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Gender Neutral Plurals

In English, gender-specific words for professions, such as "policeman" and policewoman," are relatively rare. Some professions that previously had gender divisions, such as actor/actress and hero/heroine, have seen the female usages fall largely into disuse. But in German, most professions are divided by gender: a male doctor is der Arzt and a female doctor is die Ärztin. Some more examples are der Polizist/die Polizistin; der Architekt/die Architekin; der Künstler/die Künstlerin.


Most German writing and speech up until the end of the 20th century discriminated grammatically against women by using only the male plural when referring to people in a profession. For example, it was common to see the masculine plural die Ärzte used to refer to all doctors, as if there were no women in the profession.


The simplest and currently standard solution for being more gender-inclusive is to state both gender plurals when talking about professions and other gender-specific words. Note that it's unnecessary in the following two cases to translate both German male and female nouns into English, since the equivalent English words "doctor" and "artist" are gender-neutral.


Ich möchte mich bei dieser Gelegenheit zuallererst an alle wenden, die als Ärzte oder Ärztinnen,  im Pflegedienst oder in einer sonstigen Funktion in unseren Krankenhäusern und überhaupt im Gesundheitswesen arbeiten.

I would like to take this opportunity to address first and foremost all those who work as doctors, in the field of nursing, or in any other function in our hospitals or in the healthcare system in general.

Captions 1-4, Coronavirus: Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel

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Er ist über einen Kilometer lang und er wurde von 118 Künstlern und Künstlerinnen aus der ganzen Welt gestaltet.

It is over a kilometer in length and it [the artwork] was created by 118 artists from all over the world.

Captions 20-22, Eva zeigt uns: die Berliner Mauer

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Since the early 2000s, many German speakers began to reject the usage both male and female plurals, seeing it as an anachronism of a male-dominated society. The interim solution has been to combine the male and female forms and separate them with non-alphabetical symbols. The current symbols in use today to denote gender-neutral plural nouns are:


Der Gender-Gap (_) marked by an underscore;
Das Gendersternchen (*) marked by an asterisk;
Der Genderschrägstrich (/) marked by a slash;
Der Gender-Doppelpunkt (:) marked by a colon.


Instead of writing die Ärzte und Ärztinnen, you could utilize the system above and choose from die Ärzt_innen, die Ärzt*innen, die Ärzt/innen or die Arzt:innen. When speaking the words, you are supposed to make a slight pause where the symbol break happens, so as to distinguish from the standard plural of the female noun.


If this seems confusing to you, you're not alone. It's still a topic that is widely debated in German society. Many language purists and linguists think that the words look aesthetically unappealing in print and are simply grammatically incorrect. It's also rejected by conservatives who see it as a symptom of politically-correct "woke" and "cancel culture." On the other hand, many people support it because it overcomes a kind of latent gender discrimination in the German language.


Hallo, liebe Yabla-Schüler*innen. Heute erzähle ich euch etwas über das Thema LSBTQ.

Hello, dear Yabla pupils. Today, I'm going to tell you something about the topic of LGBTQ.

Captions 1-2, LGBTQ: Gendern

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Vielleicht habt ihr bemerkt, dass ich bei meiner Begrüßung eine kleine Pause zwischen Schüler*innen gemacht habe.

Maybe you noticed that, when I greeted you, I made a short pause in the word Schüler*innen [pupils].

Captions 14-16, LGBTQ Gendern

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Wie ist denn das Verhältnis zwischen Bürger:innen und Inflationsrate, und haben uns auf die Straße begeben und da einfach mal nachgefragt.

How the relationship between citizens and the inflation rate is, and we took to the streets and simply inquired there.

Captions 7-9, TV Total: Straßenumfrage zum Thema Inflation

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As you see above, both the Gendersternchen and Gender-Doppelpunkt styles of gender-neutrality are to be found on Yabla. As of date, there are no standards set for the formulation.


