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I know that the latter is a substantivated adjective, but I can't really seem to get the difference in meaning. To me, both indicate the German language. Yes, "das Deutsche" is used "im Allgemeinen", but how is "das Deutsch" less general?

Also it looks like in certain expressions it's customary to use "das Deutsche", as in

ins Deutsche übersetzen

Would "ins Deutsch übersetzen" instead be really wrong?

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I think that they describe two different things:

  1. "das Deutsche" is the german language itself as in

    Das Deutsche hat seine Feinheiten und Tücken.

    or as you said:

    etwas ins Deutsche übersetzen

  2. "das Deutsch" is a person's knowledge of the german language.

    Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.

Thus, the expression "ins Deutsch übersetzen" would be wrong.

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Note, the first sentence can also be: "Deutsch hat seine Feinheiten und Tücken". – Em1 Oct 15 '13 at 10:58
Damn! You had me there. – dervonnebenaan Oct 15 '13 at 18:03

The answer is in the dictionary and I'll admit that I had to look it up myself.

Das Deutsch is (1) the German language as pertaining to an individual or specific groups, or (2) the German language per se, or (3) German language as a subject matter in school; das Deutsche is the German language per se, equivalent to Deutsch as per meaning (2).

Clear as mud... But there's answer to one of your questions; it follows from the definition that das Deutsch is less general then das Deutsche.

Er spricht Deutsch.

He speaks German. No 'e', because of the reference to a single person.

Dienstags habe ich Deutsch.

I have a German class on Tuesdays. This one isn't ambiguous.

Er übersetzt ins Deutsche.

He translates into German. With an 'e', because it's the language in general.

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Well, then I'm confused by "wie heißt <etwas> auf Deutsch?" Looks like it should be "auf Deutsche"...I guess it's just one of those idiomatic things that one should just learn. – karoshi Oct 14 '13 at 18:58
You got me there. Either there is an idiomatic component involved, or additional grammatical rules apply. Does anybody else know? – divby0 Oct 15 '13 at 12:50
Deutsche is always with article, hence * auf Deutsche is not possible. You can ask „Wie heißt das im Deutschen?“ – Carsten S Mar 22 '14 at 20:48

The reason, as far as I know, is that it is like this:

ins Deutsche übersetzen

is a shortening of the following

in die deutsche Sprache übersetzen

in die becomes ins and deutsche becomes a noun once you shorten deutsche Sprache.

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Das Deutsche mag die gleiche Bedeutung haben wie die deutsche Sprache, kann aber nicht einfach als Verkürzung gesehen werden, da die Geschlechter verschieden sind. – Carsten S Mar 22 '14 at 20:43

Would "ins Deutsch übersetzen" instead be really wrong?

It would.

in eine Sprache übersetzen

  • one translates into a certain language so you need Deutsch + the definite article das
  • das Deutsche: if used with a definite article you have to use the form Deutsche
  • ins is abbreviated from in das

There is no

ins Türkisch / Englisch / Deutsch / Spanisch

but only

ins Türkische / Englische / Deutsche / Spanische

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