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Kaputt according to Duden:

entzwei; defekt; nicht mehr funktionierend

Which of these items are "kaputt" in this sense?

  • a glass jar broken in half
  • a glass jar with a crack that leaks water but not flour
  • a glass jar with a scratch
  • a glass jar with the lid missing
  • a book, partly burnt but readable
  • a book with some pages ripped-out
  • a book with a folded page
  • a computer that doesn't respond to anything
  • a computer without an OS
  • a keyboard with a stuck key
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4 Answers 4

You would call something "kaputt" if it can no longer serve its main purpose because of wear or external damage, and if it is more economical to replace that item (or have it repaired by someone) instead of repairing it by yourself.

  • a glass jar broken in half

Definitely kaputt, it no longer serves any purpose and must be replaced/disposed.

  • a glass jar with a crack that leaks water but not flour

Most probably kaputt, because if the crack is already so severe that it leaks water, it could very easily break altogether in the near future.

  • a glass jar with a scratch

"Damaged" or simply "scratched" would be more appropriate, unless the scratch makes the glass unusable, such as with decorative items, or if it poses a health risk (scratch on the rim or handle of a cup).

  • a glass jar with the lid missing

A missing lid can of course be reason for replacement, but neither the glass nor the lid is kaputt.

  • a book, partly burnt but readable
  • a book with some pages ripped-out
  • a book with a folded page

Those are various states of being damaged. "Kaputt" would mean that the book is completely unusable, such as when its back is broken with all the pages loose, or complete destruction by fire or water.

  • a computer that doesn't respond to anything

If it can be "repaired" by a reboot, definitely not kaputt. If the damage is permanent, such as in a hardware failure, then it's kaputt. Of course, that also depends on how tech-savvy the user is. A complete novice can perceive a computer to be kaputt, whereas a more experienced user with the right tools might not.

  • a computer that without an OS

Not kaputt, because all it needs is a new OS.

  • a keyboard with a stuck key

Only if it's a somewhat important key, or if it can't be easily repaired. If it has to be replaced, it's kaputt.

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11  
"Kaputt" definitely has also the meaning that sth. may be repairable: "Mein Computer ist schon wieder kaputt, kannst Du ihn mir reparieren?", "Meine Brille ist kaputt, ich möchte sie zur Reparatur hier abgeben." –  Takkat Aug 21 '11 at 12:18
1  
@Tim N yes, 'zerkratzt' or 'verkratzt' are practically identical, with 'zerkratzt' perhaps being a bit stronger. –  Hackworth Aug 21 '11 at 13:09
5  
As an engineer, kaputt isn't a term I would use for a technical item, but rather call it defekt (not working properly) or zerstört (destroyed). –  0x6d64 Aug 21 '11 at 14:42
3  
I actually would say, that "kaputt" implies that the item theoretically (!) can be repaired: breakable objects that can be put back together (ein Glas, eine Vase, eine Porzellanpuppe) or something that can be repaired by replacing the broken part (ein Fenster, ein Stuhl(-bein)) or a technical item (ein Computer, eine Kaffeemaschine, ein Auto) or a fabric that can be sewn (eine Hose, eine Bluse). A book, for example, can't be repaired if it is destroyed, so "ein kaputtes Buch" sounds more like a "crazy book" too me. ^^ –  ladybug Aug 22 '11 at 10:52
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Also, my gut tells me that "kaputt" is a bit colloquial. I have rarely heard it in a professional environment, while for example talking a bout a michine that is broken down. In those cases I would go for "defekt", as 0x6d64 mentioned. –  Katharina Nickel Aug 22 '11 at 13:21

kaputt:

  • a glass jar broken in half
  • a glass jar with a crack that leaks water but not flour
  • a book, partly burnt but readable
  • a book with some pages ripped-out
  • a computer that doesn't respond to anything
  • a keyboard with a stuck key

Not kaputt:

  • a glass jar with a scratch
  • a glass jar with the lid missing
  • a book with a folded page
  • a computer without an OS

The book, partly burnt but readable is a border case, and it is always influenced by the context. If you don't mind at all, about the burining, you wouldn't call it kaputt. If you lent the book (or a jar with a scratch) and want to give it back, you would say "I'm sorry, it is kaputt now, I have to replace it!" How important is the integrity of the thing?

Now, after answering that hard question, I feel kaputt. (Need some repair relaxing.)

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So we have to replace @user now? –  Tim Aug 21 '11 at 21:01
    
'user unknown', not 'user', and I would prefer to throw it away. –  user unknown Aug 21 '11 at 21:39
    
Also in connection with some items - such as books - kaputt is usually not (or only rarely) used. One rather describes the damage. If one says Das Buch ist kaputt there is no obvious notion of what happend to it or in what condition it is. –  user5513 Feb 24 at 16:35

Note that "kaputt" is to a certain degree in the mind of the speaker.

If you touched someone's new car, he might very well attack you physically while saying that you ruined his car ("kaputtgemacht") even if neutral observers would not even notice a scratch.

So, while it is true that damaged does not usually equal "kaputt", it will often be referred to as "kaputt" by the owner of the damaged item to emphasize the offense.

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You can also use "kaputt" to describe people:

Der Typ da sieht total kaputt aus. Der muss irgendwelche Drogen genommen haben.

The guy there looks totally messed up. He must be on drugs or something.

You can also use it to describe exhaustion:

Ich bin heute total kaputt. Ich habe letzte Nacht kaum geschlafen.

I'm totally dead today. I've barely slept last night.

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