German Language Blog

Untranslatable German Words: Rabeneltern Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Language

Guten Tag! Welcome to another edition of German untranslatable words, dedicated to teaching you quirky German words, their meanings, and how to use them!

Today the word is die Rabeneltern.

Ravens' Duet

Photo: ronald-mead on under CC BY 2.0

What does Rabeneltern literally translate to?
The German compound noun Rabeneltern is made up of the words der Rabe (raven) + die Eltern (parents).


What does Rabeneltern mean?
Rabeneltern describes bad or neglectful parents. You can also use it to describe a specific parent:

Die Rabenmutter – bad or ‘raven’ mother
Der Rabenvater – bad or ‘raven’ father


But why ravens?
The association with the Rabe could be because since ancient times, ravens have had a bad rep as parents, as they have been known to neglect their young. Furthermore, in western culture ravens have long been symbols of bad luck and death. These are all possible reasons for the reference to ravens in Rabeneltern!

On a side note, many of you will be familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. Here is a verse from it in English, followed by German:

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven “Nevermore.”


Doch das schwarze Tier verführte, weil es sich so eitel zierte, Meine Kümmernis zum Lächeln, und ich sagte ungefähr: “Ist dein Helmbusch auch geschoren, scheinst du doch als Held geboren, Von der Düsternis erkoren, flogst Du weit vom Nachtland her, Sag, welch ist dein edler Name von des Pluto Nachtland her?”
Sprach der Rabe: “Nimmermehr.”

(German translation by Manfred Uhlig and Ole Törner)

If you’d like to read the whole poem in German then click here!

How would you use Rabeneltern in a sentence?
Sogar Rabeneltern würden so was nicht tun!
Even raven parents wouldn’t do something like that!


What is the nearest English equivalent to Rabeneltern?
There isn’t a word as cool as Rabeneltern in English to describe bad parents, so I’m not even going to try! But if you do know of one (in any language), do let us all know in the comments!

Further reading:

Here’s an interesting article about the use of the term Rabenmutter in Germany, and how it is used in a derogatory way in the workplace to describe career-minded women who are ‘abandoning’ their duties as a mother.

What do you think of this word?

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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.


  1. Joseph T. Madawela:

    Danke for this excellent article