I’ve been trying to translate some Wikipedia articles into German and some of the time, the article is related to one of the world wars. Usually, I translate this as Erster Weltkrieg or Zweiter Weltkrieg but quite often another translator has been translating World War I and World War II as

1. Weltkrieg (for WWI)


2. Weltkrieg (for WWII)

So, I did a survey of some German Wikipedia pages and after having viewed several pages, I notice that I only ever see 1. Weltkrieg or 2. Weltkrieg as part of a title in a publication in the reference section of the Wikipedia article. I’ve also Googled this to see if it might be addressed in some web page about the German numbering system, but thus far, none of my searches have yielded anything that looks as if this specific topic is addressed.

To sum this all up, what are the direct equivalents in German of the following?

  • First World War

  • World War I

  • WWI

  • 6
    Both „Erster Weltkrieg“ and „Zweiter Weltkrieg“ are settled terms in German. To my opinion the only reason to write it as „1. Weltkrieg“ or „2. Weltkrieg“ are typographical constraints (like in a headline when there's not enough room for the word „Erster“). The usage of „1.“ and „2.“ suggests they can be enumerated and there will be more. I don't like that perception.
    – PerlDuck
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 17:47
  • 2
    @PerlDuck To give a different example, I don’t there will ever be an additional Vierter Hauptsatz der Thermodynamik or a Viertes Newton’sches Gesetz. So just because 1. and 2. are used doesn’t immediately imply a continuation.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 20:44
  • 3
    Note there used to be a recommendation for writers in German to not use digits in written ordinal numbers up to 12.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 23:21
  • 4
    Also note the official German orthography rules (rechtschreibrat.ids-mannheim.de/download/regeln2006.pdf) explicitly mention 2. Weltkrieg and even II. Weltkrieg in the examples for ordinal numbers.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 23:27

3 Answers 3


In both English and German, the World Wars are, of course, numbered. There is a first one and there is a second one. The main difference between the two languages here, and the one that leads to what you perceive as different terms in English, is that English is totally fine with having a cardinal number follow an expression to denote a similar idea as an ordinal number preceeding it. Thus, from my point of view, the First World War and World War I (the Roman numeral I being used instead of the word One or the number 1) are equivalent, and the last ‘term’, WWI is merely an abbreviation of the second.

German does not really have this tendency. Instead, ordinal numbers are typically strictly placed before the expression they order. Thus, the direct correlate to First World WarErster Weltkrieg — is in common usage while Weltkrieg 1 — the correlate to World War One — is unused and sounds weird.

Both languages have their conventions on how to typeset the number; as I mentioned before, English tends to use Roman numerals for the cardinal numbers following the expression. In German, there is no real difference between spelling out the ordinal number as Erster Weltkrieg or setting it as a numeral as in 1. Weltkrieg. Note that the numeral, being an ordinal number, carries an obligatory full stop and that the spelt-out word must decline according to case and presence/lack of the definite article as any other German ordinal number must.

Oftentimes, Germans are taught to spell out the numbers 1 to 12 and to use digits for the remaining ones and they follow that rule strictly. Thus, I would assume Erster Weltkrieg to be more common that 1. Weltkrieg unless there is a setting that greatly suggests enumeration in digits. This is confirmed by the following NGram of 2. Weltkrieg versus Zweiter Weltkrieg (searching for 1. Weltkrieg yielded no results):

NGram comparing *Zweiter Weltkrieg* and *2. Weltkrieg*

Note that this analysis is already inherently skewed to the benefit of the digit, since Zweiter Weltkrieg is restricted to nominative without article.

  • Instead, ordinal numbers are typically strictly placed before the expression they order. What about GSG9 and Schlachthof-fünf? Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 7:36
  • 2
    @BlokeDownThePub: simple, those aren't ordinals ;) Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 9:26
  • 1
    @BlokeDownThePub Schlachthof 5, if you mean the novel, is a direct translation from English. GSG9 is somewhat more of an exception to the ‘preceed with ordinal, do not follow with cardinal’ rule. However, nobody speaks of the 9. Grenzschutzgruppe so we might consider it a fixed expression
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 21:06
  • 1
    So many good answers here, but I've got a penchant for Ngrams, so the green check mark goes to you, @Jan. Plus, the quality of your writing is so good, I'd automatically assume you to be a native English speaker had I not noticed that your bio has been written in German. Now, I'm not so sure, but either way, you posted a very thorough, clear, and interesting answer. Danke.
    – Lisa
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 6:29

"1. Weltkrieg"

"Erster Weltkrieg"

The difference is only that in one case the number is written as number and in the other case the number is written as word - just as you can write "the 1st word" or "the first word" in English.

Note that the word "Erster" changes in a sentence like an ajective would do:

Der Erste Weltkrieg war schlimm. Im Ersten Weltkrieg sind viele Menschen gestorben.

... what is not neccessary if the number is written:

Der 1. Weltkrieg war schlimm. Im 1. Weltkrieg sind viele Menschen gestorben.

However the pronanciation still is "Erste" and "Ersten" in this case.

First World War

World War I


What exactly is the difference between these three terms?

In Germany they only have one term describing this: "Erster Weltkrieg" (which may be written as "1. Weltkrieg")

There is no abbreviation like "WWI" that is understood by all Germans.

  • 2
    I've seen WK1 and WK2 being used quite frequently, but I guess Germans wouldn't automatically associate it with WW1 and WW2.
    – user35915
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 22:04
  • 1
    "First World War" is more used by British English speakers, while "World War I" is more used by American English speakers. They mean the same thing, of course. Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 7:04
  • 4
    @user35915 If I read "1. WK" in a history context I would understand this abbreviation. If I read "WK1" - maybe, I'm not sure. If I read either "WK1" or "1. WK" in another context I'm sure I would not understand this abbreviation. Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 7:12


  • There is no common abbreviation for World War -> no equivalent to WWI
  • "World war I" would be literally "Weltkrieg 1", but is not used at all.

-> The only term Germans use is "Erster (or 1.) Weltkrieg", meaning "First World War"

  • 1
    Basically my answer but less verbose ;). Welcome to German Language Stack Exchange. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Visit the help center for unanswered questions about it.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 22:10
  • Thank you for noticing that I'm relatively new here and for being so professional and courteous. Some of the comments to my earlier posts have been a bit rough around the edges, so your contributions/comments and this thread in general have been a pleasant surprise. I'll admit that I haven't taken a tour of the site, but now that you've pointed it out, I'll be sure to do so.
    – Lisa
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 6:20

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