Fortunately for learners, German mostly uses the same punctuation marks English or other European languages do, with the exception of quotation marks: period (Punkt), comma (Komma), brackets (Klammern) and so on are all very similar.
First of all, let us take a look at how the German quotation marks work.
German quotation marks are used differently from English or other European languages. There are two types. The first one is the so-called Gänsefüßchen (geese feet) or inverted commas. Compare the German and English variants.
Er sagte: „Guten Tag.“
He said, “Hello.”
The second type has a French name – Guillemets. Here is an example:
Er sagte: »Wir gehen am Dienstag.«
As you can see, the quotation marks are also inverted compared to how they are used in other languages:
He said, «Hello.»
The second type is traditionally used in books, while the first is more common in newspapers and other printed material.
You may note that to introduce a quotation in German, a colon is used (like, for example, in Russian), while English uses a comma.
Other punctuation marks are written in the same way as in other languages but there are certain peculiarities in their use. Here are some of them.
The apostrophe is not used in German to show genitive possession unless a name or noun ends with an s sound. In this case, only the apostrophe is used:
Aschenputtels Stiefmutter – Cinderella’s stepmother
des Prinz’ Ross – The prince’s steed
The apostrophe is used to denote missing letters in contractions, slang or dialectic expressions:
wie geht’s? (wie geht es?)
ich hab’ (ich habe)
A comma is used to link two independent clauses without a conjunction; the other options are a semicolon or a period.
Der Frosch stand vor der Tür, die Prinzessin erschrak.
A comma is never used in German at the end of a series ending with and/or.
Hans, Julia und Frank kommen mit.
The reformed spelling rules (Rechtschreibreform) make commas optional in infinitive phrases.
Die Prinzessin verließ den Brunnen(,) ohne den Frosch mitzunehmen.
In numbers, a comma separates the decimal points.
17,15 (compared to 17.15 in English)
In large numbers, German uses either a space or a point to divide thousands:
8 540 000 or 8.540.000 (compared to 8,540,000 e.g. in English)
Long dash (Gedankenstrich)
A long dash in German indicates a pause, a delayed continuation or a contrast.
Auf einmal – ein lautes Weinen!
When there are no quotation marks, a long dash indicates a change in speaker. This is sometimes used in other languages, for instance Russian, but is never done in English.
Tina, komm mal her!
Ja, ich komme sofort!
German uses a dash or long dash in prices when the price is even: €5,— (5.00 €)
As you can see, German punctuation marks are generally quite similar to those used in other European languages: they are definitely mostly the same in their appearance. However, depending on your native language, German punctuation rules may differ slightly in various areas.