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German ß- When Is It Used Instead Of SS?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023


The usage of "ß" (also known as “ess zett” or “sharp s”) changed following a major German orthography reform in 1996. Prior to the reform, the ß was used following a long vowel or two consecutive vowels (also known as diphthong) as well as at the end of a syllable or before consonants. The conjugation of müssen was, for instance:


Ich muß

du mußt

er/sie/es muß

wir müßen

ihr müßt

sie/sie müßen


Correspondingly, the infamous German subordinate clause conjunction dass used to be written as "daß" as well.



After the reform and a bit of political back and forth, the first rule still applies, while the second was dropped. So nowadays the ß tells you that the vowel before is long, whereas "ss" is used when it is short


e.g. Straße (long vowel)

Maß (long)

Nass (short)

Schloss (short)


The ß is also used after two consecutive vowels.


e.g. beschließen

gießen

genießen

beißen

So contrary to popular belief, the the ß hasn‘t disappeared from the language, its use has just been changed.


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