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I want to say

People shouldn't be pessimistic.

in German.

First thought that came to my mind was:

*Die Leute soll(t)en nicht pessimistisch sein.

But then I came up with "Der Mensch" or "man". which one is correct? is there any rules about when to use which one?

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3  
"sollten" is better than "sollen" in this case. "sollen" sounds more demanding than wishing. –  ladybug Jun 27 '11 at 11:34
    
@ladybug: What's wrong with demanding in this case? –  user508 Jun 27 '11 at 11:43
2  
It's a kind of demanding that sounds pretty royal, like some nasty fairy tale king demanding his court to entertain him. ;) As you cannot force people to be optimistic, you can only suggest that it would be better. I would guess it's like saying "people must not be pessimistic" instead of "shouldn't be" in English. –  ladybug Jun 27 '11 at 11:56
5  
Perhaps you can compare it like this: "sollen nicht" sounds more like "shall not be"; "sollten nicht" sounds like "should not be". –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 27 '11 at 12:00
3  
Then you'll put an annoyed undertone in it. ;) I give you an example where "sollen" will work. For example, the head of security at a public event might tell his team: "Sagt den Leuten, sie sollen da weg gehen". It is an order, and if people argue they will be banned from the event. However, no matter how annoyed you are, you will never be able to punish people for being pessimistic. (Unless you're some crazy ruler.) Using "sollen" you indicate you could. This doesn't make sense, so depending on your tone, it will sound either childish or just foreign and strange. :) –  ladybug Jun 27 '11 at 12:19
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think

Die Leute sollen nicht pessimistisch sein.

is correct and a good translation in most cases. You could also use the indefinite pronoun man in this case:

Man soll nicht pessimistisch sein.

The difference between "die Leute" and "man" is just a nuance. The first one sounds more a statement related to a specific topic or time, the second one is more of a general assertion. Also, "die Leute" means "the society" or "the public."

Example:

Die Wirtschaft beginnt wieder zu wachsen. Die Leute sollen nicht pessimistisch sein.

vs.

Mein Vater hat immer wieder gesagt, man soll nicht pessimistisch sein.


"Der Mensch" sounds a little old-fashioned as if it was taken from a book of sayings:

Der Mensch soll nicht pessimistisch sein.

However, using "die Menschen" is acceptable in this case:

Die Menschen sollen nicht pessimistisch sein.

It has the same connotation as "Man soll..."

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1  
I actually would make a difference between "Die Menschen" and "Die Leute". "Die Leute" makes me think of a specific (e.g. the German) society. "Die Leute" is also connected to a certain degree with "the public". "Die Menschen" is more general and has more a taste of "the mankind". The difference to "man" is imho that "man" includes yourself: "Man sollte nicht so pessimistisch sein" can also mean "Wir sollten nicht so pessimistisch sein". –  ladybug Jun 27 '11 at 11:38
    
@ladybug yes, that's what I'm trying to say. I'll re-edit the answer. –  splattne Jun 27 '11 at 11:39
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