Often, German students have problems understanding when they should write a personal pronoun with a capital letter. Find out everything you need to know in this article.
Capital letters in German
In German, one needs to write several words with a capital letter. Though there was a constant development during the last centuries in regards to which words to write with a capital letter, the last big change happened in 1996 with the “Reform der deutschen Rechtschreibung“. It was slightly adjusted in minor aspects in 2011 and 2017 and is valid up to date. In this article, we will focus on when to write a personal pronoun in German with a capital letter.
In the past, one needed to write you (du) and you plural (ihr) as well as Sie (you formal) with a capital letter in letters and official documents. Today, we do not do this any longer for “du” and “ihr”. However, as like many other languages, German still has a formal speech and actually this is a bit tricky as you will see in the following.
German formal speech
The German formal speech actually uses the 3rd person plural “sie” (they) for a single person as well as a group. Now, as “sie” (they) is already in use, there needs to be a possibility to differentiate between the two and actually the solution for this was the use of the capital letter.
When writing “Gehen sie nach Hause?”, one can easily realize that the sentence is referring to the plural “sie” as the verb is “gehen” and the “sie” is written with a small letter. Now, when we would write “Gehen Sie nach Hause?” with a capital letter, one could easily recognize the capitalized “Sie” and therefore connect it to the formal speech.
As German has the four cases Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ, and Genitiv, this rule applies to the personal pronouns for each case. This means you will always need to write the following pronouns with a capital letter if you speak in formal speech:
Pronouns in all German cases
Nominativ: Selten kommen Sie zu spät! – You seldomly come too late!
Akkusativ: Ich kenne Sie nicht. – I do not know you.
Dativ: Ich gebe Ihnen mein Versprechen. – I give you my promise.
Genitiv: Der Schlüssel Ihres Autos / Ihrer Wohnung ist in meinem Büro. – The key of your car / apartment is in my office.
When to use capitalization
I hope that it is clear now, that you only (!) need to capitalize personal pronouns in German in case you refer to the formal speech. If you want to communicate in informal speech, then there is no need for capitalization.
If you wish to get more information about other capitalized words in German, check out the Article “When to use capital letters in German“.
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