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?

  • 2
    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. Commented Oct 28, 2011 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
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 9:04

6 Answers 6


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.


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.

  • 3
    I don't think loanwords necessitate loan-grammar.
    – user13141
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 8:34
  • 5
    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. Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 10:56
  • 1
    Matt is correct, according to Chicago (10.43 and 7.54).
    – Ryan Haber
    Commented Oct 28, 2011 at 15:45
  • CMOS is my bible!
    – Matt
    Commented Oct 29, 2011 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.


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.


My quibble is over the familiar term "Zeitgeist", which the literary critic Lynne Pearce italicises as German but does not use capitalization -- as, I think, she should have done, since with italicisation she has acknowledged the "non-Englishness" of the word as she is using it. In other words, a writer shouldn't mix the conventions, but should decide whether the loanword has become familiar enough in English usage to not require either italicisation or (in the case of German) capitalisation. Obviously, as someone else has (almost) pointed out, if a scholarly text is sourcing words and phrases originally in another alphabet, the quotation should be in the original form and then in transcribed form and in translation.

  • But << zeitgeist >> (I'm using chevrons just to indicate word-as-a-word usage; I want to avoid other conventions as they have different uses) is in the English lexicon now. It's spelled without a capital. Without scare quotes. Unitalicised. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 19:58

I gotta say, for what it’s worth, in a lifetime of reading and having a degree in English, I have never once come across someone using a capitalized first letter to indicate it was a foreign word. I have seen italics, rarely quotation marks, and a few pretentious ———s that don’t italicize at all, so that you don’t know if it’s a foreign word or just an English word you don’t already know... If the issue is that it should be capitalized by German rules of grammar, go by this rule of thumb: if you looked at the English translation in a dictionary, would it be capitalized or not? Pull your capitalization from that, unless it’s the start of a sentence.

  • 1
    There's a large difference between using a loanword, one accepted into the English lexis (however recently), and using a foreign term. The foreign term should be treated like a quote, and reproduced as accurately as possible. If necessary, explanations of how necessary adjustments have been made to accommodate the original using the standard typography available need to be given. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 20:03

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