scroll up
scroll down

Miscellaneous:Die Zeichensetzung

An essential part of learning to write in German is learning how to properly use German punctuation - a system of marks or signs that are placed in a text to clarify meaning and separate structural units. Luckily, German punctuation is similar to English punctuation in many respects.

Punctuation marks (Satzzeichen)

With the exception of quotation marks, the German punctuation marks are the same as the English ones.

German term English term Punctuation mark
die Anführungszeichen quotation marks " "  or  « »
die Auslassungspunkte ellipsis dots ...
das Ausrufezeichen exclamation mark !
der Apostroph apostrophe '
der Bindestrich hyphen -
der Doppelpunkt/das Kolon colon :
der Ergänzungsstrich dash
das Fragezeichen question mark ?
der Gedankenstrich long dash
runde Klammern parentheses ( )
eckige Klammern brackets [ ]
das Komma comma ,
der Punkt period .
das Semikolon semicolon ;

However, four of these German punctuation marks - quotation marks, the apostrophe, the comma and the dash - differ from their English counterparts in terms of how they are used.

Die Anführungszeichen

Difference German usage English usage
Marks

* Generally, chevron-style marks are used in books

Beispiel:
Die Prinzessin sagte: «Du garstiger Frosch!»

(or)

Die Prinzessin sagte: »Du garstiger Frosch!«

* In newspapers and other printed material, German quotation marks are used (i.e., the opening quotation mark is below the line rather than above)

Beispiel:
Die Prinzessin sagte: Du garstiger Frosch!"

* International quotation marks are used in all types of texts

Example: The princess said, "You nasty frog!"

Introducing a quotation

A colon is used to introduce a direct quote.

Beispiel:
Sie sagten: «Das Mädchen ist sehr schön.»

A comma is used to introduce a direct quote.

Example:
They said, "The little girl is very beautiful."

Ending a quotation

At the end of a quotation, the comma is placed outside the quotation mark.

Beispiel:
"Die sieben Zwerge sind sehr fleißig", sagte Schneewittchen.

At the end of a quotation, the comma is placed inside the quotation mark.

Example:
"The seven dwarves are really hard-working," said Snow White.

Quotations vs. italics

* Quotation marks are used for the titles of poems, articles, short stories, songs and TV shows.

Beispiel:
Hänsel und Gretel" ist ein Grimm-Märchen.

* Quotation marks are also used for the titles of books, novels, films, dramatic works and the names of newspapers or magazines.

Beispiel:
Die Brüder Grimm haben Kinder- und Hausmärchen" geschrieben.

* Single quotation marks are used for the titles of poems, articles, short stories, songs and TV shows.

Example:
'Hänsel and Gretel' is a Grimm fairy tale.

* The titles of books, novels, films, dramatic works and the names of newspapers or magazines are either italicized or underlined.

Example:
The brothers Grimm wrote Children's and Household Tales.

Quotations within quotations

* Single quotation marks (halbe Anführungszeichen) are used for a quotation within a quotation.

Beispiel:
",Hänsel und Gretel' ist ein Grimm-Märchen", sagte Dornröschen.

* Single quotation marks are used for a quotation within a quotation

Example:
"'Hänsel and Gretel' is a Grimm fairy tale," said Sleeping Beauty.

Hansel and Gretel is a Grimm fairy tale

Der Apostroph

Difference German usage English usage
Genitive possession

* Generally, genitive possession is indicated with just an -s at the end of a name or noun.

Beispiel:
Aschenputtels Stiefmutter

* When a name or noun ends with an s sound (i.e., spelled -s, -ss, -ß, -tz, -z, -x, -ce), genitive possession is indicated with just an apostrophe

Beispiel:
des Prinz' Ross

* Genitive possession is indicated with both an apostrophe and an -s

Example:
Cinderella's stepmother

* Example: The prince's steed

Missing letters

* Missing letters in contractions, slang, dialect, idiomatic expressions or poetic phrases are indicated with an apostrophe

Beispiele:
wie geht's? (wie geht es?)
ich hab' (ich habe)

* In some common contractions with definite articles, no apostrophe is used

Beispiele:
ins (in das)
zum (zu dem)

* Missing letters in contractions, slang, dialect, idiomatic expressions or poetic phrases are indicated with an apostrophe

Examples:
how's it going? (how is it ...?)
I've (I have)

The frog stood before the door

Das Komma

Difference German usage English usage
Linking clauses

* A comma may link two independent clauses without a conjunction; the other options are a semicolon or a period.

Beispiel:
Der Frosch stand vor der Tür, die Prinzessin erschrak.

Generally, a comma is not an option when linking two independent clauses without a conjunction; a semicolon or a period is more appropriate.

Example:
The frog stood before the door: the princess was frightened.

Series ending with and/or

* A comma is never used at the end of a series ending with and/or.

Beispiel:
Die sieben Zwerge sind Brummbär, Chef, Happy, Hatschi, Pimpel, Schlafmütz und Seppl.

* A comma is optional at the end of a series ending with and/or.

Example:
The seven dwarves are Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy(,) and Dopey.

Infinitive phrases

* The reformed spelling rules (Rechtschreibreform) make commas optional in infinitive phrases

Beispiel: Die Prinzessin verliess den Brunnen(,) ohne den Frosch mitzunehmen.

n/a
Numerical expressions

* In prices, a comma separates the tens position from the ones position.

Beispiel:
€9,95

* In large numbers, either a space or a decimal point divides thousands

Beispiel:
1 000 000 or 1.000.000

* In prices, a decimal point separates the tens position from the ones position.

Example:
19.95 euros

* In large numbers, a comma divides thousands

Example:
1,000,000

Der Ergänzungsstrich/Der Gedankenstrich

Difference German usage English usage
Pauses, delayed continuation, contrast

* A dash or long dash indicates a pause, a delayed continuation or a contrast.

Beispiel:
Auf einmal - ein lautes Weinen!

* A dash or long dash indicates a pause, a delayed continuation or a contrast.

Example:
All of a sudden - a loud sobbing!

Change in speaker

* When there are no quotation marks, a dash or long dash indicates a change in speaker.

Beispiel:
- Aschenputtel, komm mal her!
- Ja, ich komme sofort!

* Generally, quotation marks indicate a change in speaker.

Example:
"Cinderella, come here!"
"Yes, I'm coming right away."

Prices

* A dash or long dash indicates an even price.

Beispiel:
€10,-

* A double zero or naught indicates an even price.

Example:
10.00 euros

foot