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»Der Täter« versus »der Schuldige«?

  1. Which is more commonly used?
  2. Where would I use Täter and not Schuldiger?
  3. Where would I use Schuldiger and not Täter?
  4. Are there other German words similar to these two?
  • Bitte immer nur eine Frage auf einmal stellen. Man kann schuldig sein durch unterlassen - dann ist man kein Täter. Man kann eine Tat verüben, deren Konsequenz man nicht kannte und kennen konnte, dann ist man nicht schuldig. Die Nutzung kann von Metier (Juristen, Polizei, Journalisten, mündlich/schriftlich, räumlich und zeitlich, ...) variieren - wie soll man das beantworten? – user unknown Nov 7 '16 at 15:31
  • @userunknown In meinen Augen ist man trotzdem in gewissem Maße schuldig, selbst wenn man die Konsequenzen seiner Tat nicht kannte. Kennst du Lamas mit Hüten? »Karl, das tötet Leute!« Ist Karl nun schuldig oder nicht? (Angenommen, Karl lügt nicht.) – Jan Nov 8 '16 at 12:44
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About parts 1 to 3 of the question

The word "der Täter" is typically used when talking about crime.

Normally this implies that a person can be punished by a court for doing what he or she did.

The word "der Schuldige" is also but less often used in the context of crime. It is more often used when talking about a person who caused an accident or even simply some bad or sad situation.

The word does not neccessarily imply that the person did something illegal.

Especially in the case of "bad or sad situation" the word does not even imply that there are any consequences for the person.

Example:

If a girl leaves her boyfriend because of another boy you can say:

Der andere Junge war schuld daran, dass sie ihren Freund verlassen hat.

When saying this in more than one sentence the word "der Schuldige" can also be used here.

About part 4 of the question

Hubert Schölnast already listed many words. I want to give a comment about the word "Verbrecher":

In the language used by lawyers the word "Verbrechen" is exactly defined: As far as I know it is a crime that is so serious that the law says that the courts have to use a punishment of at least one year in prison.

I think most Germans would call a person "Verbrecher" if he or she does very serious crimes such as robbery or murder.

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A Schuldiger doesn't necessarily have to be a Täter and a Täter doesn't necessarily have to be the Schuldige.

Der/die Schuldige is a person who is guilty of something. The word does not contain information about whether the person actively did something to become guilty. The word Täter on the other hand (from tun, engl. to do or Tat, engl. deed) implies the person became active and did something, but the person doesn't at the same time have to be guilty of doing something wrong (even though today Täter is mostly used in the context of crimes).

Confused? Example:

You and me both drive our cars. We come to a crossroads. You have the right of way. I drive into the other road a bit to far. You hit my car. So I could tell my friends:

Today I had a car accident. Someone drove into my car. The Täter was this guy from german.stackexchange.com. But I was the Schuldige, because I stopped too late.

So you are the Täter because you actively hit my car, but I'm the Schuldige, because I didn't give you the right of way.

Whether to use one or the other depends on what you want to say and on context. It's also hard to tell which one is more commonly used, as both are used, but in different contexts. If you think about "lawyer language" you even have to distinguish further: You can not be schuldig until your guilt is proven, and you can not be Täter until it is proven it was really you. Until then, your are the mutmaßliche (alleged) Täter or Tatverdächtiger (suspect).

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    Den Unfallgegner, wenn man selbst schuld war, als Täter zu klassifizieren, ist nicht üblich. Noch sinnloser ist es nur, ein Unwetter als Täter oder Schuldigen zu bezeichnen. Das kann man ironisch so machen, aber als Sprachbeispiel taugt es deshalb nicht. – user unknown Nov 7 '16 at 15:34
  • Sinnlos ist relativ. Zum Auto-Beispiel: Es mag unüblich sein, aber es ist ein Beispiel dafür, dass jemand ein Täter sein kann, ohne der Schuldige zu sein. Aber du darfst natürlich gerne ein besseres Beispiel bringen. – Thorsten Dittmar Nov 7 '16 at 15:40
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    Ein 3jähriger, der die Scheune mit Streichhölzern anzündet. – user unknown Nov 7 '16 at 15:46
  • Na siehst du... – Thorsten Dittmar Nov 7 '16 at 15:58
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der Täter, die Täterin

This word literally means »doer« or »actor« (somebody who does something; somebody who acts).

  • German verb »tun« = English »to do«, »to act«.
  • German noun »die Tat« = English »the action«, »the fact«. This is the thing that has been done.
  • German noun »der Täter« = English »the doer«, »the actor«. This is the person who did something.

You use the nouns »die Tat« and »der Täter« almost always with a strong criminal connotation. The cases, where you can use those words in another context are very rare.

But the verb »tun« has not this connotation. You can use it every time when something is done. It's just bad style to use it. It sounds weak. Better use a verb that describes more detailed what you are really doing.


der Schuldige, die Schuldige

This is the person who is guilty.

  • German adjective »schuldig« = English »guilty«
  • German noun »die Schuld« = English »the guilt« (litterally from it's etymology: something you have to pay for)
  • German noun »der Schuldige« = English »the culprit«. This is the person who is guilty.

der Übeltäter, die Übeltäterin

Literally: The evil-doer. It has the same meaning as Täter. The noun »das Übel« (»the evil«) that is here merged to »Täter« just makes clear, that the person did something bad. But since »Täter« anyway is used in this sense, it does not change much.

»Übertäter« sounds a little bit old-fashioned.


der Angeklagte, die Angeklagte

Literally: The accused. I think you more often use the word »the defendant«, but this puts a different focus on that person. Der Angeklagte is the person who is accused by the authorities to have committed a crime. This does not mean, that this person really has done what the authorities believe. He/she just is under severe suspicion.


der Verbrecher, die Verbrecherin

This is: The criminal. This is the person who committed a crime. »The crime« itself is »das Verbrechen« in German.


der Kriminelle, die Kriminelle

This also is »the criminal«. But there is a difference to »der Verbrecher«. A Verbrecher is a person who committed a certain crime and was convicted for this special crime by a court. But a »Krimineller« is a person, who's way of life is to commit lots of crimes. There is no need that a Krimineller ever has to be convicted for anything to make him/her a »Krimineller«.

The meanings of both words (Verbrecher, Krimineller) overlap.


der Gangster, die Gangsterin

This is a loanword from English Vocabulary. Originally, the English word »ganster« meant »member of a gang«, but was more often used as synonym for »criminal«. When this word became popular in German (during world was II), it didn't have the meaning »member of a gang«. So also a solely acting criminal was called »Gagster« in German.

Nowadays this word sounds a little bit old-fashioned if you really mean a criminal.

Today you use the word »Gangster« more often in terms of music (Gangster Rapper), with a less criminal connotation, closer to the original meaning (member of a gang).

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    This is a nice answer to question 4. But it does not answer questions 1 to 3 at all. – raznagul Nov 7 '16 at 13:20
  • Answer to Q1: It depends on the context. In written texts »Täter« is much more often used than »Schuldige(r)«, because »Täter« is the preferred term in juristic books. Also newspapers use this term more often because it sounds more like an action than like a state. But this does won't help you in everyday speech. Answer to Q2: Read my explanations. Based on this knowledge you should be able to make a good decision (maybe as good as a native speaker who also has the problem to find the right word). Answer to Q3: Same as Answer to Q2. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 7 '16 at 15:25

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