalized in German because they are nouns, but for no other reasons, though: Family names, e.g., are definitely names, but adjectives derived from them are generally lowercased. – chirlu Aug 9 '15 at 8:11
  • @chirlu: True, I always find it counterintuitive to consider that officially, names are not supposed to be a subset of nouns, but according to official rules, you are right. Changed my answer accordingly. – O. R. Mapper Aug 9 '15 at 8:19
  • Thanks! I had assumed that "Amélineau's Text" was a reference to a specific book by Amélineau. – Wad Cheber Aug 9 '15 at 8:39

All nouns in German are capitalized.

Interesse - interest

Bruchstück - snippet / shard

Schluss - ending / conclusion

Bestand - collection / population / etc.

These are all nouns, so they should be capitalized as such. :)


All nouns in German are capitalized. Well, almost all:

  1. i-thingies (z.B. der iPod, das iPad,...)
  2. die taz (die Tageszeitung).

are not.

  • 2
    These are rather product names than nouns. Yes, they denote nouns, and yes, names are generally spelled with capital first letters, but these are examples for writing product names in the way their owner intended them to be, not for non-capitalized nouns. – Guntram Blohm Aug 14 '15 at 22:44
  • @GuntramBlohm Product names are nouns. They are not interjections, they are not articles, not conjunctions, not prepositions, ..., they are nouns. – c.p. Aug 15 '15 at 3:42
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    They actually are trade names used almost iconically and therefore spelled as the trade mark owner wants it. Other examples: WordPress (camel case). And yes, they are nouns. – Ralph M. Rickenbach Aug 18 '15 at 4:12

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