When to use capital letters in German

Why are so many words capitalised in German?

Unlike English, German uses capital letters for all nouns, not just names and places.

Learn how to use capital letters correctly in German with Lingolia, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Wir befinden uns in der Konrad-Duden-Schule in Großschreibmersdorf. Wir haben gerade Chemie bei Herrn Gabriel.

Laura hat in Chemie eine Eins und mag das Experimentieren am meisten.

Alfie hingegen fällt das Aufpassen nicht so leicht. Er gibt zwar sein Bestes, aber ist schnell abgelenkt, und oft erwischt man ihn beim Quatschen.

Which words are capitalised in German?

Nouns

In German, we write all nouns with a capital letter. Yes, really. Every single one of them.

Examples:
Wir haben gerade Chemie bei Herrn Gabriel.Right now we’re in chemistry with Mr Gabriel.
Er ist ein super Lehrer und hat viel Geduld.He’s a great teacher and has a lot of patience.
Die Schüler haben immer viel Spaß in seinem Kurs.The students always have a lot of fun in his classes.

Naturally, this also includes titles, names and proper nouns.

Examples:
Laura, Alfie, Herr Gabriel (names)
Großschreibmersdorf (place name)
Konrad-Duden-Schule (proper noun)

Verbs acting as nouns (nominalisation)

In German, verbs sometimes act as nouns. This is called nominalisation (Nominalisierung or Substantivierung). These nouns can be compared to the English -ing form and are always neuter.

Example:
Laura mag das Experimentieren am meisten.
= Laura likes experimenting best.

To make a verb into a noun, we use the neuter article das and a capital letter.

Examples:
Alfie fällt das Aufpassen nicht so leicht.Alfie finds concentrating difficult.
Das Transportieren ist nicht das Problem.The transportation isn’t the problem.

Sometimes the article is declined and/or used together with a preposition.

Examples:
Laura hat viel Spaß beim Experimentieren.Laura has fun experimenting.
Oft erwischt man Alfie beim Quatschen.Alfie often gets caught chatting.
beim = bei dem

This means that words like beim, ins, zum, das … are signals that the verb has been nominalised and we need to use a capital letter.

Other parts of speech acting as nouns

Like nominalised verbs, other parts of speech sometimes act as nouns too.

Examples:
Alfie gibt sein Bestes.Alfie tries his best.

Adjectives acting as nouns with a definite article can often be translated as the … one.

Examples:
Jetzt weint der Kleine.
Now the little one is crying.
Das Beste bekommt einen Preis.
The best one gets a prize.

We capitalise adjectives, participles, numbers and other parts of speech when:

  • they do not appear together with a noun
  • and are introduced by an article (das, ein …), preposition (auf, bei …) or determiner (mein, dein, etwas, dieses …).
Examples:
Alfie gibt sein Bestes.Alfie tries his best.
adjective without a noun, introduced by the possessive sein = capital letter
but: Alfie ist mein bester Freund.Alfie is my best friend.
adjective describes the noun Freund = no capital letter.
Alfie hat eine Drei in Chemie.Alfie has a grade 3 in chemistry.
number without a noun, introduced by the article eine = capital letter
but: Alfie hat drei Schwester.Alfie has three sisters.
number modifies the noun Schwester = no capital letter

Tip

Check out our German-language page on nominalisation in German for a more in-depth look at this topic.

The polite form Sie

The polite form Sie and its related forms (Ihnen, Ihre …) are always capitalised.

Examples:
Können Sie mir helfen?Can you help me?
Ich danke Ihnen!I thank you!

Remember: when sie refers to the 3rd person plural, it is never capitalised.

Example:
Können sie mir helfen?Can they help me?
sie = they
Können Sie mir helfen?Can you help me?
Sie = you

When not to use a capital letter in German

English uses a capital letter for adjectives for nationalities, religions and ethnicities, while German does not:

Examples:
Der Schultag fängt für deutsche Schüler sehr früh an.The school day starts very early for German students.
Herr Gabriel unterrichtet auf einer katholischen Schule.Mr Gabriel teaches at a Catholic school.