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The Apostrophe in the German Language

Uses: To abbreviate the person pronoun 'es' and the indefinite article 'ein' as well as to mark the genitive for some people's names.


Contexts for use of the apostrophe

To abbreviate the personal pronoun "es"

The apostrophe can be used to abbreviate the pronoun es with an 's:

No abbreviationAbbreviated with apostropheAbbreviated without apostrophe

Wie geht es? Wie geht's?
(How's it going?)

You can omit the apostrophe as well even though it is not very common:

Wie gehts?

To abbreviate the indefinite article "ein"

The apostrophe can also be used to abbreviate the article ein to 'n.

These abbreviations are also applied to derivations of ein:

No abbreviationAbbreviated with apostropheAbbreviated without apostrophe

Example 1:

Ich habe 'ne Frage
I have a question

You could also say:

Ich habe ne Frage

Example 2:

Ich habe mir einen neuen Wagen gekauft
I bought myself a new car

In spoken language you would say:

Ich habe mir 'nen neuen Wagen gekauft

To mark the genitive of proper names

The apostrophe must be added to mark the genitive of proper names ending in "s", "x", "z", or "ß" which precede a noun that they specify:

Marx' Buch
Marx' Book

Luis' Vater
Luis' father

To clarify the use of names as adjectives

The suffix -'schen is used to turn names into adjectives. The apostrophe is to show the actual name with clarity (even though it can be used without an apostrophe if you wish):

Newtonian (of Newton)

Newton'sche Mechanik
Newtonian Mechanics

Common questions about the apostrophe

Plural of CDCDsCD's
Abbreviation of: ich habeich habich hab'
Abbreviation of: auf dasaufsauf's

Audiovisual Supplement

To conclude, we'll listen to a beautiful song from "Maya the Bee" (a Japanese, German and Austrian coproduction):

#1 [Aaron]2016-02-19 16:02
Could please you clarify how "etwas" is abbreviated to "was" and whether that uses an apostrophe or not?