TheFreeDictionary states

  • Ich spreche deutsch mit dir.
  • Sprichst du Deutsch?

Is the first sentence form correct? Can be used in writing or only in spoken German ?

Quote from TheFreeDictionary:

2. in der Sprache, die in Deutschland, Österreich und Teilen der Schweiz gesprochen wird ‹deutsch (mit jemandem) reden, Sprechen; sich deutsch unterhalten› die deutsche Übersetzung der Werke Shakespears
|| NB: aber: etwas auf Deutsch sagen (großgeschrieben)

  • 1
    See DWDS search for examples here. "Some learner" got it wrong.
    – guidot
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 20:51
  • A potential reference that could be used in writing an answer would be Amtliche Regeln, §57, with a pertinent example at E2.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 21:44
  • 1
    Please do not post images that contain text that should be read. Blind and visually impaired people use special devices to convert texts into Braille or to have them read aloud. This is not possible, if the text is not available as real text, but as pixels in an image. I replaced your image by the text. For the future, please do not post screenshots that contains text to be read. Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 7:17

3 Answers 3


The orthographical difference deutsch/Deutsch indicates a grammatical and semantic difference: the neuter noun Deutsch stands for the language (and for the subject taught in schools), the adjective deutsch stands for anything related to the country, the people, the culture, the language, etc.

Owing to the grammatical difference, with unterhalten, only the adjective (used adverbially) is possible, as the position of the accusative object is filled by uns.

Wir können uns (acc.) deutsch (adv.) unterhalten.

Note that many speakers prefer auf Deutsch to deutsch in this context. (Interestingly, auf Deutsch used to be spelled auf deutsch up until the 1996 spelling reform.)

With regard to the semantic difference, the Duden entry for deutsch has a pertinent example. The phrase

deutsch mit jemandem reden

can have the idiomatic meaning speak bluntly, in a forthright manner, as the adjective deutsch here expresses a presumed characteristic of German culture, and does not refer to the language per se. Deutsch mit jemandem reden only has the literal meaning, as the noun only stands for the language.

As sprechen allows for an object but does not require one, both deutsch and Deutsch can be used with it. However, most speakers would prefer Deutsch (perhaps because the noun is less ambiguous than the adjective).

Ich spreche Deutsch. (acc.; replaceable by einen Monolog)
Ich spreche deutsch. (adv.; replaceable by laut, oft)

In some situations, there might be a contrast. For instance, a professor that usually teaches their subject in English might start a lesson in the following way in order to indicate that they will be teaching in German that day:

Heute unterrichte ich mal deutsch. (more frequently: auf Deutsch)

Conversely, a substitute teacher teaching German for the day would say (with Deutsch indicating the subject being taught):

Heute unterrichte ich Deutsch.


Technically, deutsch is the adjective, and Deutsch is the noun. But the usage differs from English so this distinction seems more confusing than helpful to an English speaker. On top of that, English capitalizes both the noun and the adjective, and doesn't really have an equivalent adjective. And to make matter still worse, all these terms can relate to the country instead of the language.

If used before another noun, then you would normally use the adjective deutsch: Die deutsche Sprache ist sehr schwer. (Note that it's also declined as with other adjectives.) When used as the subject or an object then you would use the noun Deutsch: Ich bin verwirrt, weil Deutsch sehr schwer ist. And after a preposition you'd normally use the noun Deutsch: Er sprach eine Stunde lang auf Deutsch. In Ich spreche deutsch mit dir, I think deutsch is an adjective meaning "in German", but I'm pretty sure auf Deutsch is preferred. In any case, the meaning of the sentence is often the same whether Deutsch/deutsch interpreted as a noun or not, and Deutsch and deutsch are, in effect, interchangeable when this happens.

