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Question

In English, we sometimes enclose in parentheses the plural of a word to indicate that the possibility exists that a subject could also be plural. An example is below:

The location(s) must be announced by noon tomorrow.

Use of this is not advised for academic writing, but for certain situations or professions (e.g., legal), it is necessary. Does German use this same convention and, if so, how does it handle words that would feature an umlaut when such a parentheses is added? For example:

Haus(er)

or

Häus(er)

Background

This question arose while attempting to translate some documents from English into Spanish. I posted the question up at Spanish StackExchange and found out that Spanish has a different way of writing it. If that interests you at all, you can view that discussion by clicking on the link below:

Does Spanish use parenthetical pluralization?

Even if Spanish doesn't interest you, I recommend clicking on the link because my question, in English, may give you a better understanding of what it is I am attempting to describe.

Whether you visit the link or not, I've recently attempted to translate some English documents into German and, early on, I stumbled upon one that used a parenthetical plural. I have searched high and low for an example of this in German, but have not been able to find any. Knowing that Spanish has a different way of expressing this altogether, I now wonder if other languages, to include German, do as well. Anyone happen to know? If your answer could also address subject-verb agreement for such uses (if it exists), even better.

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    I would probably not use it in an official document, although it certainly would be understood. Special care must be taken in cases where more than just the suffix changes (Arzt / Ärzte, e.g.) In German we have the very useful abbreviation bzw. : "... Lokalisierung bzw. Lokalisierungen ... that said, it's sometimes used for gender-inclusive nouns, like Autor(inn)en and isn't considered much of an issue there (possibly because other forms are much worse.) – Ingmar Oct 7 '16 at 6:07
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    Just did a quick search across Austrian laws (about as official you can get), and it's certainly used: Jedes Öffnen des Gehäuses, welches das Schaublatt (die Schaublätter) und die Stelleinrichtung der Uhr enthält, muss automatisch auf dem Schaublatt (den Schaublättern) registriert werden. and ... hat der (die) Versicherte vor der Weiterversicherung Beitragszeiten einer Selbstversicherung gemäß § 18a erworben, gilt ... are just two random examples. Don't worry about it. – Ingmar Oct 7 '16 at 6:16
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    Could you please give an example in your question and remove the link and all the irrelevant explanation? All this can be asked in one sentence. Do not waste people's time. – user4973 Oct 7 '16 at 7:36
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    If you are searching for cross-language comparisons of special features of languages, then I think linguistics.stackexchange.com might be a better place to ask this kind of questions. – Hubert Schölnast Oct 7 '16 at 15:22
  • @Ingmar Thank you for mentioning the very useful abbreviation of bzw. My knowledge of German is still very much at the seedling stage, so I was unfamiliar with it, but your mention of it made me curious. For all others who are not familiar with it (or even if you are), there's a good thread about it right here in this very stackexchange. The title of it is, When to use “beziehungsweise.”" – Lisa Oct 24 '16 at 17:15
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Yes, this phenomenon exists in German as well. Don't know whether rules exist for it (I suppose: no), but a short Google search brought up two examples:

Form des Verbs oder Pronomens, die an die sprechende[n], an die angesprochene[n] oder an die Person[en] (1a) oder Sache[n], über die gesprochen wird, geknüpft ist (Source: Duden)

and

Durch diese Kategorie wird festgelegt, ob eine sprachliche Äußerung

  • auf diejenige(n) Person(en), welche sich äußert,
  • auf diejenige(n) Person(en), an welche die Äußerung gerichtet ist, oder
  • auf Person(en), welche nicht unmittelbar an der Äußerung beteiligt sind,

Bezug nimmt. Source: Wikipedia

In my experience (round) parentheses can be seen much more frequently than the brackets from the Duden sample. I'd also say that subject-verb agreement tends to follow the singular, like in the Wikipedia sample.

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    How do you account for an Umlaut when using the parentheses? – Beta Oct 7 '16 at 11:33
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    @Beta You don't use it then. I can't recall having seen this construction with words that change their vowel in plural, or in general have a plural that cannot be solely made by appending some letters - like Atlas / Atlanten. – Matthias Oct 7 '16 at 13:48
  • Oder man benutzt das angestaubte oder. – user unknown Oct 7 '16 at 19:18
  • Thank you for your short, effective answer, @Matthias. Though the other answer(s) I see listed were informative and helpful, you get the checkmark for adding the requested additional information about subject-verb agreement. If I could, I'd give you a gold star, but a green checkmark will have to do. Again, thank you for taking the time to answer this and doing so with professionalism and courtesy. – Lisa Oct 7 '16 at 20:15
  • @Lisa Thanks for your feedback - glad I could help :-) – Matthias Oct 7 '16 at 20:22
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The official ruleset does not mention parentheses as a form of alternative pluralisation.

What it does mention, however, is using the slash (/) as a sign to introduce alternatives, but does not explicitely allow the usage of word fragments (like alternative plural)

Dies betrifft

  1. die Angaben mehrerer (alternativer) Möglichkeiten im Sinne einer Verbindung mit und, oder, bzw., bis oder dergleichen:

die Schüler/Schülerinnen der Realschule, das Semikolon/der Strichpunkt als stilistisches Zeichen, Männer/Frauen/Kinder;

This could be used to express plural alternatives as well, such as

die Person/Personen

That means, the parenthesized plural is not officially sanctioned, but used nonetheless, as you see from the other answers.

1

Yes, this type of pluralisation is used in German in some settings, too. Mainly where brevity is the desired goal since it minimised the amount of letters required. However, the use of actual brackets is typically restricted to those cases where — as is the general rule in English — the stem does not change and merely an ending is added.

Die Reaktion(en) des/der Versuchsteilnehmer(s) wurde(n) beobachtet und notiert.

As you can see in my example, the plural of Reaktion and genitive ending of Versuchsteilnehmer is put in brackets to show that it is not always there. Note that also the verb form can be bracketed in that way. However, there is no such simple case for des versus der where one letter is always different from the other side. In that case, a slash is used to show that two different forms are there depending on the numerus.

While this type of inflection is possible it should be avoided if brevity is not a concern as it is typically considered bad style.

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