Swiss German and standard German: the differences

Unlock the Secrets of Swiss German vs. Standard German: Language Insights from the Streets of Switzerland

Are you working with German-speaking people in Switzerland? If you understand Swiss German, you have an advantage if you have to do business in Switzerland or negotiate with the locals. On the streets, nearly everyone speaks Swiss German. At first, you will probably not be able to understand anything, even if you have a good command of standard German. How does Swiss German sound, and what are the differences with standard German? Social media manager Noëlle and copywriter Alessandra went to Switzerland and found this out for you!

Swiss German v. Standard German

One very big difference is the sound. You may not know it, but there has also been a sound shift in the German language. Throughout the centuries, sounds changed in various areas. This resulted in differences between High German, Middle German, Low German, etc., languages that you have may have heard of. Swiss German never went through the High German sound shift, while standard German is a result of the shifts that took place.

Hard to grasp? We will give you some examples of differences, which will make things much clearer. 

  1. Differences in spoken language

Let’s start with very common everyday things to see the big difference between standard German and the totally different Swiss German, namely the spoken language:

  • Swiss German: Min nama isch Jack (my name is Jack)
  • Standard German: Mein name ist Jack

Say it out loud. Incomprehensible if someone start talking to you like this, isn’t it? Try to imagine what happens if someone tells you a story in Swiss German at a rapid pace. Oops!

Some more examples: 

  • Swiss German: 
  • Bitte parkieren Sie (park please)
  • Von wo kunsch du? (where are you from?)
  • Standard German: 
  • Bitte parken Sie 
  • Woher kommst du?

Swiss German is a dialect. More than that, is it a great number of dialects. So the written language in Switzerland is always standard German! Yet written texts, localised marketing for the Swiss market, are influenced by Swiss German, and you will come across differences. 

  1. Written differences 

Swiss do not place punctuation marks behind the salutation, while in Germany it is usual practice to place a comma behind the salutation. In addition, in Swiss German you use Grüezi instead of standard German Guten Tag as a written greeting.

  1. Typographic differences 

Did you know that in Switzerland times are written with a dot (11.30) and in Germany usually with a colon (11:30)? And in Switzerland, a dot and a dash are placed behind an amount of money (CHF 50.-) and a comma and a hyphen are used in Germany (€ 110,-).

  1. Differences in the plural form 

The plural form of some nouns is also different in Swiss German and standard German. Some examples:

  • Swiss German: 
  • die Departemente 
  • die Krägen
  • die Pärke
  • Standard German: 
  • die Departements
  • die Kragen
  • die Parks
  1. Differences in spelling

Differences in spelling? You thought Swiss German is not a written language, didn’t you? It isn’t, but yet… The letter ß – sharp S or eszett in standard German – is not used in Switzerland. Instead, the Swiss use a double S. Translating is quite a job, if the text has to be localised to Swiss German. 

The influence of French on Swiss German

With France just around the corner, Swiss German sometimes also looks like French. For example:

  • Swiss German: 
  • Merci (thank you -> from the French “Merci”)
  • Velo (bike -> from the French “Vélo”)
  • Excusee (excuse me, I beg your pardon -> from the French “Excusez”)
  • Adee (goodbye, farewell -> from the French “Adieu”)
  • Standard German: 
  • Danke
  • Fahrrad
  • Entschuldigung
  • Auf Wiedersehen
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