How different is German handwriting from American's?

  • Here is a bulleted list of my specific questions in case you want to save time not reading what gave rise to them:

    • Do German people use cursive writing often? Is it necessary for me to learn how to read & write cursive?

    • If so, which style should I choose? (I intend to go to Berlin in the near future.)

    • How do German folks hand-write numerals (0-9)?


    I was hand-filling out a form in German just now, and I realized immediately that I could not decide how I should properly put words and numbers down. I vaguely recall how my German instructor back in college would write certain alphabets and numbers differently on the chalkboard--namely the capital "I", capital "G", sieben (as in "7" but with a sort of a slanted slash in the lower middle), and perhaps "null" and "neun".

    Regarding the alphabet, I tried to look for related resources, but there was such a mixed result on Google that I really could not tell which one was more reliable. Now I did read on a page somewhere which said something to the effect that nowadays three types of cursive styles are taught respectively in schools in Germany: excluding the somewhat controversial Grundschrift and the outdated Sütterlinschrift.

    In that case, which one should I learn? Does it depend on which state in Germany I will go to in the future? Or perhaps I should ask this: Is it imperative for me to learn any German cursive in order to have less of a hard time getting around in Germany? How often do the German write in cursive?

    In terms of number-writing, how do German people write Arabic numerals? I kind of know for sure that "sieben" is handwritten differently from the American style which I believe I was taught, but how about the rest of them?

    Ich dachte wir würden keine vielfältige Frage akzeptieren...

    As a non-German (raised in Australia and the UK) I find it interesting that many of these "Germanisms" also feature in my own handwriting. I will use a diagonal stroke on the numbers "1" and "0" if they're in a context where they could be confused for the letters "I", "l" or "O"; I put a cross through "7" always, and often though "z". That said, as a programmer I have ended up spending hours debugging a problem only to find it was caused by two characters that look very similar, so those experiences have probably informed by handwriting.

    Es wird von mir also davon ausgegangen, dass man hier zusammenhängende untergeordnete Punkte aufbringen kann. Habe ich mich geirrt?

    Judging from all the information and tips you folks have provided--which are all very generous and helpful, thank you--I think I just reached a conclusion. The way I understand it now is that, although I can probably do okay in Germany without the ability to produce cursive handwriting, it is also likely better for me to at the very least have certain knowledge of how the writing looks and works. I also find that my ability to write cursive in English helps with understanding German cursive writing as well.

    This are multiple questions put into one. You should ask questions one by one so voting can take place on the individual answers and every part can be marked as solved separately.

    Actually, what's *American handwriting*? While everybody reads and typesets English in this site, I guess the title doesn't have to refer the differences between German handwriting and other language's, but to peculiarities of German handwriting.

  • This is how I would normally write them (I’m German): German alphabet

    I'm not really consistent with the U, as you can see. Of course everyone has their own handwriting style, some use cursive, some don’t, but almost no one writes it the way you learn in school. People are flexible.

    I mainly uploaded this to contradict jmiserez’ claim that the 4 has to be closed. I didn’t learn it that way, and nobody ever had problems recognizing my 4s. Both versions are common.

    I generally wouldn’t think about this too much – people will probably understand your unadapted handwriting perfectly fine, because handwriting styles just vary a lot anyway. My mom, even though she is German, always used to write the 9 the American way for example. And there are probably a number of Germans who are too lazy to draw the diagonal line for the 1...

    I'm American and I have always written the 4 and 2 that way.. the 9 looks like a g to me. Everything else is how we are taught here in the States.

    close to mine, but slings and loops dominate mine - my 4 looks like a small phi (not that round, though)

    I also write my 4 like that.

    In Poland, we write the digits exactly the same, with exception of 9 that is round like 6

    Well, the 9 is actually supposed to be round, it’s just my handwriting that’s kind of messy ;). I could have written the letters extra carefully, but I wanted to give a realistic impression.

    Just wanted to verbally thank you for the diagram. I know that it may look absurdly trivial, but in fact it just offered a tremendous help to me. I needed to parse handwritten email address of a Munich airport police officer, to uhh, send some documents I owe, you know. My letter was rejected *twice*... until I consulted your diagram and realized how exactly I've been misreading that handwriting. Thank you so much.

    äüö? Was für eine Logik ist das denn?

