There is a children’s story called Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt. I know that this is translated from The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

But trying to retranslate this directly, Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt becomes The little caterpillar Hungry.

  • Why is there a change in word order?
  • How does kleine mean very?
  • Why is it not Die sehr nimmersatte Raupe?
  • @Wrzlprmft I think your edit went a bit too far. We do not know from the original question whether the OP knew which title was the original one. And it renders the start of my answer invalid, what (AFAIK) an edit shouldn't normally do.
    – Matthias
    May 7 '15 at 11:03
  • @Matthias: While I admit that it is a borderline case, I disagree. The core of the question remains is not about the direction of translation. The first paragraph of your answer would ideally have been a comment on the question (not that it’s a big issue).
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 7 '15 at 11:08
  • Did Eric Carle translate it himself, by the way?
    – Crissov
    May 9 '15 at 5:59

To be precise, "Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt" doesn't translate to "The very hungry caterpillar". The English title is the original one, and the German one is a translation.

I'd say the translator allowed himself a certain degree of freedom, as it is common in literature. "Nimmersatt" is a nice word to express "very hungry" very concisely. In fact, it goes beyond "very hungry" and says "never satisfied", that is always hungry. The effect is augmented by using it as a name and not a simple adjective. As such, it has to come after "Raupe". "Die Raupe Nimmersatt", however, might sound a bit incomplete. By introducing "kleine", which has no direct equivalent in the English version, the translator could round it up and also match the rhythm of the original title.

Of course, most of this is interpretation. You'd need to ask the translator (or the publisher?) for a definite answer to "why?".

  • 2
    The "klein" may also have been inserted to emphasize it's about cute little beings, a book for children. The same is occasionally done, e.g. "The Hobbit" becomes "Der kleine Hobbit" in some versions. May 7 '15 at 11:11
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper That's true. And maybe he was happy with all reasons together. I think the same applies for giving the creature a name, which IMHO makes the title sound a bit more like a children's book.
    – Matthias
    May 7 '15 at 11:19

I assume that the title was changed for purely poetic reasons. The original English title has a regular meter (unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, ...), but the literal translation into German "Die sehr hungrige Raupe" does not. By choosing the less literal translation "Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt" (i.e, "the little caterpillar Always-Hungry"), it was possible to preserve the original meter. It just sounds nicer, that's probably the entire reason.


The trick is in the word Nimmersatt, which translates to "always hungry"; but in this case is also the name of the caterpillar.

Klein, of course, means small and is the adjective to Raupe. The German title doesn't use or need the very, because that's implicitly in the name of Nimmersatt.

Your translation "The little caterpillar Hungry" is literally correct. It could be extended to "The little caterpillar Alwaysveryhungry" to be even more close to the meaning of the German, but that is no longer really English.

  • 1
    It translates rather to "never full" as suggested by dict.cc. Otherwise, it would be "Raupe ImmerHungrig".
    – Em1
    May 7 '15 at 10:59
  • @Em1: Ok, agree, but that is probably even less understandable in English.
    – PMF
    May 7 '15 at 11:59

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