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I have the sentence

People search the truth in science

meaning that people want science to seek the truth. I don't know why but in English you don't use any article here before "people". Is it the same in German, that is:

Menschen suchen die Wahrheit in der Wissenshaft

or should one use "die Menschen"? Is there any difference? Is there an overall usage rule?

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Note that there is also a difference between “in science” and “in der Wissenschaft”. – Often, “people” without article in English is equivalent to “man” or a passive construction in German, though not necessarily here. –  chirlu Jun 15 '13 at 16:18
So you're saying that one could write "Man sucht die Wahrheit...". I don't get what you mean for the difference between "in science" and "in der Wissenshaft", are you referring to the use of the article (der here, in the genitive) as well? –  martina Jun 15 '13 at 19:48
Pay attention, in case of singular, you can only omit the definite article if it's used as a personal name (e.g. Mutter sagt ...) or when using the imperative (e.g. Tür zu!). –  falkb Jun 17 '13 at 13:20
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Die Menschen suchen...

- A group of people OR in some cases humans in general

Example (group of people): "What they want?" - "The people (die Menschen) are looking for better jobs."

Example (humans general): "When it's could outside, then the people (die Menschen) are moving to warm places."

Menschen suchen...

- Humans in general

Example: "Humans (Menschen) are moving to warm places when it's winter."

I'd say, it's used like in english, think about when you use "the humans" and when you would use just "humans", in example, in german language, when thinking about the universe comparing humans and planets, I would always say:

THE humans on earth are fighting wars while THE humans on moon are peaceful.

If someone just asked me about good or bad things humans are doing, I will answer without article (so in general):

It's sad, that humans are fighting wars

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Thanks. Your answer is similar to Toscho's one up here, but I'd like to know, to make them really the same answer, what could be those cases when the article can stay (is useful) to identify humans in general, as you say in your first sentence. –  martina Jun 16 '13 at 14:12
@martina I've just extended my answer, hopefull it is more clearly now. It always depends on the context when you use the article. If you are not sure when to use the artice, just use it always and you are never wrong. Just sometimes it sounds better not to use the article, in case you are not talking about a (said in context before) group of humans. –  user2238 Jun 16 '13 at 15:28
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There is a difference between definite and indefinite (in this case null) article:

Die Menschen suchen … = Humankind in general / all humans do so.

Menschen suchen …= Humankind in general / some humans do so.

I guess that in this sentence humankind in general is meant. Therefore, both translations are possible.

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At least to me there is a difference. If you use the definite article, you feel the objects are more of a collective (group) where each member has something important in common with the other members of the group, perhaps acting together as a whole. If you use the indefinite article, the common traits are not that relevant to you and you feel about the objects as individuals.

So, if we have the sentences on their own without any context, they mean the following:

Menschen suchen die Wahrheit in der Wissenschaft.

This implies: each one does it mostly by himself/herself. It's more of a lone struggle for everybody. There is not much emphasis on collaboration.

Die Menschen suchen die Wahrheit in der Wissenschaft.

Probably, there is a lot of collaboration to achieve this goal.

Compare also:

Wölfe streifen im Wald umher.

Probably each one on its own. No emphasis on group behavior.

Die Wölfe streifen im Wald umher.

Probably forming a pack, collaborating on finding a victim.

Bäume stehen an der Straße.

Probably forming a tree-lined road. They have nothing special in common, other than their location along the road.

Die Bäume stehen an der Straße.

Probably forming a small forest. Or if not, perhaps a group of trees is being talked about each of which has to be cut.

Lehrer sind blöd.

Means if the speaker imagines a (single) teacher, he/she considers him stupid.

Die Lehrer sind blöd.

The teachers that the speaker cares about have something in common: probably they're all at the same school. And not each one of them has to be stupid (for this sentence to be true to the speaker) but they as a collective have to be stupid. He/she simply does not see them as individuals.

Kekse schmecken lecker.

Means if the speaker sees a (single) cookie, he/she considers it tasty.

Die Kekse schmecken lecker.

Probably only the cookies in a certain box or in a certain serving.

Person A: "Wo sind die Bonbons?" - Person B: "Da sind Bonbons." / "Da sind welche."

This answer implies that B is unsure if he/she has found the ones A was looking for.

Person A: "Wo sind die Bonbons?" - Person B: "Da sind die Bonbons." / "Da sind sie."

B thinks they are the ones that A was looking for.

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