May I introduce you to the Deppenapostroph?
Have you ever heard of the so called Deppenapostroph? The German love for the English language doesn’t even stop when speaking German. In fact, it doesn’t even stop when using those little guys that can screw up the meaning of a whole sentence, in German as well as in English:
Germans hate something that is known as the
It is the apostrophe that only jerks use,
the jerk’s apostrophe.
Using English words when speaking German (Denglisch) is seen as very cool, young and innovative. The use of the English apostrophes on the contrary is seen as something that is potentially able to make you look like a massive jerk.
In this part 4 of our Denglisch Guide, the guide about the incorporation of English words into German, I want to share with you how you can easily avoid those pitfalls and how to sound clever and sophisticated when writing in German, too.
Just to give you an idea, here are the 3 previous parts.
- Part 1: What is Denglisch and what do I need it for?
- Part 2: How to make English nouns German (der Computer, der Screen)
- Part 3: How to make English verbs German (auf Facebook getaggt)
- Part 5: Is Denglisch ever appropriate?
- Part 6: How to actually pronounce English words in German
What are apostrophes for?
In this post we want to talk about the use of apostrophes. They are so little but can change the meaning of a whole sentence.
John and William’s bikes got lost in transit.
is different to
John’s and William’s bikes got lost in transit.
The first sentence expresses that John and William had joint ownership of the bikes, whereas the second sentence tells the reader that there was separate ownership of the bikes.
Where to put the apostrophe?
Sometimes it’s not easy to know when and where to add an apostrophe. That’s when people end up using them in many ways, even when they are not applicable at all.
But not only English speaking people get creative when it comes to using apostrophes. Germans get confused as well.
Lilo’s Strandeck? Wait a minute. Isn’t that correct? In English it is. In German, let’s say, it’s correct as well.
Indeed, the spelling that is taught in German schools is
Lilo’s Strandeck on the contrary, is what Germans call a Deppenapostroph (idiot’s apostrophe). It is the use of the (correct) English apostrophe in written German. A theory suggests it was Konrad Duden himself who sparked the public discourse about this special use of apostrophe when he wrote a story using the Deppenapostroph that was then published by mistake. Duden is the German equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
What’s the correct use in German?
Let’s scan a few sentences to see what the discussion is about.
1.) Ja und dann habe ich Katrins Handy ausgeliehen. (= Yes and then I borrowed Katrin’s mobile.)
Deppenapostroph: Katrin’s Handy
2.) Ja aber, was war mit Thomas’ Handy? (= But, what about Thomas’s mobile?)
3.) Er hatte keines seiner zwei Handys dabei. (= He didn’t have any of his two mobiles on him.)
As you could see the problem emerges when either using a
- possessive (sentence 1 and 2) or a
- plural form (3).
How to get it right
German apostrophes are incredibly easy, just keep the following those few rules in mind.
- In German, to indicate possession you add –s without an apostrophe (no matter whether the noun is plural or singular unlike English):
Katrins Handy (= Kathrin’s mobile)
Berlins Straßen (= Berlin’s streets)
die Türen des LKWs (= the doors of the truck)
Münchens Geschäfte (= Munich’s shops)
der Mädchens Fahrräder (also: die Fahräder der Mädchen) (= the girls’ bikes)
- Only if names (without an article) end in a s-sound (s, ss, ß, tz, z, x), you use an apostrophe instead of a second s. Don’t add another –s but an apostrophe that is placed after the s-sounding letter:
Thomas’ Handys (= Thomas’s mobiles)
Max’ Bücher (= Max’s books)
Hans’ Kartoffelsalat (= Hans’s potato salad)
- If not using a possessive (Katrins Handy) but simply a plural form don’t add –s (same in English):
zwei Autos (= 2 cars)
viele Fotos (= many photos)
18 Taxis (= 18 taxis)
Is the Deppenapostroph correct as well?
The Deppenapostroph is correct as well when forming possessives (Katrins Handy) since the spelling reform in 1996. The Duden lists
Willi’s Würstenbude (= Willi’s sausage stand)
as also correct but in use only occasionally.
In real life, I can confirm the Deppenapostroph in Willi’s Würstchenbude is used a lot. Since the Duden has approved this kind of apostrophe, feel free to use it yourself. But you will look smarter if you use Willis Würstchenbude instead.
Never correct is the apostrophe when simply using a plural form (
zwei Auto’s but zwei Autos)
Well done. Let’s recap the whole lot shortly.
- The use of apostrophes differs between English and German
- Add –s to indicate possession, no apostrophe (Katrins Handy)
- Add apostrophe (instead of –s) after names that end in a s-sound (Thomas’ Handy)
- Never use an apostrophe to simply form a plural (zwei Autos)
Do you struggle with apostrophes yourself? Tell us in the comments about your way to get your head around them.