Using Capitals in German – With the Help of an Elf 🔠

Posted by Roslyn Green in September 2022

der Hauself – the house elf

Dobby is not just a free elf. He is also a noun.

die Nase – the nose

Dobby hat eine lange, spitze Nase. – Dobby has a long, pointy nose.

The parts of his elvish body are common nouns and must be capitalised in German.

das Auge – the eye

Dobby hat auch große Augen. – Dobby also has large eyes.

Common nouns are always capitalised in German, along with all other nouns.

So this is how German capitalisation rules look in an English text:

The young Girl sat in the Courtyard reading a Book. She had a sweet, kindly Face, with dark brown Eyes and long black Hair. To the shy Boy, she seemed almost to glow in the Sunshine.

Although she was in his Class, he scarcely dared to approach her. For one Thing, she was deeply absorbed in her Homework, looking up Words in her Dictionary.

Then suddenly she saw him and gave him a Smile. She was wearing Braces.

At least her Teeth aren’t perfect,” he thought with Relief. “And she has lots of Freckles on her Nose.

It was actually those friendly Freckles that finally gave the Boy the Courage to speak.

OK, it’s a sappy English love story in the making, but the noun capitalisation is pure German.

Words Requiring a Capital in German

  • The names of countries: Deutschland, Neuseeland, Australien, China 
  • The names of languages: Deutsch, Englisch, Chinesisch
  • The names of cities: Berlin, München, Melbourne
  • People’s names (but not the first person subject pronoun, ich
  • Common nouns relating to everyday concepts and objects: das Handy (mobile phone), der Geburtstag (birthday), die Idee (idea), etc.

A word is always a noun if:

  • it can have der, die or das placed before it – or any other form of the definite article.
  • it can have ein, eine or einen placed before it – or any other form of the indefinite article.
  • it can be possessed, as indicated by a possessive term like mein, dein, etc.
  • it can be counted – e.g. 20 books, 20 Bücher
  • it can be described with an adjective – e.g. a free elf, ein freier Elf

A Quiz to Practise German Capitalisation

Quiz: Capitalising Nouns in German – With Dobby’s Help

A short story of Dobby’s life: find the missing capitals (quiz embedded below)

Taming the Vowel-Changing Verbs 🦁

Dealing with the Vowel-Changing Verbs in German

Posted by Roslyn Green, September 2022

Bildlexikon – Picture Dictionary

helfen – to help

Er hilft seinem Freund.

→ He helps his friend.

fahren – to drive, ride, travel

Er fährt gern BMX.

→ He likes riding a BMX.

essen – to eat

Sie isst gern Eis.

→ She likes eating ice cream.

lesen – to read

Das Kind liest mit einer Taschenlampe.

→ The child is reading with a torch.

Non-Conformist Verbs

The vowel-changing verbs in German remind me of children who misbehave, but only at certain predictable times, like toddlers who always throw a tantrum at the supermarket checkout.

If you focus on when these verbs fail to follow the normal rules, you will be able to use them with ease.

These verbs only “break the rules” in the second and third person singular. Otherwise they are utterly regular, predictable and conformist. They retain the normal endings for regular German verbs; they just have that little vowel mutation in their stem in the second and third person singular.

In English we have a couple of verbs that act like this too. For instance, “I say” becomes “he says” (sez); “I do” becomes “she does” (duz).

Below is a short list of some common verbs that are affected by this little quirk, along with a quiz that will help you to tame them.

Er schläft tief und fest. – He sleeps deeply.

Vowel Change: a becomes ä in…

  • tragen – to wear, to carry (du trägst, er/sie/es trägt)
  • fahren – to drive, to travel (du fährst, er/sie/es fährt)
  • schlafen – to sleep, (du schläfst, er/sie/es schläft)

Vowel Change: e becomes ie in…

  • sehen – to see (du siehst, er/sie sieht)
  • lesen – to read (du liest, er/sie liest)

Vowel Change: e becomes i in…

  • nehmen – to take (du nimmst, er/sie nimmt)
  • helfen – to help (du hilfst, er/sie hilft)
  • essen – to eat (du isst, er/sie isst)
  • sprechen – to speak (du sprichst, er/sie spricht)

For a longer list of the most useful stem-changing verbs, go to this German website. In German, the term for these verbs is Verben mit Vokalwechsel.

You may also like to watch this simple explanation from Deutschlernen mit Heidi on YouTube.

Online Activities

Audio-Quiz: Am Wochenende mache ich gern nichts

Practise conjugating the vowel-changing verbs in a fairly challenging text about a laid-back teenager. The audio is embedded in the quiz and was kindly recorded by Carolina Seez.

Regular Verb Conjugation 🗝️

One Rule Above All Others: The Pattern of Regular Verbs

Posted by Roslyn Green, August 2022

The fundamental grammatical rule for speaking and writing correct German is the conjugation of regular verbs in the present tense.

Once you have learned this conjugation pattern, you will be able to apply it to hundreds of previously unknown verbs and be right every time. This will enable you to create hundreds of new sentences, even when using verbs that you have never before encountered.

A Tree of Regular German Verb Endings

Step by Step: Conjugating gehen (to go) as an Example

First, identify the verb stem.
Take off the -en at the end of the infinitive form of the verb. For example, the verb stem of wohnen is wohn. The verb stem of machen is mach.

Next, add the appropriate ending to the verb stem, depending on who is completing the action in the sentence. Here are the regular endings, shown for the verb gehen – to go:

  • ich gehe – I go
  • du gehst – you go (singular)
  • er/sie/es geht – he/she/it goes
  • wir gehen – we go
  • ihr geht – you go (plural)
  • sie gehen – they go

Note 1: The only difference between she goes and they go in German is the verb ending. That means that getting the verb endings correct with these pronouns is especially important to being understood.

Note 2: The formal address (Sie = you) requires the infinitive form of the verb: e.g. Sie machen, Sie gehen, etc. There is only one exception to this rule in the whole German language: sein – to be. To say “you are” to a stranger or acquaintance in a formal situation, you use Sie sind. Of course, sein is far too important to be a regular verb.


If you know how to handle the verbs, you know how to handle the language. Everything else is just vocabulary. – Michel Thomas, language teacher