Besides differences in word order, the German language is unlike English in that German makes extensive use of inflectional endings. The verb is inflected to show person, number, tense, and mood; and the subjunctive is frequently used. The declensional scheme has four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. There are two ways of declining the adjective, and there are three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. A distinctive feature of German is its extensive use of lengthy compound words. For example, the English "history of antiquity" is translated into German as Altertumswissenschaft ; the English "worthy of distinction" is translated as auszeichnungswürdig.
The Gothic or Black Letter form (in German called Fraktur) of the Roman alphabet, which first appeared in Europe around the 12th cent., is now rarely used, although knowledge of Fraktur is needed in order to read many works printed before 1945. The Roman alphabet is now exclusively used in printing. To it were added the symbol ß, representing a voiceless s (as in English mouse ), now often replaced with ss; and the umlauted vowels ä, ö, and ü. German is the only language in which all nouns are capitalized, common as well as proper. There is a closer relationship between German spelling and pronunciation than there is in English.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.