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I don't know anything about German language, but something in a book I'm reading now just makes me wonder if there is such a distinction between German and English.

So I'm reading about the Austrian-born mathematician Walter Rudin's autobiography The Way I Remember It, in which Rudin would always capitalise the word mathematics as a school subject. Examples abound:

He was a Chicago PhD and knew enormously more Mathematics than I.

And,

When I wrote it (Principles of Mathrmatical Analysis) my purpose was to present a beautiful area of Mathematics in a well organized readable way...

Surely they are not proper nouns here. And therefore according to English language convention in neither cases should mathematics be capitalised as Rudin did. But why did he do it?

The only plausible explanation I could think about: Rudin was an Austrian-born whose mother tongue was German, not English. And perhaps, German language has a different convention from English, namely, it does capitalise school subjects even when they are not seen as proper nouns? But that's only my wild guess.

And of course, Google returned no useful results to me when I searched about this issue, which is why I'm seeking help from this powerful site. Thanks in advance!

marked as duplicate by chirlu, boaten, Stephie, Crissov, guidot Mar 12 '16 at 11:20

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    In German, all nouns are capitalized. – chirlu Mar 12 '16 at 3:19
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    @chirlu ...**All** nouns?? That's really crazy haha – Vim Mar 12 '16 at 3:23
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    @Vim: Actually, the idea of capitalising only propers nouns seems really crazy to me. It’s almost as if you waste an entire case by never using it. (Also, there is some evidence that capitalising nouns enhances readability.) – Wrzlprmft Mar 12 '16 at 6:48
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    @Wrzlprmft well this distinction really teaches me how different human languages can be even if they are thought to have originated from the same family just as English and German are. And thanks for your source (which must be very interesting) but unfortunately I can't read it (coz as I said I don't understand a single word of German...). – Vim Mar 12 '16 at 7:01
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Yes, all school subjects will always be capitalized in German.

Also all fruits will always be capitalized in German.

And all feelings. And all things that are made of steel or wood. And all liquids. And ...

To make it short:

In German all nouns are always capitalized.

This makes it easy to identify nouns in a German sentence or phrase:

  1. Der Gefangene floh. - The prisoner fled.
  2. Der gefangene Floh. - The caught flea.

All other parts of speech are not capitalized as long as they are not the first word in a sentence. So, it can be unclear only for the first word of a sentence if it is a noun or not. From all other words in a sentence you can read it from it's first letter.

This is also true for titles and headings! In English you are used to capitalize important words in headings (In the following example, only »in« seems to be not so important):

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

But »Magnificent«, »Their« and »Flying« are no nouns, so in the German translation you can't write them capitalized, even if they appear in a title or heading:

Die tollkühnen Männer in ihren fliegenden Kisten

(»Those«/»Die« stands at the beginning of the title, and this is why they are capitalized in both languages. This rule is identical in German and English.)

On the other hand side: In english you are used to capitalize adjectives that are derivated from proper nouns like in this example:

"Finger" is a German and an English word.

But »German« and »English« are no nouns, but adjectives, so you have to write them in lower case in a German translation. But »word« is a noun and therefore its German translation has to be capitalized:

"Finger" ist ein deutsches und ein englisches Wort.

  • Thanks for your answer. It's really detailed. Incidentally, as far as I know I think the capitalisation rule of English titles is to capitalise every word but articles and small (by which I mean no more than five or six letters) prepositions and conjunctions, except when they are the first words. – Vim Mar 12 '16 at 8:10
  • @Vim There are various rules for title case in English. Even in German, there is (or at least used to be) a rule that allowed – or even required, I don’t remember – to capitalize adjectives in non-sentence titles that can be considered proper names, e.g. a restaurant may be called “Zum Goldenen Schwan”. – Crissov Mar 12 '16 at 12:49
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    Crissov: Your example has nothing to do with titles. It is about proper names (Eigennamen). »Zum Goldenen Schwan« is the name of an inn, and because it is a proper name, you have to write it capitalized even in normal sentences, and even if you don't use the hole name: »Ich werde heute im Goldenen Schwan essen.« The word »Goldenen« in fact is an adjective, but it is used as part of a name, and names are treated as nouns and therefore capitalized. – Hubert Schölnast Mar 12 '16 at 14:34

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