This first sentence is for context and precedes the main sentence, the main sentence is the one that confuses me.

Die Generalität ist ein Geschmeiß des deutschen Volkes!
Sie ist ohne Ehre!

What is happening here grammatically? Why is sie ist used here instead of sie sind?

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    The Sie is referring to [Die] Generalität which is singular. – Œlrim Feb 27 '15 at 20:57
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    This is apparently a quote from a Hitler dialogue in the film "Der Untergang" (The Downfall), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, starring Bruno Ganz. I think you should declare such a source in order to keep things straight. – Martin Schwehla Feb 27 '15 at 22:11
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    @MartinSchwehla Luckily, the quote can be understood without context, but I can agree that it is a nice context to have. – Jan Nov 11 '15 at 13:05

Because it must be feminine singular.

Check the first sentence:

Die Generalität ist ein Geschmeiß des deutschen Volkes!

Subject here is “die Generalität”, it’s feminine singular.

Now on to sentence two:

Sie ist ohne Ehre!

As “sie ist” is feminine singular, too, it must refer to “die Generalität” from the preceding sentence.

If you would refer to “das deutsche Volk”, you’d have to go with neuter singular, which would be “es ist”, so obviously no match here.

If it were “sie sind” you’d need something in plural, which can’t be found in the preceding sentence.

  • Thank you so much for clarifying that! It truly makes a lot of sense. The only thing I'm wondering now is why "die Generalität" over "der General" I looked them up in a dictionary and "die Generalität" just said "generals" so it's a singular word that works as a plural? At least as I understand it. – Autumn Feb 27 '15 at 21:36
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    No. It's an entity (hence singular) that is made up from multiple individuals. Like a herd of sheep or a cluster of daffodills - herd and cluster being singular. – Stephie Feb 27 '15 at 21:39
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    Thanks for the compliment, but I am afraid you might have gotten me wrong. Like a herd (singular) is made up from many cows/sheep/goats (plural), "die Generalität" (singular) consists of many or, to be precise all "Generäle" (plural) of a country. Obviously here the root of the words is the same, other than with herd-cows, but still Generalität and Generäle are two different words. – Stephie Feb 27 '15 at 22:10
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    Actually, I just found out it is something called a "Collective Noun" and German has quite a few. Thanks for everything! – Autumn Feb 27 '15 at 23:18
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    Note that this rule is very different in German than in English. "The police are looking for a one-armed man" (plural verb) translates unambiguously into "Die Polizei sucht einen Einarmigen" (singular verb). German simply doesn't have the "semantic plural", the verb rigidly agrees with the morphological features of the subject. – Kilian Foth Mar 2 '15 at 8:51

The collective noun would be translated as "the entirety of generals" in the same vein as words like aristocracy, citizenry or clergy. Then he goes on to say that the generals, as individuals, only call themselves that because they were at military academies.

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