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Man or Mann- What is the Difference in German?

Updated: Jan 5

One letter can make a huge difference. You don't believe me? Well, then let's talk about the difference between "man" and "Mann". In this blog post, I explain the difference and show how both are used.

The impersonal pronoun "man" is used in generalisations and is equivalent to the old English "one" (as in people in general, without any posh connotations) and the French "on". In fact, it exists in many other European languages, except in modern English where "you" is used for both one person and for generalisations. Hence the confusion for many English native speakers. Here are some examples of when we would use "man" as opposed to any of the personal pronouns in German, such as "ich", "du" etc.

Man sollte beim Essen den Mund geschlossen halten.

(One should keep one's mouth closed while eating)

Wenn man einen Termin hat, sollte man pünktlich sein

(If one has an appointment, one should be on time)

Darf man hier rauchen?

(Is one allowed to smoke here?)

In all three examples, general statements are made that do not refer to any one person but to people in general. That is the proper use of "man". What is perhaps confusing is that the conjugation of the pronoun "man" is like "er, sie, es" (so the third person singular rather than, as you might expect from its meaning, the third person plural). One other thing worth bearing in mind is that, like any of the personal pronouns, "man" is always the subject of your sentence as it represents the Nominative case. If you want to one the pronoun in any other case, you have to decline it using the indefinite articles. So

NOM man

AKK einen

DAT einem

GEN eines

So much for "man". Let's now turn to "Mann". The latter is the German word for a "man". As a noun, it normally takes an article, so "ein Mann" or "der Man" in the Nominative case. Put differently, when you see "Mann" capitalised, like any other German noun, and written with two n, it only refers to a man and it cannot be used to make general claims.

Der Mann wählt ein Sandwich aus, die Frau nimmt einen Smoothie

(The man chooses a sandwich, the woman takes a smoothie).

In short, while their spelling might be very similar, their meaning and use of "man" and "Mann" are completely different.



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