I see people discussing Neue Rechtschreibung versus Alte Rechtschreibung. What is the difference? What has changed in German orthography since the 1996 Rechtschreibreform?

1 Answer 1


This is an overview of changes to German orthography since the 1996 reform and subsequent additions in 2004. It's not meant to reflect the letter of the reform, but give a practical overview for everyday usage.

  1. Eszett before long vowels

  2. Triple-consonants in word concatenation

    • In combining words that yield a triple-letter, one of those consonants would have been dropped, if the next letter was a vowel (Schiff and Fahrt yielded Schiffahrt; Sauerstoff and Flasche yielded Sauerstoffflasche). After the reform, consonants are never dropped:

      Schiff + Fahrt → Schifffahrt

      Kaffee + Ernte → Kaffeeernte

      - Article German orthography in the English Wikipedia: Double or triple consonants

  3. Common gallicisms may have Germanic spelling

    • Some commonly used French idioms, or load words, have been adapted in German spelling. The new spelling is optional and only concerns a select set of words. Specifically, the endings é and ée can now be written as ee:

      Dekolletee (fr., alt.: Dekolleté)

      Exposee (fr., alt.: Exposé)

      The Duden usually provides the ee variant as an alternative spelling - so it is safe to always use the French spelling. (Dekolleté, Exposé). Again: the French spelling is recommended.

  4. As an ending, ph becomes f in every case

    • Using f instead of ph has long been possible. Die Rechtschreibreform now recommends f in all cases:

      Paragraf, Fotograf, Tachograf

      Note that Photograph is still legal (though Fotograph would be considered inelegant).

  5. English nouns ending in y are pluralised by adding an s

    • Where before you could write either Parties or Partys, the latter spelling is now mandatory:

      Partys, Rowdys, Babys, Buggys

  6. Some words ending in –tial and –tiell are now spelled with a z

    • This is the case, when there exists a related word ending in z:

      Differenzial (formerly: Differential; related: Differenz)

      Potenziell (formerly: Potentiell; related: Potenz)

      The word martialisch (violently cruel), for example, still has a t because there is no word-stem ending in z.

  7. Composite Words

    • In forming a composite verb from an infinitive (non inflected) verb + verb, they are now no longer spelled together:

      spazierengehen → spazieren gehen

      However, the verbs bleiben and lassen are exceptions to this rule, as in stehenbleiben.

    • The same applies to:

      • Noun + Verb (now: Auto fahren, Rad fahren [form. radfahren], Haus bauen)

      • Verb + sein (beisammen sein, dabei sein)

      - Wiktionary: sein

      However: Composites using irgend– are spelled together:

      Irgendjemand, Irgendetwas

    - Zusammen oder getrennt? Gibt es eine Regel?

  8. Hyphenation

    • Previously, very long words could be hyphenated if they consisted of more than three parts. This is now allowed, though not mandatory, for words with three parts or less:

      Bundes-Finanzminister (also: Bundesfinanzminister)

    • Hyphenation is now mandatory if part of the word is a proper number:

      Die 80-jährigen, der 12-Zylinder

      - Article Bindestrich in the German Wikipedia: Rechtschreibregeln

    • It is now allowed to hyphenate loan-words to improve their readability:

      Car-Sharing (en.: car clubs; most often spelled Carsharing)

      Black-out (also: Blackout, en.: Blackout)

      Rendez-vous (uncommon; corr: Rendezvous, also: Rendez Vous, fr.: rendez-vous)

      - Article Liste von Gallizismen in the German Wikipedia

  9. Personal pronouns

  10. Adjectives formed from names of persons

    • Previously, these used to be capitalised - they no longer are:

      Das mooresche Gesetz

      Die drei keplerschen Gesetze

  11. Time of day

    • Prior to the adverbs vorgestern, gestern, heute, morgen and übermorgen, the time of day is capitalised:

      Gestern Abend

      Morgen Nachmittag

  12. Composite nouns from adjectives

    • In forming a composite noun, spelled separately, the adjective is no longer capitalised:

      der rote Faden (previously: der Rote Faden)

    • But note that proper nouns are still capitalised:

      der Große Duden

      die Kleine Anfrage (German radio programme)

  13. Word-pair formulæ describing persons

    • If a word-pair, such as Arm und Reich, Jung und Alt, describes persons, both adjectives are capitalised, even without an article :

      Großartige Angebote für Alt und Jung (previously: alt und jung)

      Die Letzten werden die Ersten sein (no change, as there is an article)

  14. When to use a comma

    • It is now legitimate to place a comma in a composite sentence, if it uses the words und or mit:

      Der Hund, mit dem er unterwegs war

      Du gehst weg, und ich bleibe hier.

      This is a device to aid in clarification, the form without a comma is still allowed

    • In Infinitive groups (Infinitivgruppen), there are now only three cases in which a comma need be set:

      • When using the words anstatt, um, ausser, and ohne in the dependence clause

        Ich laufe, um fit zu werden

      • If the dependence clause references a noun in the independent clause

        Die Dinge, die* ich benötige (*: die stands in place of Dinge)

      • If the infinitive group is announced or referenced

        Ich bin dabei*, meinen Schreibtisch aufzuräumen (*: wobei?)

    - What are the differences in punctuation between German and English?

  15. Splitting words at the end of a line

    • Words can now be split at st. The old mnemnonic: „Trenne nie ‚st‘, denn es tut ihm weh“ no longer holds.

      Las-ter, Ras-ter, Pflas-ter (as before with sp, sk, and pf)

    • The opposite is true for ck. Here, one previously had to solve the ck to k-k, as in Ak-ker or Hok-ker. Ck is now moved to the next line:



      - Article Worttrennung in the German Wikipedia

    • Load-words containing consonants previous to l, m, n, and r are now split after the consontant


      - Magnet in the German Wiktionary

    • Optionally, words that were composites but are now recognised as single entities can be split according to their pronunciation

      He-li-ko-pter becomes He-li-kop-ter

      - Helikopter in the German Wiktionary

  • My apologies, this has gotten rather longer than I hoped May 29, 2011 at 3:11
  • 3
    Nice work, this is definitely needed! It might make a nice Tag Wiki as well? For reformed-ortography?
    – Pekka
    May 29, 2011 at 7:43
  • I vaguely remember a whole slew of other punctuation rules which didn’t make immediate sense to me (read: none at all) when we learned them in school. In fact, our teacher pretty much gave up and told us to use the old rules. These new rules were also routinely used to mock the new orthography and show its ambiguities. – Since these rules are missing here: have they been removed from subsequent revisions of the reform? In particular, the „um … zu“ rule that you mentioned was missing from the original reform, leading to a lot of confusion. May 29, 2011 at 12:40
  • 1
    This is a nice answer! Don't apologize because it's long! I didn't read it all yet, I'll put this question in my favorites. :) +1 to answer and question from me.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 2, 2012 at 10:27
  • 1
    Tried to vote +1 for effort and another +1 for the citations. Wouldn't work, though. Sep 5, 2012 at 10:15

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