  • Germany is a big country (80mil people) Depending on when and where you learned writing it tends to be different. But yes I did learn cursive writing. And this was what it was supposed to look like: GDR Handwriting

    Wikipedia GDR Handwriting

    Just look at this article for some pictures on how "official" Handwriting is/was supposed to look in Germany. In the picture below you see where it is probably going to go according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia: Schreibschrift

    Possible most recent evolutionary step

    On how often it is used? A lot I'd say, depending on occupation. Writing is mostly used for business. If you are just scribbling notes to yourself you'd probably use handwriting. If there is a chance somebody else should be able to read it use printed letters instead. Even then, some people cannot even make them look readable. (I corrected several tests (non German) and even though one would think the test takers would want to make the test scorers job as easy as possible, some of them just can't or won't write in a way that makes their potentially correct answers legible.

    I cannot give you a percentage. But I was in a restaurant yesterday where a waiter used an iPad to take the order. So I'd say less and less. Yet at my work place there are some (including me, depending on circumstance) people that like paper and use it instead of all the technology we have available.

    Almost the same as in Poland, only "t" is other, more like a printed form

    The cursive table is definitely showing its age, currently teached is this, which has greater similarity to printed letters.

    I grew up in the GDR (aka East Germany) and was taught that very "Schreibschrift". My two daughter (two years apart) were taught two *different* versions going to the same school but with different teachers. That was in Ba-Wü in the 90s. I still think that's very strange that handwriting is a "local thing".

  • No way should you learn Sütterlin - nobody uses this anymore. I guess you don't even have to learn a "new handwriting" at all. If you try to handwrite "Arial", you'll be fine :-) (Which is requested on most official forms anyway, when they say to fill out in "Druckschrift" or "Druckbuchstaben - could also be "Blockbuchstaben" or "Blockschrift", then they mean all capital letters).

    The difference in number writing: 1 is written like a 1 in Arial. The 7 is written like a 7 in Arial, but with a little line parallel to the top line in the middle of the slanted line. See here:

    enter image description here

    What about the rest of the numerals, especially 9 and 0? I remember them being written differently from those of the English style. I think 9 is written like a lowercase g in Arial with a hook at the bottom, and 0 written with a slanted line across the "O", as shown here:0. Am I correct on that? Thank you for the reply. It's a relief to know I can get away with writing Blockschrift only.

    People use it, even young (30-ties), at least in my office, but it's, well, Bayern.

    @T.G.Monk 9 and 0 look like in Arial. You *may* add the slanted line to make a difference to the letter "O", but that's not the usual way of writing it.

    @Łukasz웃Lツ They may use it to prevent other people from understanding what they write, but I've never *ever* seen anybody use Sütterlin, also it is not taught in school. My Grandparents were able to write it, but my parents are able to read it more or less fluently and I can not do either.

    I believe you guys have clarified everything I wanted to know in the question. Thank you.

    Note that almost nobody writes the letter *a* as in Arial. Also *Blockschrift* is all-caps.

    @Łukasz웃Lツ I encountered Sütterlin was in elementary school, and only because one particular teacher taught it as a curiosity, not because it's normally thought and my grandmother's handwriting is influenced by it. But apart from that I've never seen it, despite living in rural Bavaria. Normally I only see the modern Schreibschift and of course Druckschrift.

    Why would anyone even bring up Sütterlin in this context?

    @CarstenSchultz Ask the OP :-)

    Thorsten, I hadn't seen his mention of it, thanks.

    @Wrzlprmft I accounted for the difference of Blockbuchstaben and Druckbuchstaben in my answer. I'm not saying that people write `a` as it `Arial` font, but people will be able to read it if the OP does :-)

    @ThorstenDittmar note the horizontal line at the bottom of the Arial 1? It's not common to use that in german handwriting at all. A small detail, but we speaking about small details here after all.

    @ikadfoanhfda There is no horizontal line for "1" in Arial - Arial does not have serifes. The serif you see in my answer above is due to the fact that the "1" I wrote above is code-formatted (Courier New maybe).

    @ThorstenDittmar I see. I understood it the way that the 1 and 7 written in a special font where examples of Arial But looking at this makes it clear that 1 in Arial looks pretty much how it's written here nowdays (with the *very* minor detail that the first line of the 1 normaly isn't curved but a straight line)

    @ikadfoanhfda ... like I did in the picture I added to my answer ;-)

  • As you already mentioned, there is a wide variation of styles in use. I wouldn't worry too much, most people are used to be rather flexible at reading them, as there are quite significant individual differences.

