The Complete Guide to Swiss German Grammar

Swiss German is not the easiest language to learn. Particularly because it’s not a language per se, but actually a collection of dialects. 

In addition, Swiss German dialects vary from region to region, which makes it difficult when it comes to writing, since not all dialects write similarly. However, these grammatical norms we will tell you about are followed by the different dialects, and what differs the most amongst them is pronunciation and some vocabulary.

Swiss German grammar differs from the High German one in various aspects. The main ones are the lack of genitive case, of past simple, of the “ß” letter; and the doubling of certain verbs such as “to come” and “to go”, as well as the difference in the diminutives.

Let’s start to see the main grammatical norms I’m talking about:

There Is No Genitive Case

On a first note, Swiss German does not have the genitive case, unlike High German. The genitive case indicates possession, that in Swiss German is constructed with the preposition von (written vo). For example: 

  • My mum’s house would be ‘S Huus vo minere Mueter‘, which translated to High German using the genitive case is ‘Das Haus meiner Mutter’. 
  • Another way of constructing it would be saying ‘s Buech vom Profässer‘ vs. Standard German das ‘Buch des Professors’ (“the professor’s book”); although this form is less used than the first one. 

Swiss German Doesn’t Use the Simple Past Tense

Swiss German does not use the simple past tense. For that matter, the only past tense in Swiss German is present perfect, or Pärfekt. However, the past perfect tense can also be formed by adapting Pärfekt’s auxiliary verbs.

This way, instead of saying “I stayed at the beach all day yesterday”, Swiss German says “I have stayed all day at the beach yesterday”. 

Bern, Switzerland

Some Verbs are Doubled When Used Together

In Swiss German, the motion verbs choo (to come) and gaa (to go) can be doubled in certain situations. For example, when used in the meaning of “go (to) do something” and “come (to) do something”. It sounds a bit complicated but it really isn’t. It looks like this:

Swiss GermanIchgangjetztgoässe
High GermanIchgehejetztessen
EnglishI’m going to eat now

Swiss GermanIchchummjetztchohole
High GermanIchkommejetztholen
EnglishI’m coming to get (something) now

The letter ß Is Not Used In Swiss German 

This is surprising to many that visit the country for the first time and, unlike in Germany, do not see the letter ß, which stands for a double ‘s’. What is curious is that even official signs, which are written in High German, use a double ‘s’ instead of a ‘ß’. 

For example, street names in Switzerland, as well as in Germany and Austria, have also the word ‘street’ on it. This way, ‘House street’ would be ‘Hausstrasse‘. In Germany and Austria, it would be spelled ‘Hausstraße‘ on a sign, while in Switzerland this ß is replaced by a ‘ss’, forming ‘Hausstrasse‘. 

Zurich, Switzerland

There Are No Official Rules of Swiss German Orthography 

This makes it a lot of fun for natives and a learning hell for Swiss German students. Two friends that grew up in the same city might spell two words differently, which makes written Swiss German very complicated to learn.

But the majority of people agree that as long as you’ve learnt how to speak it, you don’t really need to know how to write it, since people can easily type High German but speak in Swiss German to you. 

I’ll keep updating this post regularly, so let me know if there’s something else you think I should add.