On the second hand market there are lots of opportunities to buy used books for little money.

As in 1996 there was a major orthography reform in Germany I am uncertain if reading second-hand books will teach me a wrong spelling or grammar.

Will I learn a wrong spelling when reading books published before 1996? Should I avoid buying those books?

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    For those who wonder: I also ask this for my kids ;)
    – Takkat
    Feb 2, 2012 at 10:23
  • I really don't want to be disrespectful, but isn't this a really really dumb question from a guy as smart as Takkat??? ;) Especially because saving money should alwyas be more important than having good grammar. (It's really just spelling, isn't it? Surely there aren't any grammar changes?) Feb 2, 2012 at 11:21
  • @Marty: I'd say good grammar is important, but there were indeed no grammar changes - it was a spelling reform, after all. Feb 2, 2012 at 11:47
  • @Takkat: Don't overestimate the problem of seeing wrong spelling. Your kids won't just adapt blindly everything they read, it may even be a good lesson for them, when they come and ask you why something is spelled ugly. And consider the fact how kids today learn writing in 1st class - they are encouraged to write words as they think they are spelled without even getting corrected in the beginning - and it turned out, that this method helps them learning to write and read better than from the beginning on always having to make it right. Feb 2, 2012 at 12:10
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    @HendrikVogt: The comma rules changed also. I would call that a grammar change. Takkat: You do not have to buy a new "Schatzinsel", they can read it with the old orthography. But buy new learning books. Feb 2, 2012 at 12:59

2 Answers 2


Of course, if it's a book for teaching German, it should be a recent one - but in general there is no reason avoiding books, just because spelling changed since then.

If the reader does know of the change in spelling, it sure helps him to not memorize wrong spellings (typically for example is dass instead of daß), but I would say it won't disturb learning the language just because of some old spellings.

And to be honest, most Germans are not really sure about the correct spellings either... ;-)


If the kids are very young, it's going to be quite a few years before they would face any meaningful consequences for using old spelling vs. new spelling. What difference does it make if they get a 92 instead of a 96 on a grade 4 spelling test? (And what kind of stupid teacher would give them bad marks for using the old spelling?) There is a very remote chance that when they are writing a university entrance exam they might lose a mark somewhere, and that their chance of getting into law school was thereby lost because they happened to be right on the borderline: but you can't go through life worrying about that kind of thing. It is much more likely that by that age they will have fully understood the difference between old spelling and new spelling, and have no difficulty in using either one as appropriate for the situation, just as I'm sure you do.

We had a spelling change in Yiddish wish started in the 1920's and is still not fully entrenched today. I am self-educated in Yiddish and my library has books in three major spelling systems, and I feel much more culturally aware because of my familiarity with those three systems than I would if I had been carefully shielded from the "obsolete" systems. There is certainly no justification for throwing out our old books because of their spelling, because most of them are simply irreplaceable.

EDIT: I should add the disclaimer that I happen to be a spelling terrorist; I invented my own Latinization for Yiddish based on the German roots, which drives the YIVO (Yiddish Institute) phoneticists crazy. I'm also not a great authority for "what do you care what the teachers say" because I just got kicked out of university last month for arguing with the professors

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    I would argue that it's a good teacher who takes off marks for spelling things incorrectly. It's good to know about the old spellings and culture, sure, but when writing new material, it should be done properly. It's best to start them on that path young.
    – StrixVaria
    Feb 2, 2012 at 22:55
  • If that's really the only reason you're worried...because a teacher might take marks off on an assignment...then I'd have to say, so what? Sometimes you just have to do what you do and take your lumps. What difference does it make? Feb 3, 2012 at 11:12
  • @Takkat: well, I supposed if you're going to worry about little things like that... Feb 3, 2012 at 15:09

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