Since 2020, the German states Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, and Hessen prohibited the use in schools of grammatical symbols in the middle of words denoting gender-neutral nouns. If pupils or students living in one of these states use a gender-neutral word marked with a symbol in a school paper, it will be marked as a spelling error and thus possibly lower their grades. In the German states Baden-Württemberg and Bremen, the acceptance of gender-inclusive writing is left to the discretion of the individual schools. The Swiss government forbade the use of symbols marking gender-neutral nouns in Swiss governmental German-language documents in 2021, but it equally forbade the use of exclusively male noun forms.


So ist es, liebe Yabla-Schüler und Yabla-Schülerinnen – oder lieber Yabla Schüler*innen?


Further Learning
The debate about gender-neutral nouns continues to this day in German society. Read the German Wikipedia articles linked above, and watch the relevant videos on Yabla German to get a better sense of the topic.

The World of Work, Part I: Describing Employment

The relationship people have with work evolves throughout their lives, and our relationship with work as a society is also currently seeing some changes. 


First of all, there is the type of employment: full-time or part-time? Employed, self-employed, or freelance?


Die meisten Leute, die bei einem Arbeitgeber angestellt sind, werden für diese Arbeit am Ende des Monats bezahlt.

Most people who are employed by an employer are paid for this work at the end of the month.

Captions 4-5, Eva erklärt: Bankkonten

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Und bin selbstständig und habe also diese Probleme nicht mehr.

And I'm self-employed and don't have these problems anymore.

Caption 43, TUDYKA: Interview mit Uschi

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Für die Wirtschaft, die großen Unternehmen genau wie die kleinen Betriebe, für Geschäfte, Restaurants, Freiberufler . . .

For the economy, for large companies as well as small businesses, for shops, restaurants, freelancers ...

Captions 44-45, Coronavirus: Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel

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Wollen Sie Teilzeit oder Vollzeit arbeiten?

Do you want to work part-time or full-time?

Caption 20, Nicos Weg: Bewerbungsgespräch

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People work in offices, factories, institutions, businesses, and any number of other places. And of course, we can't forget working from home, the word for which has been adopted into the German language.


Nun, wenn Sie morgen früh um neun Uhr ins Büro kommen könnten, können wir Sie direkt einarbeiten.

So, if you come to the office tomorrow at nine a.m., we can train you right away.

Captions 29-30, Berufsleben: das Vorstellungsgespräch

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Ich arbeite fünfzehn Stunden in der Woche und, äh, habe auch ein Homeoffice.

I work fifteen hours a week and, uh, have a home office too.

Caption 13, Finanzassistentin: Sarah interviewt Cettina

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In German, you can talk about der Job, die Arbeit, die Stelle, der Beruf, or die Karriere. These words may reflect different levels of dedication and permanence. 


Mein eigentlicher Beruf ist Buchhändlerin, aber seit ich in Berlin lebe, arbeite ich als Kellnerin und Barista in Cafés.

My actual occupation is book dealer, but since I've lived in Berlin, I've worked as a waitress and barista in cafés.

Captions 15-16, Berlin: Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

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Further Learning
How would you describe your job or the career of someone you know? Find the right words in examples from Yabla German and then write up a few sentences of your own.


A not-so-difficult newsletter

In English, we have the words "simple," "easy," "difficult," and "hard." German similarly has its own adjectives with nuanced meanings. You have likely seen einfach used both as an adjective most often meaning either "simple," "basic," or "easy," and also as an adverb meaning "simply," "basically," or "just." 


Im Grunde ist es also ganz einfach.

So basically it's quite simple.

Caption 34, Deutsch mit Eylin: Doppellaute

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Natürlich kann man auch einfach nur spazieren gehen.

Of course, one can also simply just go for a walk.

Caption 10, Berlin: Eva im Viktoriapark

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The adjective schwierig can also mean "tricky" more than truly hard or difficult. 


Und es ist schwierig, diese Dinge anzusprechen.

And it is difficult to talk about things.

Caption 37, Die Wohngemeinschaft: Probleme

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You may have noticed that the same adjectives used to describe weight apply to ease and difficulty. The adjective leicht  also means "light" (again, this is in terms of weight, not in terms of color, which would be hell). The adjective schwer has a whole host of meanings, including "heavy," "difficult," "severe," "grave," and "arduous." 


Sie bleiben gerne in der Deckung umgestürzter Bäume, wo sie der Hecht nicht so leicht erwischt.

