Noticing NOUNS

der Baum

das Handy

die Welt

Imagine if I decided to write an English paragraph like this:

The young Girl sat in the Quadrangle reading her Book. Although she was only 14 Years old, she was already beautiful, with dark blue Eyes and long blonde Hair. The shy Boy scarcely dared to approach her. For one Thing, she was deeply absorbed in her Homework, looking up Words in her Dictionary. Then suddenly she looked up, saw him and gave him a Smile. She was wearing Braces. At least her Teeth weren’t perfect, he thought with Relief. The Freckles on her Nose stood out in the Sunlight of early Autumn. It was actually the Freckles that finally gave the Boy the Courage to start talking to her.

If I handed this in to an English teacher, she would go ballistic. „It’s bad enough that you’ve written a sappy love story,“ she would say, „but to cap it off you’ve put in a whole lot of unnecessary capitals. Get rid of them!“

Yet if I had written that paragraph in German, the capitals would be exactly where they should be. 

The rule is that the first letter of every German noun is written with a capital. This rule should be easy to apply, because there are no exceptions. The only problem is, how do you figure out if a word is a noun?

Below are some helpful rules, followed by a little exercise. Can you apply the rules and identify the nouns? If so, your German teacher will be happy with you. But don’t write sappy love stories with extra capitals for your English teacher, especially if she’s the pedantic type.

Identifying Nouns

die Schule

These are all nouns:

♦The names of countries: Deutschland, Österreich, Australien, Großbritannien 
♦The names of languages: Deutsch, Englisch, Spanisch, Polnisch, Chinesisch
♦The names of cities: Berlin, München, Melbourne
♦People’s names (but not the first person subject pronoun, ich)
♦Common nouns relating to everyday concepts and objects: die Sprache (language), der Name (name), der Geburtstag (birthday), das Land (country, land), der Tisch (table), die Schule (school), der Apfel (apple).

In this respect, German is different from English. We do not capitalize the common nouns in English, but the Germans do.

Clear indications that a word is a noun:

♦If a word is preceded by der, die, das, ein (eine, einen), kein (keine, keinen), then it’s a noun. For example:

    • Ich habe keine Geschwister. I have no brothers or sisters.
    • Wir haben eine Katze. We have a cat.
    • Das Klassenzimmer hat rote Tische. The classroom has red tables.

♦If a word is preceded by mein(e), dein(e), or any other possessive pronoun, it’s a noun.

    • Wann machst du deine Hausaufgaben? When do you do your homework?
    • Wo ist mein Buch? Where is my book?

♦If an adjective is describing it, then it’s a noun.

    • Das alte Klassenzimmer hat rote Tische. The old classroom has red tables.

♦If you can count it, then it’s a noun:

    • Er ist fünf Jahre alt. He is five years old.
    • In zwei Minuten klingelt es zur Pause. In two minutes the recess bell will go.
    • Der Lehrer hat zehn Handys konfisziert. The teacher confiscated 10 mobiles.
One last method:
If the word has been typed or written with a capital in your textbook, your grey workbook, your dictionary or a class handout, yet it wasn’t at the start of a sentence, you’ll know it’s a noun.
Can you apply all these rules in the little exercise below? There are many German nouns without capitals in it. If you can identify the words that should be capitalized, you’ll be well on your way to pleasing your German teacher – even if you occasionally make a slip and drive your English teacher mad.
Exercise: Identify the words that need capitals. They are listed below the exercise. There are 16 capitals missing.
1. Das ist dobby. Er ist ein elf. 
2. Dobby hat große augen. Dobby has big eyes.
3. Dobby hat eine spitze nase. Dobby has a pointy nose.
4. Dobby hat große ohren. Dobby has big ears.
5. Berlin ist eine stadt in europa.
6. Berlin ist die hauptstadt von deutschland.
7. Bilbo ist ein hobbit. 
8. Heute habe ich geburtstag.
9. Die frau ist einundfünfzig jahre alt.
10. Die schüler und schülerinnen an unserer schule sind sehr nett. The students at our school are very nice.



Answers: Dobby, Elf, Augen, Nase, Ohren, Stadt, Europa, Hauptstadt, Deutschland, Hobbit, Geburtstag, Frau, Jahre, Schüler, Schülerinnen, Schule
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