  • 1
    The word "deutsch" (in lowercase letters) is not an adverb. I edited your answer accordingly. This word is an adjective. All adjectives can be used adverbial, but that doesn't turn any of them into an adverb. An adverb (vielleicht, gern, ...) never can be an attribute of a noun (wrong: Das gern Kleid ist schön) and they can't be inflected. For details please read de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverb#Adverb_und_Adjektiv Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 7:18
  • @Hubert Schölnast: I think it's a difference in terminology. As long as you're consistent and it describes what is grammatical and what isn't, then terms used are matter of preference. I usually go with English Wiktionary on this kind of thing, for example they list gut as both an adjective and an adverb. The same word can play different roles in a sentence, for example "track" is both a noun and a verb. So I think it's reasonable to classify an word as an adjective or an adverb according to the role it plays in sentence.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 8:50
  • You need to distinguish types of words and grammatical functions from each other. The type of a word is something that is independent from its usage. It is printed in dictionaries. For example, if you look up deutsch in Wiktionary or any other dictionary, you will see, that this word is an adjective. It is not an adverb. But gern for example is an adverb, not an adjective. On the other hand there is the grammatical function of a word when used as part of a sentence. An adjective can be ... Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:42
  • ... used attributive (»Die deutsche Sprache ist schön.«), predicative (»Dieser Satz ist deutsch.«) and adverbial (Lena denkt polnisch und spricht dann deutsch.«). But adverbial usage does not turn an adjective into an adverb. It stays an adjective. Adverbs can only be used adverbial (wrong: »Ich trinke den gern Kaffee.« wrong: »Der Kaffee, den ich trinke, ist gern.« only correct usage is adverbial: »Ich trinke gern Kaffee.«) For more details please read german.stackexchange.com/a/64730/1487 Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:43
  • You mentioned Englisch Wiktionary. Did you look up deutsch there? It is listed only as an adjective there. About »gut« in English Wiktionary: The entry, claiming that this word is an adverb is simply wrong. It's correct in German Wiktionary: gut is only an adjective (also: gut gut). Do not trust cross-language entries in Wiktionary. Wiktionary is a really good project, but better look up the description of a word in its own language. Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:58

In German orthography you strictly distinguish between nouns and all other words: Nouns are always capitalized (written with an uppercase first letter) while all other words are capitalized only when they are the first word in a sentence.

So, the question "To capitalize or not to capitalize?" always boils down to "is it a noun or is it something else?"

Nouns are names of things. A language is a thing, so its name is a noun. This means, when ever you talk about the language named German, then you use a noun:

Deutsch, Niederländisch und Englisch sind drei westgermanische Sprachen.
German, Dutch and English are three West Germanic languages.

Erika spricht Deutsch. = Erika spricht jene Sprache, die Deutsch heißt.
Erika speaks German. = Erika speaks that language which is named German.

But when you don't mean the name of the language, but the way of speaking, then you don't use a noun but an adjective.

Jürgen spricht langsam.
Jürgen speaks slowly.

Erika spricht deutsch. = Erika spricht so wie deutsche Muttersprachler sprechen.
Erika speaks German. = Erika speaks the way German native speakers speak.

But the problem is, as you already have noticed, that it often is ambiguous if German in sentences like "Erika speaks German" is meant as the name of a language or as the way of speaking. In English this is not a problem, because in spoken English you don't hear the difference, and the rules for capitalization in written English are very different from the German rules, so in English you capitalize both the noun and the adjective, because they derive from the name of a language.

It also is no problem in spoken German, because adjective and noun are pronounced identically. The problem appears only in written German because of the German rules for capitalization.

But you are lucky: Modern German orthography allows both versions when it is unclear if the adjective or the noun is meant. In such situations usually the capitalized noun is the preferred choice, but the non-capitalized adjective still is correct.

But there are still cases where it just seams ambiguous but in fact isn't:

  • Strictly an adjective and therefor written non-capitalized:

    • When used as an attribute of a noun:

      Die deutsche Rechtschreibung wurde 1996 reformiert.
      Ludwig hat ein deutsches Wörterbuch.

    • When used together with a copula as part of the predicate (as "predicate" is defined in German Grammar)

      Dieser Text ist deutsch.

  • Strictly a noun and therefor capitalized

    • when used with a determiner (article, attributive adjective etc.)

      Das Deutsch des 11. Jahrhunderts ist heute für die meisten Menschen unverständlich.
      Susanne spricht schönes Deutsch.

    • when used with a pronoun

      Der Vortrag wird auf Deutsch gehalten.

    • in proper names (even if it definitely is used as an adjective there)

      der Deutsche Bundestag
      das Zweite Deutsche Fernsehen
      Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobilclub

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.