They like to stay under the cover of fallen trees, where the pike can't catch them so easily.

Captions 17-18, Alpenseen: Kühle Schönheiten

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„Nichts leichter als das“, antwortete Frederick.

"Nothing easier than that!" answered Frederick.

Caption 4, Piggeldy und Frederick: Aufräumen

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Die können sich noch an andere schwere Zeiten erinnern.

They can still remember other difficult times.

Caption 11, Angela Merkel: Solidarität der Generationen in Coronakrise

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Clueso lässt sich immer noch schwer einordnen.

Clueso still remains difficult to categorize.

Caption 41, Clueso: ist endlich erwachsen

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Sie sehen als Erste die Kranken und wie schwer manche Verläufe der Infektion sind.

You are the first to see the sick and how severe some courses of the infection are.

Captions 6-7, Coronavirus: Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel

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There's one more word that should be mentioned, which is the adjective simpel. Be careful: this word does mean "simple," but is also used negatively to express that something is simplistic or limited. 


Es ist eigentlich ganz simpel.

It is actually very simple.

Caption 34, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Verben der 2. Kategorie

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Further Learning
When you see one of these adjectives in a sentence on Yabla German, ask yourself whether one of the others could be swapped in. Sometimes something will be either leicht, einfach, or simpel, but not all three, and the same goes for schwierig and schwer

Key Words and Phrases from Chancellor Merkel's Speech, Part 2

Last week, we offered you Part 1 of the vocabulary in Chancellor Merkel's televised speech about COVID-19, and today we're giving you the second and last part. It's pretty rare that a German chancellor appeals directly to the nation on television like this, and we think her message has many aspects that are valid for everyone during this crisis, regardless of where you live. You may not hear some of the words she uses in everyday casual speech, however, so it's important that you focus on some key words to effectively extend your German vocabulary.


Ich möchte Ihnen erklären,

I would like to explain to you

wo wir aktuell stehen in der Epidemie,

where we currently stand with the epidemic

was die Bundesregierung und die staatlichen Ebenen tun,

and what is being done at the Federal Government and state levels

um alle in unsrer Gemeinschaft zu schützen

to protect everyone in our community

und den ökonomischen, sozialen, kulturellen Schaden zu begrenzen.

and limit the economic, social, and cultural damage.

Captions 29-33, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Die Ebene has three distinct definitions in the German Duden dictionary: the first is an area of flat land, the second a geometry or physics term usually translated as "plane" in English, and the third definition is the one used here, "level." Der Schaden means "the damage". This is easy to remember as it correlates to a German adjective you are probably already familiar with: schade ("too bad"). 


Zeit, damit die Forschung ein Medikament und einen Impfstoff entwickeln kann.

Time, so that researchers can develop a drug and a vaccine.

Caption 49, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Aber noch gibt es weder eine Therapie gegen das Coronavirus

But there is still neither a treatment for the coronavirus

noch einen Impfstoff.

nor a vaccine.

Captions 43-44, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Hopefully for all of our sakes this situation will change soon, but in the meantime der Impfstoff ("the vaccine") is an important word to know.


Wir müssen das Risiko, dass der eine den anderen ansteckt, so begrenzen,

We must limit the risk of one person infecting another

wie wir nur können.

as much as we can.

Captions 22-23, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 2

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The German verb anstecken means "to infect" and is a separable verb that takes a direct object. The less we have to do with any anstecken, the better!


Die verschärften Grenzkontrollen und Einreisebeschränkungen

The tightened border controls and entry restrictions

zu einigen unserer wichtigsten Nachbarländer in Kraft.

on some of our most important neighboring countries have been in force.

Captions 42-43, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 2

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The 6-syllable noun die Einreisebeschränkung, or the "travel entry restriction", has been used often in the last few years as part of the ongoing debate about emigration, since the level of such restrictions determines who is allowed or forbidden entry to a country.


Alle staatlichen Maßnahmen gingen ins Leere,

All government measures would come to nothing

wenn wir nicht das wirksamste Mittel

if we didn't employ the most effective means

gegen die zu schnelle Ausbreitung des Virus einsetzen würden.

of keeping the virus from spreading too quickly.

