What is the difference between dünn, schlank, mager?

In the dictionary they are defined as:

dünn: thin, slim
schlank: slim, slender
mager: skinny, lean

Which can be used for persons and which can be used for objects?
Please add examples as much as you can, with translations if possible.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question can be answered by a quick look in any dictionary.
    – user4973
    Jul 20, 2016 at 6:41
  • 1
    @what sorry if this was such a stubid question , im already a beginner in german language and i already checked the internet and wrote their meaning which i couldnt diffrentiate by myself .
    – N88
    Jul 20, 2016 at 20:07
  • 1
    The first (when applied to people) is neutral, the second is positive, the third negative. You'll learn these connotations much, much easier by encountering some constructions like this in context than by reading the dictionary. Jul 21, 2016 at 7:54
  • I disagree this can be answered by a quick look in any dictionary. I tried WordReference and DWDS and couldn't get an explanation as good as the accepted answer in here. Mar 16 at 19:41

2 Answers 2

  • dünn: anything that has a small diameter, i.e. is thin; antonym: dick; if in doubt use this word
  • schlank: mostly restricted to slim humans and other slender living beings, and parts thereof like Bein ‘leg’ and Zweig ‘twig’, sounds healthier than dünn (Schlankheitskur ‘slimming cure’, seemingly related to Schlange ‘snake, queue’ ); antonym: füllig; if used with Form or Linie it can be used to describe inanimate things as well, e.g. cars, and also some other abstract uses in fixed expressions like schlanker Staat ‘small government’
  • mager (cf. abgemagert): for skinny lifeforms, thinner than schlank (Magersucht ≈ ‘anorexia’), less healthy than dünn; antonym: fett
    if applied to Fleisch ‘meat’ it means ‘fatless, lean’;
    can be used with Weide / Wiese ‘meadow’ if there’s only little or short or yellowish grass
  • schmal: used for thin tall openings like a door or alley, but also with Taille ‘waist’, Hüften ‘hips’ and Gesicht ‘face’; antonym: breit
  • schmächtig: thin and weak or sickly people (schmachten ‘to long for, desire something; suffer’); antonym: kräftig
  • dürr: very thin, possibly signs of malnutrition (Dürre ‘draught’), usage otherwise similar to schlank, and dürres Haar means ‘not much hair (left)’; antonym: feist
  • hager: similar to schmächtig, but may suggest a temporary state; antonym: propper

All antonyms are of course quite approximate and there are lots of conventional pairs of adjective and noun and others that would be considered unidiomatic.

  • 3
    Das Antonym zu dünn ist laut Obelix höchstens ein bißchen untersetzt
    – tofro
    Jul 20, 2016 at 22:03
  • Schütteres Haar und sprödes Haar kenn ich, aber dürres Haar? Aug 3, 2016 at 16:14

All three of the words you’re asking about can be used for people, but the implications are different.

Dünn is a rather neutral word (as Crissov pointed out, it is the opposite of dick). It can easily be used for objects as well. It can also be used for liquids such as soup and then means low viscosity or for thoughts and then means weak (and for more meanings).

Ich brauche eine dünne Unterlegscheibe, mit der dicken, die ich habe, kriege ich die Schraube nicht zu.

Models sind üblicherweise recht dünn. (No implication as to whether they are thin in a good or bad way.)

Meine Suppe ist einfach zu dünn, ich muss sie noch eindicken.

Schlank has a positive connotation. It can be used for objects, but mostly for aesthetically pleasing ones. If you say that someone is schlank, they are thin in a good-looking way.

In meiner Klasse ist ein schlankes Mädchen, die richtig gut aussieht.

Die Skulptur ist schlank genug, dass man nicht dagegenstößt.

Mager has a negative connotation. When used on people, there is a slight implication of anorexia (called Magersucht in German). You’re basically implying that someone is too thin for their looks. This carries over to when using mager for objects: The implication is always too thin.

Gott, die sieht mager aus, sie sollte mehr essen!

Deine Zimmerpflanze ist aber mager, gießt du sie auch regelmäßig?

  • 1
    Mager in Magerquark wird von den Konsumenten, die ihn kaufen, als positive Eigenschaft aufgefasst, und es ist die Haupt-, keine Nebeneigenschaft. Jetzt mache ich mir aber einen schlanken Fuß und überlasse die Bewertung desselben anderen. Aug 3, 2016 at 16:19
  • @userunknown Hm, interessante Feststellung. Bei »Magermilch« würde ich dir schon widersprechen wollen, die klingt für mich nach »weißes Wasser, das nur entfernt etwas mich ›Milch‹ zu tun hat.« Beim Quark weiß ich selbst nicht so genau. Ich lass das mal auch einfach so stehen ;)
    – Jan
    Aug 16, 2016 at 13:45

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