I am learning German and I understand Herr and its various meanings as gentleman, mister, sir, etc. I also realize it can refer to God as the Lord. I have a German translation of a favorite book of mine, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The title, auf Deutsch, is Der Herr der Ringe. This brings me to my question - a hypothetical one. If I were a native German speaker and was unfamiliar with Tolkien's work and encountered this book, why would I consider Der Herr in the title to be the Lord ( a powerful supernatural being) of the Rings and not consider Der Herr to mean The Gentleman of Rings and perhaps think it is a story of a rich man who likes to wear jewelry?

I suppose my question made more general is what contextual clues are there to help one pick a particular meaning from a word that that has different but related definitions?

2 Answers 2


You simply can't. And it's the same in English.

The Lord's Revelation

Well …

Wishing Well

Hmm, it seems context is key …

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  • Thank you. I realize that it's foolish to try and guess what the translator's intentions were (and it may have been Tolkien himself as he spoke German!). But from my limited perspective, Der Meister der Ringe would have conveyed a clearer meaning even if it lost the literal translation. But these are smarter people than me, so I am left wondering what I am missing. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 20:07
  • 2
    No, Der Herr der Ringe suits it better because it's an abbreviation of Der Herrscher der Ringe.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 20:15
  • Meister der Ringe could be misunderstood as a blacksmith too
    – Mindbomber
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 16:26

I totally agree with the other answer in regard to context.

But in that case the meaning is clear from that single sentence.

Being the "Herr der..." always means "master of". Nobody would think of it as a gentleman...

Of course nobody will come to the translation "Lord" from this single line, as there is the German word "Lord" as well, and if the translator wanted to make clear that Sauron is not only the master of the rings but actually a Lord he could have simply used the Title "Der Lord der Ringe", but it seams that he wanted the bigger stress on the meaning "master".

  • 2
    Gegenbeispiel: Der Herr der feinen Gesellschaft Ein Ratgeber für Dandys.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 9:56
  • Auch das ist nicht wirklich ein Gegenbeispiel... Der Titel ist ziemlich sicher ein Wortspiel und meint "jemand, der die feine Gesellschaft "beherrscht" oder eben "meistert"...
    – Tode
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 10:26
  • Es geht doch aber gerade um Wortspiele. The Lord of the Rings ist auch eines, schließlich ist Sauron ja nicht irgendwer.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 11:55

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