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The German Word ‘Mensch’ Posted by on May 26, 2021 in Language

Hallo! In today’s post we’re going to look at the German word der Mensch in greater detail. I will tell you what it means, the different ways it’s used, and a few alternative words with the same or similar meanings. Let’s get started.

mensch

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

He’s a really great guy!

You may have heard or seen this word before, not just because you are learning German, but because it made its way into the English language, too; to call someone a ‘mensch’ in American English is to say they are a really decent human being. To be exact, this word came into English via the Yiddish mentsh, which came from the German Mensch. But what does this word mean in German, and how is it used?

Der Mensch

The simplest and most direct translation of der Mensch is human or person. Although the word is of a masculine gender (der) and is used more for men than women as a loanword in the English language (‘He’s a true mensch’), der Mensch in German refers to everybody – Männer (men), Frauen (women), and Kinder (children).

Here are a few words that contain the word Mensch, and what they mean:

  • die Menschlichkeit – humanity
  • der Gutmensch – do-gooder (literally ‘good human’)
  • die Menschheit – mankind
  • der Luftmensch – Literally ‘air human’, this word is Yiddish in origin and refers to someone who has their head in the clouds all the time! (This word is also used in English).
mensch

Photo by Kenrick Mills on Unsplash

Mensch, Brigitte!

You may also hear the word Mensch used in speech in a rather random, sporadic way. This is because the word is also used as an expression, similar to the English ‘Man!’ or ‘Oh, man!’. When used in this way, you don’t include its gender (der), only the word Mensch itself. For example, if your friend Brigitte is taking her sweet time getting ready, you might say something like this to her:

Mensch, Brigitte! Warum so langsam?! Beeil dich!
Man, Brigitte! Why so slow?! Hurry up!

Adjective use

As well as the noun der Mensch, there is the adjective, menschlich. This translates to ‘human’ or ‘humane’, depending on the context.

For example, the sentence ‘irren ist menschlich’ translates to, ‘to err is human’.

Meanwhile, ‘jemanden menschlich behandeln’ translates to, ‘to treat someone humanely’.

mensch

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Alternative words

I always find it useful to know a few, alternative words for things, or to know which words are similar but not quite the same in meaning. Hopefully, this gives you some more vocabulary, and stops you from getting muddled up!

die Menschen – people (plural of der Mensch)
die Person – person
die Personen – people
das Individuum – individual
die Leute – people
das Volk – people/population
die Bevölkerung – population
das Publikum – audience/public

I hope this post helps you understand the word Mensch a little more! If you have any requests for other words you want explaining, drop them in the comment box below and I’ll write a post on them, too.

Bis bald! (See you soon!)
Constanze

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


Comments:

  1. Nitin Golatkar:

    Nice to learn exact meaning of Mensch and Menachem and other parallel words. Actually I was reading about Volks and could find this one too.
    Thanks


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