An earlier question (see here) asked for the difference between Menschen and Leute. I would like to understand how "Volk" relates to these (like in the Reichstag inscription, see picture below). Is it more professional or something? I mean, it's carved on the Reichstag building, so it's pretty significant... Several dictionaries listed it as more 'folks', but I'm not sure that connotation matches things like this- enter image description here It seems like a very formal usage, at odds with a 'rustic folk' connotation.

How does this compare to the others? They all seem to mean "people," but with different connotations. What are the differences?

  • To my mind, make it explicitly asking for something not covered by dictionaries. My close vote was for being general reference. And the answer as is does not add anything valuable to dictionaries. Kinda an indicator that your question isn't that specific. On the other hand, you've got already 3 open votes, I guess it'll be open in a couple of hours anyway. — Also take note of a meta post I created with respect to the issue at hand: german.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1273/1224
    – Em1
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 15:11

4 Answers 4


There is no word Volken, it's das Volk. It means »the people«, as in the first sentence of the U.S. constitution:

We the People …

Wir, das Volk …

Volk means the whole of the people of a country, in contrast to the individual people.

It's often used in a political context but also in compounds as Fußvolk, Bienenvolk, Volksfest, Volksbank, and Volkswagen.

  • 4
    One might add that it corresponds to the singular people, with plural peoples, not the uncountable people.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 19:57
  • Perhaps helpful for understanding: das Volk (Nom.), des Volkes (Gen.), dem Volke (Dat.), das Volk (Akk.). Die Völker (Nom.), der Völker (Gen.), den Völkern (Dat.), die Völker (Akk.). Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 23:26
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    Statt auf die Rechtschreibung einzugehen, die nicht die Frage, wenn auch fragwürdig war, solltest Du die Frage bzgl. der Rechtschreibung korrigieren und dann beantworten, was gefragt ist. Sonst zieht sich die Rechtschreibfehlerdiskussion durch den Thread und hält die Leute sogar vom Korrigieren ab, weil das die Themenverfehlung der Antworten dann umso deutlcher hervorhebt. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 15:31
  • Ich sehe nicht, wo ich mehr als unbedingt nötig auf der Rechtschreibung rumgeritten hätte.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 20:09

Volk refers to people in the "ethnic" or national sense of the word. The reference to rustic "folk" is actually a formal one (even if you don't believe that rustic folk themselves are formal).

Leute is a collective noun referring to "people" generally, not to specific kinds, or groups of people, like Volk.

Menschen is the plural of individuals, and is better translated as "persons," than as "people."

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    So if I was, say, a Canadian national in Germany, at first I would only fall under Leute until I fit into culture a bit more, then become Volk?
    – Imperator
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:00
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    @Imperator: If you are with Canadians, singing the Canadian national anthem, you would be a member of the Canadian "Volk." But if you are with a group of "random" people of different nationalities at a sports event, then I'd use "Leute." The exception might be, if everyone else were German, and you had "naturalized" German, then you would also be part of the German "Volk" rather than random "Leute."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:05
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    @Imperator: You can accept my answer if you like it.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:07
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    Let's not be hasty here ;)
    – Imperator
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:08
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    @Imperator: I agree. I like to wait a few days to give others a chance to respond. Although the question is already one day old.My preference is to only upvote on the first day.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:09

Volk shares its root with English folk. Not surprisingly, it has the same meaning as the English word (as defined at m-w.com) in several aspects.
In a plain and general sense, it divides people into groups of culture, history, descent or language.

The word, however, covers much more meaning than this. The population or citizens are a Volk (das deutsche Volk). And so is a herd of animals, a swarm of insects etc. (Bienenvolk).
And the working or lower classes (the common people) are called Volk (gewöhnliches Volk). In the latter case, you can interchange the word with the other words.

Except for the sense of "lower or working classes", there's a plural: "Völker".

For reference:

The difference between Menschen and Leute is already well covered in the question you linked. And there's also a question covering the difference between Personen und Menschen: "Personen" or "Menschen".

Hence, here's just a very short summary:

Leute is basically a collective noun and means people in general. It shares some meaning with Volk and Menschen when it comes to the sense of "common people".
But it can be used for any group of random people. Like "guy" in "you guys" or "folk" in "Hey folks". It's also used for family or friends ("Meine Leute"). Both senses are unique to Leute and neither Volk nor Mensch(en) can be used here.

Finally, Menschen is the plural of Mensch which represents a human individuum. Both Volk and Leute cannot refer to a single person.

  • "Single individuum" is a bit of a tautology. Perhaps better write ... which - in one of its meanings - represents a human individual. (There is also the meaning of Mensch as for the species.) Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 12:07
  1. Leute = a group of Menschen
  2. Menschen = the beings belonging to the species Homo Sapiens Sapiensis
  3. Volk = a group of Leute that have a certain ethnic background. Related to tribe/Stamm.

Also see Abstammung. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutschstämmige

Normally a Volk belongs to one Nation-State/Area of settlement. See point two: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Volk

  • So a Volk is a group of group of Menschen?
    – Quidam
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 12:34

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