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Is there a difference between 'Gegenstand', 'Sache', 'Ding', and 'Dinge'? covers 3 of the 5 words I've translated as 'thing'. Based on it and a few sources, these are my guidelines for choosing between these words:

  • Gegenstand - Tangible object, formal. Used manuals, debates, formal writing and speech, etc.

  • Sache - Intangible object (e.g. idea, memory, argument)

  • Ding - Tangible object, informal. Most common word for 'tangible object' in everyday conversation. Used like English 'thing'. (According to wiktionary - 'Ding' and the English 'thing' share an origin)

  • Objekt - Tangible object, more formal than Ding, but the two are interchangeable. In everyday conversation, this is less common than Ding. Choice between these two is exact same as choice in English - thing or object.

  • Zeug - Tangible object, informal. Interchangeable with Ding and Objekt. In everyday conversation, this is more common than Objekt, though less than Ding. Of the 'thing' words, Zeug is preferred for compounds (e.g. Flugzeug, Schlagzeug, Bettzeug).


Is my understanding correct? Also, are there any other common words to refer to 'things'?

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3  
Sache can also mean a tangible object, there is even a legal definition (§ 90 BGB, see gesetze-im-internet.de/bgb/__90.html) for that. Elsewhere it is mostly used in the plural form (Sachen). –  lejonet Oct 18 '13 at 23:19

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For the general usage, you have captured Gegenstand, Ding and Objekt quite good. Sache can also be very tangible:

Was machen all die Sachen hier? = What's all this stuff doing here?

Was macht all das Zeug hier?

Was machen all die Dinge hier?

(Gegenstand and Objekt wouldn't be used in that sentence.)

Zeug is uncountable plural. As such, it always refers to a set of things of unknown or unimportant amount. Nowadays, Zeug isn't used any more to create compound words, although the existing compounds you mention are commonly used.

Be careful, when using these words with their nongeneral meanings.

  • Gegenstand der Unterhaltung = issue of the talk -> intangible
  • Deutsch ist nicht mein Ding.= I'm not into German. -> intangible
  • Objekt as English object can refer to very intangible things in sciences and other subjects

Other words with the meaning of thing:

  • Dings, Dingens, Dingsbums and other derivatives of Ding: usually used for things, which names the talker can't remember at the moment
  • Kram, Krams = Zeug
  • Tand, Tinnef = impractical things
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I wouldn't say that Zeug is always derogatory. I often say "Ich hol' noch schnell mein Zeug." Also, I'm not sure if Das Ding ist ... is such a good example. Never heard someone say that. What about Das ist ja'n Ding! ? Maybe you should also add that while compound words like Schlagzeug aren't created anymore, the existing ones are still very common. –  dervonnebenaan Oct 20 '13 at 12:11
    
Thank you, I have changed my answer. –  Toscho Oct 20 '13 at 14:27
1  
By the way, Zeughaus is an antiquated word for armory. –  divby0 Oct 20 '13 at 15:55
    
As far as I know, Deutsch ist nicht mein Ding can actually be translated as German is not my thing. At least I have read that term on several occasions on english-speaking websites (american english) and there is also a forum thread on leo.org suggesting the same. –  dervonnebenaan Oct 21 '13 at 14:58
    
@dervonnebenaan Ah, ok. Didn't know about that. –  Toscho Oct 22 '13 at 14:54

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