German: ss vs. ß

I'm not sure when to use ss or ß when spelling a german word with the double s sound. I was under the impression that it basically just varied by region like in Switzerland they would use ss instead of ß, but I am starting to think this is probably incorrect because throughout the duolingo course I have seen both ss and ß used. Can anyone clarify this? Is there any rule that can help me figure out when to use either one or is it something that I just need to memorize?

May 21, 2014


After a long vowel or a dipthong: ß

  • Straße, Weiß, aß, Maße, grüßen etc.

Anywhere else (after a short vowel): ss

  • Muss, dass, essen, Fluss, Kongress etc.

That is how you use them after the Rechtschreibreform, but some people just couldn't handle that and keep replacing every ss with ß, no matter which the official rules of the language are ;) (Also if you read older books, you will see them used differently)

May 22, 2014

Good explanation. And as a little aside: It's varying not by region, but by country. Switzerland is a different country, with its own rules and laws, and they don't have any ß. Most of the rest of the language is the same. (If they are speaking "Hochdeutsch". If they are speaking "Schwyterdütsch", good luck, and don't worry, most Germans don't understand that either. ;-) )

May 22, 2014

Just to expand on this: There is a technical reason why the Swiss have given up ß, and for the same reason there is a tendency to replace the capital umlauts Ä Ö Ü by Ae Oe Ue. This reason is that space for special letters on a typewriter keyboard (or nowadays on a computer keyboard) is limited, and they need keyboards that can accommodate French and Italian as well as German. As ß and capital umlauts are hard to type, they stopped using the former altogether and in some names (or incorrectly more generally) don't use the latter, even in handwriting and in print.

May 23, 2014

And gave up Swiss Frenchies their special characters? I mean â, ê, î, ô, û, é etc. If they didn't it's a little bit unfair. Viele Grüße! :D

February 19, 2018

It used to be standard in French to omit the accents on capital letters. In France this has changed. Using É, Î, À etc. is now more correct than substituting E, I, A. But on Swiss keyboards, accented capitals are hard to type, so they are still not used. Seems fair enough to me.

April 26, 2018

I have also heard German referred to as "Schriftdütsch" by a native speaker of Swiss-German. Just a little tidbit. :)

October 21, 2017

I first learned German in 1996. Now that I'm picking it up again, I've had to retrain my brain towards the new spelling rules. I wish the ss and ß were still mostly interchangeable; at least Duolingo marks these incorrect spellings with a warning, instead of a penalty.

February 16, 2016

Thank you! That helps a lot!

May 22, 2014

That was such a good explenation I thought you deserved a lingot! Thank you!

April 26, 2018

Really helpful!

July 11, 2019

This is a really great explanation (and also just a great channel on Youtube for learning some extra German grammar concepts.) -

May 23, 2014

The funny thing about ss vs ß is that even Germans get it wrong A LOT. I'm german and in my class people get a ton of mistakes with commas ( , ), the ss or ß and stuff like wether a word is written together or with an "-" or seperated ( for example : jahrelang - years long, dunkelblau - dark blue ). We had to do some exercise on those 3 things just recently because the essays we write are a mess with grammatical errors. And I'm in a Berufsschule and will have my Abitur next year so it's my 13th year of school, we're all 19-23 in my class, not young children. :D So don't sweat it even if you do get somthing wrong. It's something even we germans don't get sometimes. ;)

May 25, 2014
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