Captions 9-11, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 3

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The noun die Ausbreitung may also be translated into English variously as "propagation", "dissemination", or "distribution", depending upon the context.


Further Learning
Watch the Chancellor's speech on Yabla German and listen for these key words and phrases. The city of Berlin website has set up a news feed under Nachrichten with updates on the crisis in German and in English. Try reading an article in German, such as their recommendations of what is allowed during the Easter Holiday, then check your comprehension by going to the top right-hand corner of the page and choosing the English version of the article. Best wishes from Yabla to you and your family during these times of crisis.

Key Words and Phrases from Chancellor Merkel's Speech, Part 1

Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn't often give televised addresses, however, she recently went on TV to speak about the measures being taken in Germany to slow the spread of COVID-19 and appeal to the public. 


Chancellor Merkel opens the speech by acknowledging how difficult recent weeks have been. The word die Begegnung can mean "the encounter," like when you bump into someone on the street, but here it refers to social interaction.


Uns allen fehlen die Begegnungen, die sonst selbstverständlich sind.

We are all missing the interactions that are otherwise taken for granted.

Caption 10, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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She refers to the "restrictions" and "closures" that are defining daily life at the moment. 


Es sind Einschränkungen, wie es sie in der Bundesrepublik noch nie gab.

They are restrictions such as have never been seen before in the German Federal Republic.

Caption 33, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 2

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Ich weiß, wie hart die Schließungen,

I know how severely these closures,

auf die sich Bund und Länder geeinigt haben,

which have been agreed upon by the federal and state governments,

in unser Leben und auch unser demokratisches Selbstverständnis eingreifen.

are interfering with our lives and with our democratic self-image as well.

Captions 30-32, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 2

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Chancellor Merkel describes Germany as eine Gemeinschaft, which can be translated as "a community," "an association," or "a collective." The community now has the task of practicing social distancing. The word for task, die Aufgabe, can be used to describe a household task, but also a much larger undertaking.


Und wir sind eine Gemeinschaft,

And we are a community

in der jedes Leben und jeder Mensch zählt.

in which every life and every person counts.

Captions 63-64, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Ich glaube fest daran, dass wir diese Aufgabe bestehen,

I firmly believe that we will succeed in this task

wenn wirklich alle Bürgerinnen und Bürger sie als ihre Aufgabe begreifen.

if all citizens really see it as their task.

Captions 21-22, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Chancellor Merkel uses the adjective solidarisch, as well as its opposite unsolidarisch, to describe different behaviors. 


Seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Since the Second World War

gab es keine Herausforderung an unser Land mehr,

there has been no challenge to our country

bei der es so sehr auf unser gemeinsames solidarisches Handeln ankommt.

that has depended so much on us acting together in solidarity.

Captions 26-28, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 1

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Hamstern, als werde es nie wieder etwas geben,

Hoarding as if nothing will ever again be available

ist sinnlos und letztlich vollkommen unsolidarisch.

is senseless and ultimately completely lacking in solidarity.

Captions 62-63, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 2

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Note the use of the word das Hamstern above. This is a nominalization of the verb hamstern, which relates to the food collection method of a certain animal and is slang for horten / "to hoard." The noun der Hamsterkauf is related to der Einkauf, but rather than "the shopping trip" it is more like the English expression "panic buying."


When talking about social distancing or keeping a distance from people you encounter when you have to leave your house, the term in German is Abstand halten. Chancellor Merkel says that even though it is difficult, this is one of our greatest weapons against the spread of the virus.


Im Moment ist nur Abstand Ausdruck von Fürsorge.

At the moment, distance is the only way to express care.

Caption 42, Coronavirus - Fernsehansprache von Angela Merkel - Part 3

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Further Learning
Watch the Chancellor's speech on Yabla German and listen for these key words and phrases. If you would like to work on your listening comprehension by means of a daily news briefing, try listening to Deutsche Welle's Langsam gesprochene Nachrichtenwhich is made especially for German learners. If you would like to learn about how the situation is unfolding in Germany, you may find Der Spiegel to be a good resource for articles in English as well as German.