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From Der Spiegel:

Im Herbst 1989 drücken die DDR-Bürger ihre Wut über das Regime auf zwei Wegen aus: Die einen verlassen über Ungarn oder westdeutsche Botschaften im Ostblock das Land, die anderen gehen zum Protest auf die Straße.

What does die einen refer to here?

It cannot refer to "Weg", since it's "der Weg". Does it refer to "Die einen DDR-Bürger", with meaning similar to "die eine Gruppe von DDR-Bürger"? If so, why is the use of "einen" justified?

  • The meaning is that "some left via Hungary, others went on the streets to protest", with "some" corresponding to "die einen" and "others" to "die anderen". So yes, "die einen" refers to "DDR-Bürger". "Die einen Bürger" is perfectly correct. W – painfulenglish Oct 18 '14 at 21:04
  • @painfulenglish Why is "Die einen Bürger" correct even though "Bürger" here is used as a plural? – boaten Oct 18 '14 at 21:10
  • In this example, "einen" is a so-called Indefinitpronomen, which can be either singular or plural. See deutschplus.net/pages/84 for the related "keinen", and of course de.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. – painfulenglish Oct 18 '14 at 21:21
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Die einen is the plural form of one - literally the ones. However, here it's translatable as some (as in some of the people). As far as I know, die einen is always used in conjunction with die anderen to contrast one group of people (or things) with another. Here it's contrasting one group of DDR-Bürger (those who escaped) with another (those who took part in street protests). An idiomatic translation would be:

some [of them] left via Hungary..., others took to the streets in protest.

So you were right in thinking die einen referred to a group of people. However the focus is still on the people themselves rather than the singular group, which explains the plural ending -en.

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To think of "die einen / anderen" as "die eine / andere Gruppe von DDR-Bürgern" is semantically correct.

To justify it grammatically:

Both einen and anderen are pronouns here, i.e. they appear in place of a noun, namely Bürger. Bürger is plural, hence both pronouns are used in their plural form. As a pair they are used (I'd say idiomaticly) to contrast two sets or groups of unknown size. The first sentence makes it clear which two groups are meant: depending on how citizens of the GDR protested against the government.

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