What’s The Difference? Man and Mann In German Posted by Constanze on Jun 24, 2020 in Language
Guten Tag! Today we’re looking at two German words that often confuse learners – man and Mann. By the end of this post you’ll be able to recognise the difference between these two words, and be able to use them in the correct way. Let’s get started!
Mann vs man
The confusion about these two words is that they look similar, are pronounced in the exact same way, have a sort-of similar meaning, but are different. For this reason, they are often used in place of one another by mistake. So what do these words mean, and how should they be used?
Mann is a German noun, meaning man (male person) or husband. As it is a noun, it comes with a gender – der – and is always capitalised, as all nouns are.
Der Mann ist nett.
The man is friendly.
Hopefully this is all pretty straight-forward so far. The confusion often comes when confronted with the next word – man.
The word man is a German pronoun. It is never capitalised, unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. Its direct translation is ‘one’, like how in English we say ‘One shouldn’t do that’. However, while this expression is rarely used in English, it is extremely common in German, and doesn’t sound anywhere near as formal in German as it does in English!
In that sense, it’s better to translate the German word man as ‘you’ in English: ‘You shouldn’t do that’ is a lot more common than ‘One shouldn’t do that’, for example. Often, when we say ‘You’ in this way we aren’t addressing whoever we’re talking to, but generalising.
The German word man is like that – it is used in place of a noun, where the person in question is a generic ‘somebody’:
Man darf das nicht.
You aren’t allowed to do that (‘one is not allowed to do that’).
Wie tut man das?
How do you do that? (‘how does one do that?’)
Man ist, was man isst.
You are what you eat (‘one is what one eats’).
What catches people off guard is that the German word man is the same as the English word man. But the translation of the English word man is der Mann in German – not the German word man!
Der Mann = man/husband
man = one/you (generic)
To finish, here are a few sentences and their translations. Some use Mann and some use man. Using what you have learnt in this post, study the sentences and see if you can recognise and understand the way the words are used in each! Viel Glück (good luck)!
Ein Mann hat mich angerufen.
A man called me.
Darf man hier schwimmen?
Are you allowed to swim here?
Mein Mann heißt Ludwig.
My husband is called Ludwig.
Man darf hier schwimmen.
You’re allowed to swim here.
Wie tut man das?
How do you do that?
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