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Using apostrophes in German Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in Language, punctuation

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 are 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

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


Comments:

  1. cindy:

    beim Essen (be idem Essen) – at dinner

    is this supposed to be (bei dem Essen)

  2. Roberta:

    You wrote ” 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?” But there is absolutely no reason to insert an apostrophe in these German phrases and others of your examples. Wie gehts? means literally “as it goes.” It becomes a question with the addition of a question mark. No nouns are in the phrase thus no posessives, no apostrophe. The rudimentary translation you provide in English is ungramattical. “How are things” is accurate, a shortening of How do things in your world affect you now (or recently)? It’s merely polite, but polite people do not mistake a correct verb form (are) for an incorrect one (is).

  3. Gene:

    I’ve been a German speaker for 40 years. I think this needs a little more clarification:

    You don’t have to insert the apostrophe, at least not any more, but you MAY use one, and it used to be required in wie geht’s, as Sandra stated. (My personal preference is to use the apostrophe, but I wouldn’t insist on it.)

    “Wie geht’s” does not mean “as it goes”. First, wie can mean “how” or “as”. Second, the word order does make a difference, and just in the same manner as it does in English. “Wie gehts” or “wie geht’s” translates literally to “how goes it”, which is a question by its form. Omission of the question mark is in itself a grammatical error. A question mark does not make a question of a normal indicative statement. “As it goes” or “how it goes” would be “Wie’s geht” or “Wie es geht”.

    Great post, Sandra. Thanks!