Many physical units in German seem to have identical singular/plural forms. For example: 1 Meter, 2 Meter... At the moment the only exception that comes to mind are units of time "1 Sekunde, 2 Sekunden..." (and "Lichtjahr" which gramatically would be the same)

  • Is there a reason for this?
  • If I say "2 Meter", do I use the plural form of Meter?

1 Answer 1


This is about countable vs. uncountable quantities. German speaking academics of the 19th century settled on treating all physical units uncountable. It makes some sense as most of these units are named after individual scienticists and there ain't more than one Newton. Meter and Gramm are uncountable just to fit the general rule.

It doesn't apply to time because people counted the time before. It doesn't apply to old measures as Meilen (miles) either, because people used that before.

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    Is 'Tonne' an old unit or an exception? Because it's 'eine Tonne, zwei Tonnen...'
    – Iris
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 5:27
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    Es ist eine weibliche Bezeichnung, die auf –e endet. Diese werden idR gebeugt (eine Meile, eine Tasse, eine Tonne). Im übrigen glaube ich nicht, dass diese Regeln erst seit Einführung des metrischen Systems gelten. Auch andere historische Einheiten, die zuvor verwendet wurden, wurden nicht gebeugt (Joch, Fuß, Pfund, letztlich auch Stück), außer sie waren weiblich auf -e (Elle).
    – Ingmar
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 5:57
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    On the other hand in English you do have 60 Watts and other plural forms of names. Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 8:26
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    @Iris: Tonne is an old unit. It was in use when scholars began to define old units in terms of their new units.
    – Janka
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 11:08
  • Are you sure "Meter" is uncountable? Because the Duden clearly says that the plural is also "Meter". Especially since it's "zwei Meilen", "zwei Lichtjahre" etc.
    – dirkt
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 17:34

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