    For filling forms, you are usually requested to use Blockschrift (upper case letters only) or Druckschrift (upper and lower case letters, but letters are clearly separated from each other) to make it easier to read and/or scan automatically.

    If you are interested in historical styles of handwriting and their evolution into modern ones this article in the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" may be of interest. (I didn't find a similar compilation for Germany in a quick search, perhaps someone else could add one). The article was triggered by a political discussion whether the Schreibschrift should be continued to be taught to children in primary schools. This tells a lot about its declining importance in everyday life, as electronic means of communication and taking notes slowly replace handwritten ones.

    Interestingly--though far from surprising--a similar issue is taking place in my country as well. Our older generations often complain how kids nowadays don't know how to write properly. I believe this discussion begun since the dominance of personal computers--to say nothing of smartphones and tablets. Thank you for the information. Very helpful indeed.

  • Contrary to Portree Kid, I would say that everyone frequently uses cursive handwriting. Most of the adults have learnt it in school and its quicker than block-letter style. As a result, you don't need to know cursive handwriting to fill out forms and most of written communication can be done by computer anyway. However, in order to understand written notes from people (colleagues, friends, etc.) you're in trouble if you cannot intepret it properly. Nevertheless, some people have a horrible handwriting, which is basically not readable by anyone but themselves, e.g. medical doctors are notorious for this. But I also have some troubles reading my own notes after some time if I write too fast and therefore, very sloppy.

  • You should not worry about numerals. Just make sure the top bar of the 7 is long and horizontal, so that it won't be confused with a 1, which in Germany has a short and diagonal stroke. But just using a single vertical stroke would be recognised as the digit as well.

    As for letters, what all the other answers said.

  • Well, you should not care to much about. If you write Druckschrift, mostly all Germans will be able to read your notes. Those who are not do also have problems to read the notes of other Germans.

    Nonetheless knowing Schreibschrift is not the worst idea - but more for reading.

    Here you can download native German handwritings of all letters for excercises:

    Regarding the numbers: that won't be a problem.

    Thanks for the link, but may I ask which of the currently used styles is featured on that website? Z.B. Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift?

  • Nobody uses cursive writing after leaving school, so learning to write cursive is not necessary. I my experience the Handwriting differs more, than you'd expect. My sons name is Ian and he often becomes Jan since the writing of I vs. J is not consistent. Some write a I with a hook like J and the J dipping below the line. This inconsistency seems to stem from reunification. When learning non cursive handwriting, most people in West Germany will have learned Grundschrift and in the GDR you will have learned Schulausgangsschrift

    Please correct me if I understand you wrongly: Do you mean that although I don't have to know how to write cursive, I do actually need to have the ability to read them? Thank you for replying as well.

    No you most probable won't see any cursive writing. I just wanted to point to slight subtle differences. Much the same as in English. I learned Normschrift ( in my apprenticeship and is has influenced my handwriting.

    There also is the "Lateinische Ausgangsschrift" and the "Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift". The latter is taught to our children today.

    Aren't they "Schreibschriften"?

    Yeah they are - in **theory** it's how pupils are supposed to develop their own handwriting based on these... epic fail IMO ;)

    No bother. I have three kids in German School (Saxony).

    @T.G.Monk: Unless you intend to become a teacher or something similar, you are hardly going to see any handwriting anyway.

    "Most people in West Germany will have learned Grundschrift" contradicts with "Als Grundschrift wird **ab 2011** von interessierten Schulen in Deutschland eine Variante der Druckschrift **erprobt**" in the WP article you are linking to.

    Clarified. I was talking about non cursive. Even with non cursive you have differences

  • I don't live in Germany, but my dad is German and was raised in Germany. My grandma taught me to write the number seven with a line through it, and I've been doing it like that ever since. If I were to right a seven the american way, it would just look weird to me.

    Welcome to German.SE. Beside that personal experience "writing 7 in German" - are you able to add any comparison with the American style? How about the other numbers? How about the rest of the question? And please check the other answers as well - "copying" them is not quite helpful. Shedding light on new aspects is. Or new sources.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM