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I was wondering when you have to use a 'k' and when a 'c'. Originally, I thought everything that sounded like a 'k' in German, was written with a 'k'. But the bank named Commerzbank isn't written with a 'k', but with a 'c'. Why? I'm a Dutch Belgian, and I know that half of the words are written with a 'c' and half of the words with a 'k' in Dutch. Is this also the case in German?

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    Commerz is an older spelling that was retained in the name: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Carsten S
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 14:41
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    C is considered to be more glossy by the public relations department, so you will also find a "German" Electronic, even if elektron derives pretty straight from Greek, where a c does not even exist.
    – guidot
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 6:57
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    You could also ask when to use "Z" and when to use "C" - we have Zitrone, Zeit and Zentrum, but also Cäsium, circa and Center. Thumb of rule: only if it looks like a loanword you have to be suspicious. Names don't count - they follow no rules at all.
    – AmigoJack
    Commented Oct 17, 2022 at 20:16
  • @AmigoJack Zitrone and Zentrum are (old) loanwords.
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 8:55

4 Answers 4

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You were correct with your assumption, German almost never uses 'c' for a 'k' sound.

But German has adopted many words from other languages and often keeps their writing:

  • Café
  • Captain
  • Ciao
  • City
  • Code
  • ...

But "Commerzbank" is a name, most rules don't apply to names. For example, the given name "Markus" also exists as "Marcus", but it is much rarer. Sometimes, people want to be fancy and write "Centrum" instead of "Zentrum".

Additionally, there are words which exist in their original form and the German form, like:

  • Club <-> Klub
  • Clan <-> Klan
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Milestones along the way include the merger in 1920 with the Mitteldeutsche Privat-Bank, a regional bank based in Magdeburg, and in 1929 with the Mitteldeutsche Creditbank based in Frankfurt am Main. In the wake of the crisis in the banking sector, the government ordered the merger in early 1932 of Commerzbank with the Barmer Bank-Verein Hinsberg, Fischer & Co. in Düsseldorf. In 1940, the name Commerzbank Aktiengesellschaft, by which the bank was generally known, was officially adopted.

I believe, it's just the way, the company wants to be seen in the world. I mean, as more international.

If you would open any German dictionary you would notice, that there is actually a lot of words in German, that start with "c", but you should pronounce it with "k". These words are mostly international and don't have German roots, like Cargo, Catering, codieren. I believe, the same applies to Commerzbank :)

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You can be 99% sure that a Germanic word (kurz, Kind, kalt) will be always written with "k" but for Latin words (incl. English) it is difficult to decide.

To be sure, unfortunately you have to know when the "Latin" (en,fr,it) word borrowed in german language. For example, the words "Krise", "Kultur" entered before the 16th century and were probably written with "c" previously but the orthography has been reformed many times and changed to "k", like "ph" to "f" in some words in the 20th century. (Photo = Foto, but Physik is still Physik )

If you are unsure, i will advice you to always write with "k" as long you dont assume the word is borrowed from english after 1960s.. like "Computer" etc. The germans chose the way to adapt English words the English-way of writing and spelling

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  • Krise is not of latin origin, but of greek.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 8:07
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So basically, C is a German Native letter but only in words where it is used in digraphs such as Sch, Ch or Ck (eg: Schule, Licht, Keltisch). Any words where C is used on its own is foreign. C is often replaced with K or Z (Circus-Zirkus). However, sometimes, there are alternative ways to write German words for example, sometimes, people also write "Circus" instead of "Zirkus" or "Centrum" instead of "Zentrum". And in some native words, C can occur alone (eg. Circa which means "approximately" in English and Creme which means "Cream" in English).

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  • All of your examples are loanwords. The writing with C was standard for such loanwords until the reform of 1901.
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 12:33
  • Not the ones where C is used in digraphs like Schule etc. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 18:14

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