Guidelines for indicating percentages and fractions in German

(How to use, spell and write percentages and fractions in sentences)

What should you consider when specifying percentages and fractions in sentences?

Even native speakers sometimes struggle with the spelling of percentages, fractions and decimals in German. The challenge lies in determining whether they need a singular or plural verb. However, the basic rule is that the figure ‘1 %’ is used with singular verbs, and larger percentages are used with plural verbs. In spoken language, however, other usages are also common. For this, compare the examples and the distinction in usage with and without an additional noun:

English speakers, beware: This rule slightly differs from the spelling and writing in English.

  1. With pure percentages or fractions as the subject, with no further noun, …
    • … the verb is in the singular for statements with the number 1:
      • „Nur 1 Prozent war mit dem Seminar zufrieden.“ (Only 1 per cent were satisfied with the seminar.)
      • 1 Viertel der Gäste blieb bis zum Schluss.“ (1 quarter of the guests stayed until the end.)
    • … the verb is conjugated in the plural for statements with larger numbers:
      • „Etwa 30 Prozent sind von der Unschuld des TV-Stars überzeugt.“ (About 30 per cent are convinced of the TV star’s innocence.)
      • „Über 2 Drittel wurden an den Hilfsfonds gespendet.“ (More than two thirds were donated to the relief fond.)
  2. However, a percentage or fraction is often used as the subject together with a noun. This noun can either be in the nominative or genitive case. It is essential to consider the following points:
    • If the noun is in the nominative (1st case), the verb can be singular or plural for numbers greater than 1:
      • 70 % Wald ist von der Feuersbrunst bedroht.“ (70% of the forest is threatened by the conflagration.)
      • 70 % Wald sind von der Feuersbrunst bedroht.“
    • If it is in the genitive (2nd case), follow the same rule for percentages or fractions as in point 1. Use a plural verb when the number is greater than 1. Whether the noun is in the singular or plural is then irrelevant:
      • 12 Prozent der Inselbewohner sind abergläubisch.“ (12 per cent of the islanders are superstitious.)
      • „Nur 1 Zehntel der Teilnehmer war unzufrieden mit dem Service.“ (Only one tenth of the participants were dissatisfied with the service.)
        • The noun ‘Teilnehmer’ (participants) is plural here, but the verb is singular.

Note: In everyday speech, deviations from these rules may well exist.

Additional resources and explanations on ‘Writing/spelling percentages’

The explanations that follow are related to ‘Using and spelling percentages and fractions in German sentences’ and may be both interesting and helpful: