Take the 2-minute tour ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In English, I can take just about any verb (for example to crush), and form a noun which means "one who [does that verb]" by adding -er (for example, crusher).

Is there a similar formulaic alteration (or set of possible alterations) in German? For example, can I take the verb zerschlagen, and easily change it into a noun meaning "someone who crushes"?

It seems to me that if there is a way to do this in German, there must be a more complicated rule, or more than one depending on the verb. For instance, paint and painter translate to malen and Maler/Malerin, but according to Google Translate sing and singer translate to singen and Sänger.

I am not even sure what to call this -er verb-to-noun construction in English. All my attempts to search on the topic of changing nouns to verbs just bring up information on gerunds, which is definitely not applicable here. (The gerund form of a verb would mean "the act of [doing the verb]", which is definitely not what I am looking for.)

share|improve this question
    
Skip the googling and just use a dictionary. Here you go: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-er. It will immediately tell you both the term you can then search for (agent noun suffix) and that the exact same suffix is used in German (little wonder, both English and German being Germanic languages). The only difference being that German still uses umlauts and the infinitive ending -en, both of which English no longer does. So rather than tacking on the -er, you replace the -en with it, and umlaut the root where appropriate. Thus, zerschlagen → Zerschläger. –  RegDwight Aug 30 at 17:25
    
And that is all you need to know. The answer below is needlessly complicated, beating around the bush and raising two new questions for every question it tries to address. –  RegDwight Aug 30 at 17:33
    
@RegDwight The answer is "complicated" because OP's question wasn't "How can I create a random noun with the stem of a verb?". –  Grantwalzer Aug 31 at 22:53
    
@RegDwight If you have any knowledge on when umlauts are "appropriate", I invite you to improve both this site and the answer below. –  Grantwalzer Aug 31 at 22:58
    
@Grantwalzer "appropriate" is obviously weasel wording, and it's weasel wording for a reason. There is no rule that can cover all cases. It is random. You cannot explain away why it's Sänger but not Spränger. It is completely impossible. Existing words you just have to learn by heart. And new words are coined by analogy with existing words. If you can find no analogy, then it's a free for all. I would very much like to improve the answer below, but that would involve deleting nine tenths of it, and I imagine that wouldn't sit well with you. –  RegDwight Aug 31 at 23:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You are talking about agent nouns.

VERB STEM+er does that for many German verbs, technically. But it does not always make sense or sound natural:

läuten → Läuter?
regnen → Regner?
zerschlagen → Zerschläger? or Zerschlager? (some people will refuse the second version because "Schlager" already exists as word for "popular song")

Sometimes, it describes (predominantly) something for doing something:

bohren → Bohrer (drill)
schlagen → Schläger (bat, racket, stick)
mixen → Mixer (kitchen mixer, less frequently used in context with beverages or music)

Furthermore, the transformation does not always describe someone who VERBs:

schauen → Schauer (to look and shower)
füllen → Füller (to fill and filler/pen)
bauen → Bauer (to build and peasant)
lenken → Lenker (to steer or drive and handlebar; "Lenker" actually does have "driver" as second meaning, but mainly in Austria and Switzerland)


Here are some guidelines the community has come up with so far:

General

  • Despite the two counterexamples above, the verb to be transformed should actually describe some acting.
    bleiben, meinen → Bleiber?, Meiner?

  • If the verb ends on -eln the Suffix is -ler.
    sammeln, basteln, wickeln → Sammler, Bastler, Wickler

  • Pay attention on verbs ending on '-rn'. Their stem is everything but the 'n'. zaubern → Zauberer

  • For a female agens, -in is appended.
    Bastler, Mörder, Werfer → Bastlerin, Mörderin, Werferin

Umlauts

  • A in the stem often becomes ä if the verb has strong inflection.
    tragen, backen, verraten → Träger, Bäcker, Verräter
    but: beraten → Berater (even though beraten is conjugated the same way as verraten)
    On the other hand, sometimes also weak verbs change a to ä.
    jagen → Jäger

  • In its present form, this "rule" cannot be applied to au.
    tauchen (weak), rauben (weak) → Taucher, Räuber
    Although Räuber could be an exception like Sänger.

  • One example for o becoming ö was found, yet its inflection is weak.
    morden → Mörder

  • U seems not to change, even with strong verbs: rufen → Rufer

Exceptions

Note that singer was normal German, too (and Meistersinger is still known to contemporary speakers thanks to the popular opera by Wagner). It was replaced by Sänger. So singen does not actually become Sänger, it's just that the two words are so old, they've undergone different developements.


Another similar but not equal possibility is to use the first participle of the verb as a noun:

zerschlagen → der Zerschlagende

Although you dismissed this possibility, I think there are some cases where it works as you want it to:

der Wissende (one who knows)
der Suchende (one who searches)

share|improve this answer
1  
a becoming ä is only true for verbs with strong inflection: Bäcker, Träger, Schläger ... If the verb is weak, however, the a does not change: Raser, Maler, Mahner, Bastler, etc. –  Ingmar Aug 30 at 5:22
    
Also, au does not always become äu: Taucher, Brauer, Erbauer, Hauer. And I think it's worth mentioning that nouns constructed this way may also describe tools or other things involved in the action: Bohrer, Schaber, Schläger, Sucher (in a camera). And sometimes they can even have a different meaning that is more or less unrelated: Bürger (in contrast to Bürge!), Bauer, Füller, Schauer. –  Matthias Aug 30 at 7:32
1  
There is also (at least) one transformation from o to ö: morden → Mörder. –  Matthias Aug 30 at 7:40
    
@Ingmar No rule without exceptions: jagen has weak inflection, yet the noun is Jäger. On the other hand beraten has strong inflection, but the noun is Berater. And verraten is conjugated the same way, but here Verräter follows the rule. –  Matthias Aug 30 at 17:57
    
@Matthias I've made the post community wiki, so if you're up for it, you can edit in your (great) findigs. –  Grantwalzer Aug 30 at 18:01

In theory you can put the ending -er to any verb, but this ending has a special meaning. If you derive a agent noun X-er from a verb X, a X-er is not just someone or something that is doing X, but whose innate character is doing x. For example, Lehrer (from lehren - to teach) is not just someone who is teaching, but someone whose profession is teaching. Bohrer is not just a thing that drills, but a thing whose sole purpose is to drill. So the ending -er is often used for professions (if persons) and tools (if things). Lehrer refers only to a person whose profession is teaching, Schläger refers to a person who regulary beats others up, Mixer is something designed to mix. It has no other intendet function. Examples like Mörder - murderer might look like they contradict this, cause a murderer might only murder for once, but he will always be a murderer, so in this case -er is nevertheless correct. Zerschläger does not exist in german, cause there is no such thing like a Zerschläger, but if you invent something with the appropriate function, you could call it Zerschläger. Though there is the similar word Zerstörer wich denotes a special type of warships and someone or something that destroys (just like the word destroyer).

share|improve this answer
    
That's rubbish. There agent nouns do not have any such aspect included. The examples you mention are nouns homonymous to agent nouns - 'Zerstörer' can be an agent noun for anybody that destroys or has destroyed once, but there is a class of warships with the same name. The semantics are generally no different from English, e.g., perpretator. –  shuhalo Aug 31 at 21:27
    
@shuhalo I think the problem here is your assumption, that Xer describes someone who is doing something. –  Grantwalzer Aug 31 at 23:05

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.