One of our Facebook followers asked to do a spell and grammar check of her German composition. She used the greeting “Wie gehts, wie stehts?”, which simply means “How’s things?” Immediately, I suggested that she should use apostrophes when using the expression above, and write “Wie geht’s, wie steht’s?” instead. But is her version really wrong?
Afterwards I devoted myself to the subject “apostrophes in German” and was surprised about what I had found out. Thus, I think this topic is worth a post.
1. Where apostrophes CAN be used
a) You can use an apostrophe in cases where the German pronoun “es” (it) is contracted to “s”. But since the spelling reform you can also omit the apostrophe. That is, you can decide whether you want to place an apostrophe. Thus, both of each forms is correct.
Wie geht’s? / Wie gehts?– How’s it going?
Nimm’s leicht! / Nimms leicht! – Take it easy!
Sag’s mir! / Sags mir! – Tell me!
Um’s kurz zu machen … / Ums kurz zu machen – To cut a long story short …
Hat’s geschmeckt? / Hats geschmeckt?– Did you enjoy your meal?
Mach’s gut! / Machs gut! – All the best!
Hol’s der Teufel! /Hols der Teufel! – Damn it!
b) The apostrophe can be used when someone wants to conduct trade and, therefore, sets up a sign saying:
Bellini’s Bar / Bellinis Bar
Willi’s Weinstube / Willis Weinstube – Willi’s wine tavern
This rule was actually completely new to me because the version with an apostrophe is, according to German grammar rules, wrong. So, when you want to write something similar in a text, for example, “Marias Tasche” (Maria’s bag), “Peters Schlüssel” (Peter’s keys), etc. you should use the apostrophe.
c) An apostrophe can be used when the indefinite article “ein”, “eine”, or “einen” (a) is contracted to “n”. All examples are colloquial.
Was ‘n Glück! / Was n Glück! – lit. What a luck!
Das ist ‘ne blöde CD. / Das ist ne blöde CD. – That’s a stupid CD.
Haste mal ‘nen Euro? /Haste mal nen Euro? – Have you got one Euro?
This rule was also completely new to me. I prefer the option with apostrophes.
2. Where apostrophes MAY NOT be used
a) Apostrophes are not allowed when definite articles blend with preceding prepositions.
aufs Dach (auf das Dach) – on the roof
ins Haus (in das Haus) – into the house
hinterm Baum (hinter dem Baum) – behind the tree
unterm Tisch (unter dem Tisch) – under the table
beim Essen (be idem Essen) – at dinner
vorm Bus (vor dem Bus) – in front of the bus
fürs Kind (für das Kind) – for the child
durchs Fenster (durch das Fenster) – through the window
b) You may not use an apostrophe with plural-s in German.
Autos – cars; Babys – babies; E-Mails; Parks; Singles; Shorts; Taxis; Videos; Zoos
c) You may not use an apostrophe with abbreviations (acronyms) in German:
CDs; DVDs; LPs
3. Where apostrophes HAVE TO BE used
a) You have to use an apostrophe when you omit an inner part of a word:
Ku’damm = Kurfürstendamm (outdoor mall in Berlin)
M’gladbach = Möchengladbach (a city in Germany)
Lu’hafen = Ludwigshafen (city)
D’dorf = Düsseldorf (city)
b) You have to use an apostrophe when you want to mark the genitive form of names that end with s, ss, ß, tz, z, and x. In such cases, the apostrophe replaces genitive-s.
Hans’ Mutter – Hans’ mother
Max’ Cousine – Max’ (female) cousine
Grass’ Romane – Grass’ novels
Ringelnatz’ Gedichte – Ringelnatz’ poems