As far as I know, in German all nouns are captialized.

Yet in other languages nouns sometimes get written as capitalized for nongrammatical reasons, such as to just pretent something being a character, to make it sound more significant...

How to do such thing in German? We can't just capitalize the word, as it is already capitalized because of grammar.

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    Where/in which language do you capitalize nouns for stylistic reasons? Taking up your example: "I read a Book." I'm not sure whether this is right, as it doesn't refer to a specific item. You can say: "This is Eli's book." or "It's the Book of Eli". But here book is part of the title, that's why it's capitalized. I guess you can say "I read the Book", if the book refers to a concrete book, that anybody is aware of which one you mean. But the last one would be translated like "Ich las das Buch." instead of "Ich las ein Buch". Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 9:20
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    @insertusernamehere: English, for instance. J. K. Rowling does it all the time in her Harry Potter series; also for verbs: So you have chosen to study Divination, the most difficult of all magical arts. I must warn you at the outset that if you do not have the Sight, there is very little I will be able to teach you.Why aren't you in Hogsmeade buying Stink Pellets and Belch Powder and Whizzing Worms like the rest of your nasty little friends?He must have Disapparated, Severus. (All examples from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)
    – chirlu
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 10:28
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    @chirlu: Without having consumed anything Harry Potter-related, in most of these examples, I would not judge the capitalisation to be something that needs to be translated. Anyway, how are these lines supposed to be read? If there is emphasis on the capitalised terms, use appropriate typographical emphasis. If there isn’t, then how could listeners perceive the difference (moreover, since all examples seem to be dialogue)? (Also, it would be interesting to know, how the official translation dealt with these.)
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 10:57
  • I also remember some notable (especially in America, as far as I remember) story that ends with a sentence about some Bell and advice not to ask who is dying because of any person should important. Maybe "For whom the bell tolls"? Such capitalisation was used a lot in that sentence.
    – Vi.
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 11:02
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    Another example would be Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, in which there is difference between animals and Animals (the latter being [differently sized] animals with human sentience). There is no straightforward way to transfer this difference into German. If could be possible, if humans were refered to in the books in double gender "Studenten und Studentinnen". Then one could refer to Animals as "Ziegen und Zieginnen" and to "animals" as "Ziegen".
    – Toscho
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


This cannot be done, in general. There is one exception: Technical terms that are coined from an adjective and a noun may have the adjective capitalized to emphasize that the combination is a new and specific concept:

Er war der Erste Offizier auf dem Schiff und vertrat somit den Kapitän.
Er war der erste Offizier auf dem Schiff, die anderen trafen erst eine Stunde später ein.

In all other cases (noun without adjective, or verb), it has to be marked by different means or not at all. Note that you can't rely on capitalization for essential distinctions in other languages either, because the difference vanishes when a text is read out.

  • Good answer, but I would add "not possible under the condition of keeping to the usual rules or orthography and typography".
    – Toscho
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 19:20
  • Well, obviously. You could imitate the original capitalization completely: Der Englische seemann war Erster Offizier auf dem schiff.
    – chirlu
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 20:28

I don't know that there is a definitive answer, but I'll stand corrected if there are official rules.

If you want to add special textual emphasis to a word, then you have a number of generic choices. Italics, bold or semi-bold, all caps, small caps, Sperrsatz (a slightly larger inter-character gap), a different font family altogether, and who knows what else. The catch with any of the above is the portability between different media (e.g. print, typewritten, web, ebooks,...) and accessibility (can a Braille reader cope with funny font tricks?).

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    "I read a book." differs from "I read a Book."... This is not a question about "how to put emphasis on a word", but about "how to give a noun proper-name-ish feeling".
    – Vi.
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 2:38
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    @Vi.: You should emphasise this aspect of your question then. “Making something sound more significant” could very well be the definition of emphasis. Also you might want to give some examples, since most proper names are recognisable as such without any special emphasis.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 8:13
  • @Vi "Giving a noun a name-ish feeling" is a special use-case of an emphasis and your original question mentions this as only one possible application. Since nouns are already capitalized in German, it follows that (except for capitalizing an adjective, as chrlu mentioned) the author has to find a different, non-standard method and I guess the choice is to the author's discretion.
    – divby0
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 14:36
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    In @chirlu 's comment to the question, there are several nouns which could be read as product names, hence be written capitalized like Old German Bakers Chocolate. Disapparated being an exception. Else I can't interpret, what the capitalization shall meant - hence I couldn't tell how to translate it. -- Auf Deutsch würde ich vermuten, es ist einfach eine Marotte die man durch eine andere Marotte übersetzt - ob fett, kursiv oder Kapitälchen ist egal - es weiß eh niemand so recht was es soll. Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 14:47
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    @user unknown: J.K. Rowling appears to have an obsession for capitalising every word she invented, whether it’s a proper noun or not – at least as a rule of thumb (it’s apparently complicated). Unless I am completely misunderstanding the Harry Potter universe, most of this should not have survived copy editing, let alone translation.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 19:11

For an answer keeping to the rules of orthography and typography, see chirlu.

If breaking these rules is allowed, you have several possibilities:

  • usual typographical emphasis (see divby0)
  • switching to english capitalization rules in the whole text
  • inverting capitalization: das bUCH instead of simply das Buch
  • double capitalization (se c.p.)
  • capitalization of the article: Das Buch instead of simply das Buch

As the text still needs to be properly readable, you should keep the change to a minimum. I would chose in order of preference for a rather poetic text:

  1. english capitalization throughout the text
  2. using small caps (as Death can talk in Discworld novels)
  3. capitalization of the article

And for a rather objective text:

  1. using small caps (as reference to names in science papers)
  2. capitalization of the article
  3. changing the font shape/family/weight
  • I'm a novice in German and can't judge how it can be seen by eyes of native German speaker, but the Das Buch variant looks the best here: it's not intrusive like "switching to english caps for the entire text", not ugly like BUch or bUCH and differs from general emphasis like in "I'm reading a book, not a comic or a newspaper".
    – Vi.
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 11:06

In English one of those words is God – the prototype, I guess. This noun is almost always capitalized. Since in German you just say Gott, I don't think there is a grammatical way to highlight such kind of nouns. And actually, I haven't feel that need.

However, for fixed espressions like BMW, Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft, you find the adjective capitalized.

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    As a side note: In old bibles and other religious works, Gott, Herr, Jesus usw. were written with the first two or all letters capitalised, which was one of the very few applications of all-caps in blackletter (which was the vastly predominant typeface at that time), which was usually avoided due to being very difficult to read. Also, pronouns referring to God and similar were capitalised.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 8:19
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    I expect "god" to be uncapitalized if the god in question is not the Christian or Muslim God, but just a member of some polytheistic pantheon.
    – Vi.
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 11:10
  • @Vi. I expect god not to be capitalized: but people do write God.
    – c.p.
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 11:55

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