The German spelling reform

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What is the latest standard of German spelling rules? How can spelling rules be adapted to changes in the language? Can German spelling be simplified? And should we have an obligatory set of spelling rules at all? These and other questions have lead to heated discussions in the field of German orthography over the last decades. For more than 100 years, however, Germany has uniform spelling rules, which have undergone many a changes...

At the second Conference of Orthography in 1901, a uniform set of German spelling rules was established for the first time. From that point on, the influential "Duden", a dictionary of the German language, has tremendously fostered the development of German spelling rules in the course of the 20th century and still serves as a standard.

In the second half of the 20th century, the standardisation of spelling rules was still regarded as controversial, especially in the 1960s. Furthermore, specific cases of doubt were discussed, as well as the question of possible simplifications.

Eventually, in 1996, the set of German spelling rules was officially reformed. This lead to numerous protests and to Germany splitting into three big factions: Those who welcomed the reform, those who declined it, and others who wanted it to be modified. Moreover, there were many media and publishing houses beginning to use the grammatical rules they liked best instead of complying with the new standards. Finally, German spelling was a complete chaos, also because other German speaking countries, like Switzerland and Austria, had their own opinions and practices.

In the end, it took eight years of quarrels and modifications until the new German spelling became accepted and obligatory on August 1st, 2006. Here are the

The 10 most important new spelling rules of the German language:

(Note: examples are given in green)

  1. ss – ß: ß is used only after a long vowel or diphthong.: Maß, schließen, reißen, draußen ... After a short vowel always use ss instead of ß: messen, Schloss, gerissen, Riss, küsst ...
  2. Letters are no longer omitted in compound words: Kaffeeernte, Rohheit, Schifffahrt, schnelllebig ... (exceptions: dennoch, Drittel, Hoheit, Mittag)
  3. Stamm- and Parallelschreibung: Bändel, Gräuel, schnäuzen, Stängel, Stuckateur, Ass, nummerieren, Platzierung, Tipp ... Plural after -ys: Babys ..., also rau and Känguru.
  4. Optional assimilation of a few foreign words Delfin, words with phon, phot, graph: Mikrofon, Geografie, words with th: only Panter and Tunfisch, also Katarr, Differenzial, Jogurt, Spagetti, Schikoree, Portmonee ...
  5. When are words written separately and when are they written in one word?
    • verb + verb can always be written separately: lieben_lernen, spazieren_gehen, gefangen_gehalten, getrennt_lebend … (if a new meaning evolves, words can also be written in one word: sitzenbleiben, kennenlernen …)
    • noun + verb: Acht geben, Rad fahren ... (not with "faded" nouns like preisgeben, eislaufen, stattfinden, teilnehmen ...)
    • adverb + verb: always with ‘sein’ and written separately: da sein, zusammen sein ..., also: allein erziehen, zustande bringen ... (when combined with a participle it can be written either way: allgemein bildend or allgemeinbildend).
    • adverb + adjective/adverb: allgemein_verständlich, wie viel, zu viel, so lange … (except of conjunctions: Solange du fern bist, …).
    • always written as compounds: irgendetwas, irgendjemand, umso (desto), zurzeit (derzeit)
    • adjective + verb: separate if literal meaning (klein schreiben) or combined if new meaning is carried over (kleinschreiben)
  6. Use of hyphens with numbers: 8-mal, 20-jährig ... (but not with suffixes "~er", "~ig", "~tel": 30er Jahre, 100%ig, 12tel ...) but also 3-fach.
  7. Use of small letters
    • the address in 2nd person can be written in capital letters - but only in letters: du, ihr, dein, euer ... or. Du, Ihr ….
    • firm connection between adjective and noun: das autogene Training, das neue Jahr ... (unless with proper names: die Dritte Welt ...); However, you may use capital letters if there is a new idiomatic meaning: das Schwarze Brett, der Blaue Brief … and in technical language: der Goldene Schnitt, Erste Hilfe …
    • adjectives formed by proper names before (i)sch: die grimmschen Märchen ... (capitalization with an apostrophe only to emphasize the name: die Grimm'schen Märchen ...)
  8. Capitalization
    • names of daytimes after 'gestern', 'heute', 'morgen': gestern Abend ...
    • nouns when words are separated: in Bezug auf, Schuld haben ... (except recht/schuld sein ...). With Recht/recht and Unrecht/unrecht both are acceptable in conjunction with verbs.
    • using an adjective as a noun, especially after articles: der Einzelne, als Erster, das Gleiche, des Weiteren, im Allgemeinen ...
      after prepositions (without an article) either is possible: seit k/Kurzem, ohne w/Weiteres ...
      nouns in the infinitive are capitalized after prepositions: auf Deutsch, in Schwarz, für Groß und Klein ...
    • word pairs are capitalized too: Jung und Alt, Groß und Klein ...
  9. Use of commas:
  10. A comma DOESN'T HAVE TO be used:

    • with the conjunctions 'und' or 'oder': Er studiert noch und sie ist arbeitslos. ...
    • if infinitives are used in combination with a participle: Zu Hause angekommen legte er sich hin. ...

    A comma MUST be used

    • if there is a dependence on a noun: Er hat den Wunsch, Arzt zu werden. …
    • with an infinitive with "zu": um, ohne, statt, anstatt, außer, als zu
  11. Separation of words after phonetic syllables:
    • s-t: Fens-ter
    • ck like ch: Bä-cker (instead of Bäk-ker)
    • single vowels only in medial position of a word: Ru-i-ne, not at the beginning: ü-ber and at the end: Treu-e
    • not in compound words: Sonn-abend, Bio-top hi-naus, wa-rum, Pä-dagogik is also possible ...

(Source: translation of the rules published at

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Last update: 2016-11-07
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