The question is on aufs energischeste as highlighted in this passage from Freud’s Totem und Tabu. The Verbot is that against incest.

Die Übertretung dieses Verbotes wird nicht einer sozusagen automatisch eintretenden Bestrafung der Schuldigen überlassen wie bei anderen Totemverboten (z. B. das Totemtier nicht zu töten), sondern wird vom ganzen Stamme aufs energischeste geahndet, als gelte es eine die ganze Gemeinschaft bedrohende Gefahr oder eine sie bedrückende Schuld abzuwehren. Einige Sätze aus dem Buche von Frazer(4) mögen zeigen, wie ernst solche Verfehlungen von diesen, nach unserem Maßstabe sonst recht unsittlichen, Wilden behandelt werden.


  1. Could you have said am energischesten instead? (This is the superlative form of the adverb you get from dictionaries.)

  2. In aufs energischeste, is there some implicit noun (to come after energischeste and be modified by it)? (If aufs is auf das, I would expect the noun to be something like result rather than way in meaning so it can be in the accusative.)

  3. This dictionary entry lists a number of expressions consisting of aufs and an adjective or adverb, whether in the superlative or not (e.g. aufs Äußerste, aufs Engste, aufs Geratewohl). Should I try to supply an implicit noun after each of the adjective or adverb, or just think of aufs + adj./adv. as a form of expression?

  4. In the same list, some examples use initial caps and other not (e.g. aufs Neue vs. aufs neue). Should I feel free to go either way, or are there rules on when to capitalize?

2 Answers 2


Aufs Energischste (sic!, modern spelling) does not contain an adverb/adjective anymore, it has been nominalised. Hence, replacing aufs with am would be wrong. And since Energischste is a noun by itself, there is no implicit noun required anywhere.

Formerly, the orthography rules did not require capitalisation of these nominalised adjectives hence why it is not in Freud’s text. In at least one of the many reforms and re-reforms since 1996 that changed, and since it is now a noun it is to be capitalised. The same goes for all the other expressions as far as I am aware. I don’t think capitalising is ever wrong nowadays.

The auf + nominalised superlative construction is indeed more or less a fixed expression showing the extent of how one does something. So the two expressions ‘ich widerspreche energisch’ and ‘ich widerspreche aufs Energischste’ mean the same thing. A pure superlative (‘*ich widerspreche am energischsten’) would require something to compare yourself against, which isn’t present in these examples.


Remember that aufs is short for auf das with das the Artikel for energischeste (today we would say energischste and for all I know the new orthography drops the last s too).

Secondly, energischeste is a noun here, so I'm not sure why it isn't capitalised. Your own examples show that it normally would be. Unless someone applied some new orthography rules to this old Freud text.

Regarding am energischesten would mean the most energetic/strongly, for example if there had been something like

The group protested strongly, but Mr Smith voiced his the most [loudly]

As in

Die Gruppe protestierte energisch, aber Herr Smith am energischsten.

Sadly, I can't help you with modern capitalisation rules in German: I left before new orthography version 1 was introduced and never kept up with that experiment. Even less so, the various revisions since. Have no intention to change, quite frankly ;)

  • 1
    After the last reform, it should be "aufs Energischste".
    – tofro
    May 8, 2016 at 9:56
  • @tofro Goodness, "after the last", just how many did I miss (since the mid 90s)? :-D
    – user21173
    May 8, 2016 at 10:24
  • 2
    It would be worth mentioning in your answer that "aufs + [substantiated superlative]" is a standing expression/idiom in German, while "am energischsten" is not. Politicians and lawyers would use "Dem widerspreche ich aufs Heftigste/Energischste/Äußerste" basically every other minute...
    – tofro
    May 8, 2016 at 10:26
  • 1
    Since 2004, the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung * is the regulatory body in charge of proposals on *official German orthography. They hand over their proposals to the "Kultusministerkonferenz" - There was a major reform of the reform in 2004, since then, basically yearly or bi-yearly minor adjustments.
    – tofro
    May 8, 2016 at 17:15
  • @tofro Are you serious about "basically yearly or bi-yearly"?! Who's supposed to keep up with that?
    – user21173
    May 8, 2016 at 20:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.