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In a downloaded set of vocabulary flashcards, I found "Unterrichtsbuch" given as the translation for "textbook". Online English-German dictionaries seem to prefer "Lehrbuch" for this, and in fact "Unterrichtsbuch" seems very uncommon: the only reference work I've found it in is the old Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm dictionary. However, I do find it in online texts and corpora, for example in this 2015 Spiegel article.

Is there any difference in meaning between these two terms, or can I regard "Unterrichtsbuch" as an exact but uncommon synonym for "Lehrbuch"?

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There might be a difference in meaning, since "Unterrichtsbuch" seems to be designated for actual classes in a school and "Lehrbuch" seems to be a more generic word. E.g. a "Lehrbuch" could be a book, meant to support a teacher, or it could be a book, in which you could study on your own, outside of any school environment.

Still, in the end, for me (native speaker) there is no real difference. Usually the context dictates, what kind of book you are looking at.

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    I second @BenSower on his answer, but as a South German native, I can't recall anyone ever calling it a "Unterrichtsbuch". When school books were concerned, we usually just called them "Schulbücher" (lit. school books). So there might be regional differences, too. – S22h Jan 25 '16 at 11:17
  • Im Rheinland war es auch Schulbuch. – Robert Jan 26 '16 at 17:08
  • I'd only use "Lehrbuch" in the phrase "wie aus dem Lehrbuch", i.e., "exactly as described in the book", to indicate something was done just how it's supposed to be done. – Robert Jan 26 '16 at 17:10
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"Unterrichtsbuch" is not in popular use, but it can always be created as a compound word of course. There are no limits to compound words in german, literally. You can consider it an exact synonym, yes.

The most common word is probably "Schulbuch" but "Lehrbuch" is a perfectly fine, if a little bit more formal alternative.

  • Am I right in thinking that "Schulbuch" is restricted to textbooks for school (and maybe for university?), and you'd have to use "Lehrbuch" or something else for e.g. a textbook aimed at professionals? – Pont Jan 26 '16 at 19:33

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