Merkmal, Eigenschaft and Charakter all seem to mean character.

I’ve seen Eigenschaft most often used in relation to science, for example perhaps in describing different types of stone, minerals and in the behaviour of animals. For example, if one were to say “the hippos exhibit aggressive territorial behaviours”, I would imagine Eigenschaft could be used in German, or maybe an even better example would be when one describes the properties of water and it’s behaviour according to different elemental states.

Charakter must be the closest of the three words in relation to the English character in the context of describing a person’s nature or behaviour. But that is just my assumption based on the similarity in spelling between the two words. For example: “His character is strong but he shows his softer side when he works with animals”.
A subquestion: Can Charakter also be used to describe animals?

Where would then Merkmal fit?


2 Answers 2


There is certainly some overlap, but let me try. Charakter first: It can mean character, or personality. Basically it refers to how a person (or animal) is, what defines them, their nature. It's more than one trait, it refers to the whole blend, as it were.

Eigenschaft, on the other hand, refers to a certain quality or attribute. Take a substance or chemical agent: is it noxious, combustible, rare? Merkmal is a telltale sign, a characteristic trait, an attribute, a way to define something.

As I've said, there is certainly some overlap, especially with the last two.

  • Is there an example for the usage of "Merkmal"?
    – user5105
    Oct 14, 2014 at 6:54
  • 2
    Ein Merkmal ist allgemein eine erkennbare Eigenschaft an der man etwas erkennt, durch die es sich von Ähnlichem unterscheidet. Die langgestreckte Rückenflosse ist ein Merkmal des Karpfens. Zwei Dinge sind Merkmale der Dummheit: "Schweigen, wenn man reden soll, und reden, wenn man schweigen soll." (Iranisches Sprichwort)
    – Ingmar
    Oct 14, 2014 at 6:56

They indeed overlap in meaning and are often used synonymously. It's hardly possible to point out the differences. This is my try:

Your personality. All your inborn qualities and features. Also any of your characteristic idiosyncrasies.

A particular quality or feature of you. Eigen means belonging to oneself.

A characteristic, a typical feature. A distinguishing mark.

An aspect of a person's Charakter. Compound of Charakter and Eigenschaft.


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