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Is one able to further distinguish people who killed a human? In English we have the word "killer" to just say that someone killed a human being. This would literally translate into "Töter", wouldn't it? However, as far as I know, this isn't really a commonly used word.

Do I have to stick to "Mörder" (murderer)? The problem is that this means (at least to non-native speakers), that this person was found guilty for murdering. But what about soldiers etc.?

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Attentäter for the person performing an assasination, Henker for an executioner. But I'm just drawing blanks for the soldier. I've never even heard Töter. – Chieron Feb 15 at 8:22
@Chieron: Also there's Bärentöter for strong rifles. Learned that from Karl May. – hiergiltdiestfu Feb 15 at 8:39
German doesn't have a wide selection of actor nouns for killing. It does have a wide variety of nouns for the act of killing: Mord, Totschlag, fahrlässige Tötung, unterlassene Hilfeleistung mit Todesfolge etc. You might be able to make use of those somehow. – Kilian Foth Feb 15 at 9:08
Regarding your last sentence:örder – Carsten S Feb 15 at 10:46
@OddDev in that context there is “Totschläger” for someone who unlawfully kills someone but is not a murderer. Still not what you are looking for, I know. – Carsten S Feb 15 at 10:57
up vote 15 down vote accepted

There are several juridical nouns for different kinds of homicides. @KilianForth mentioned the most important ones in a comment already: Mord ‘murder’, Totschlag ‘man-slaughter’, fahrlässige Tötung ‘involuntary homicide’, Körperverletzung / Gewaltanwendung / unterlassene Hilfeleistung mit Todesfolge. There are also several (related) verbs: ermorden, töten, erschlagen and more specific ones.

Although it would be possible to derive actor nouns from these, e.g. Töter, most are not conventionalized. I think Totschläger in particular used to be more common, but the word is more likely being used to refer to a certain kind of club nowadays. Note that Totschlag does not require beating or hitting, but erschlagen usually does. Totmacher, like tot machen ‘make dead’, is only found in child-like speak.

In legal contexts, Mörder is restricted to intentional killings and some further conditions, otherwise it’s used frequently and without much discrimination. The anglicism Killer (and the verb killen) tends to be limited to the more ruthless cases, as in Auftragskiller ‘hitman’.

There is a number of special nouns by frequency, method or target of killing, but most are just compounds of Mörder: Mehrfach- / Massen- / Serien- / Kinder- / Frauen- / Sex(ual)- / Ritual- / Raub- / Axt- / Giftmörder, but also Würger ‘strangler’ (and erwürgen), Todesschütze ‘shooter’, Attentäter ‘assassin, terrorist’, Messerstecher ‘stabber’.

A killer who hasn’t been convicted yet is usually called mutmaßlicher Mörder or vermutlicher Mörder or, if one wanted to express some doubt about the verdict, angeblicher Mörder. These adjectives can, of course, also be applied to the more generic Täter, which requires contextual information about the crime in question. You may want to note that several verbs relevant in this context require the object Mord (or Totschlag etc.) to be in genitive case, which is rather unusual, e.g. jemanden des Mordes beschuldigen / verdächtigen and jemanden wegen Mordes anklagen.

There have actually been court cases to determine whether the Tucholsky quote “Soldaten sind Mörder” was a defamation of soldiers. Better avoid. “Soldaten töten” would be much less controversial.

There are few other “jobs” that involve killing of humans. Executioners are properly called Henker or Scharfrichter, but if there still was capital punishment in German speaking countries I guess there would be a more complex, harmless sounding, bureaucratic designation like “ausführender Justizvollzugsbeamter”. Suizidhelfer would be used for assisted suicide, whereas any compounds of Selbstmord are avoided for the most part. The (yellow) press features a whole bunch of (mostly awful) metaphors, e.g. Todesengel or Todesfee ‘angel / fairy of death’ for ICU nurses pulling the plug or overdosing their patients.

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What about people who killed someone in a justified self-defense? I doubt "Mörder" would be the best term in that case. "Täter" would also not be the best, as they are not the criminal in the case. – vsz Feb 16 at 7:17
@vsz Why should there be a special noun for that? Is there one in English or any other language? A proper designation depends on context and intention, could be der/die Angegriffene or das Opfer in German. – Crissov Feb 16 at 11:18
Yes it is. In English there is a significant difference between "killer" and "murderer". – vsz Feb 16 at 15:16
@vsz In English, a murderer is a killer, but not vice versa, as far as I know. I’ve never heard of a dedicated word for someone killing someone else in an act of self-defence. – Crissov Feb 16 at 21:59
Such dedicated word might indeed not exist, but "killer" is by far more appropiate in that context than "murderer". – vsz Feb 17 at 5:05

There is no neutral noun corresponding to killer. In order to convey the same meaning, you’ll need to rephrase the sentence so that you can use a verb instead:

I am no killer!
Ich bringe doch niemanden um!

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