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