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If I write an English text and use some German nouns in there do I have to write them capitalized or not?

If I would have a whole sentence or quote in German I would probably use German grammar and capitalization rules but what about single words in an English sentence?

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Can you give an example of what you have in mind? If you're quoting a German noun, then I imagine it would be in quotation marks or italics. An initial capital would then be in order. The case might not be so clear cut with the word 'schadenfreude', which English has appropriated. – Barrie England Oct 28 '11 at 8:27
I rather liked this discussion: toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t227464.html It has some pointers and thoughts worth thinking about. – Unreason Oct 28 '11 at 9:04
up vote 10 down vote accepted

You do not need to capitalize nouns unless they're proper (or at the beginning of a sentence).

Particularly if your audience is made of English speakers who aren't expected to have knowledge of German vocabulary or grammar, the capitalization of an ordinary noun may cause confusion.

It's a good general practice to italicize foreign words that haven't become an accepted part of the English language yet, though.

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In my opinion, if the words are in regular use in English (e.g. zeitgeist, doppelgänger), the words should not be capitalized. If the words are not in use in English I would suggest using capitalization for nouns and italicising the words.

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I don't think loanwords necessitate loan-grammar. – onomatomaniak Oct 28 '11 at 8:34
We don't (usually) quote Hebrew, Russian, Greek, Chinese, or Arabic words in their proper alphabet. I would say that, except for names, there is no need to use German capitalization for German words. – Peter Shor Oct 28 '11 at 10:56
Matt is correct, according to Chicago (10.43 and 7.54). – Ryan Haber Oct 28 '11 at 15:45
CMOS is my bible! – Matt Oct 29 '11 at 9:13

It's a tough one. I'd say the question is whether you are using an English or a German word. For example, "schadenfreude" is an English word borrowed from the German language (and "Schadenfreude" is a German word). But if I told you that you have to pay 20% Mehrwertsteuer on goods bought in a shop in Germany (which I wouldn't want to translate to "sales tax" or "VAT" because I know it is very similar but possibly not exactly the same, and some Germans wouldn't translate because they don't happen to know the English word), then I'd write it capitalised. It's a German word, not a loan word, in the middle of an English sentence.

It's of course not proper English; it's a sentence mixed of English with a bit of German.

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This question can lead to insomnia. I've written German and Mexican characters into a trilogy, which means that the odd bits of German and Spanish are bound to crop up -- sometimes very odd. (In German, finger, hand and arm are Finger, Hand and Arm. Direct cognates? Not usually the best choice. And Spanish is downright averse to capital letters!) My suggestion is to fall back on a rule from my days as an editor: Does capitalizing or italicizing a word (like any good punctuation choice) make the sentence easier to read? If it's still driving you mad, hand the paragraph to someone who has a minute, without mentioning your specific question. Anything that furrows the reader's brow will be useful to the writer, even if it's not the part he or she was planning to lose sleep over.

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