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I could not find a direct translation for the word humble in German.

The meaning I am searching for is a positive one, like when you say:

He is a humble man.

He does not show off; he is not arrogant. I don’t want to say that he is low, small nor has no self esteem or confidence .

I once tried to say de­mü­tig, but I got a negative reaction from the Germans who heard me.

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    Actually I would also have proposed demütig, but the word has a somewhat dated touch, and is often used in religious context. If I remember correctly, one the new chairs of the German green party, Mr Habeck, used it after his election last week, so I would consider it more one the side good choice than in where did you find that word. – guidot Jan 29 '18 at 11:05
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    dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/humble - bescheiden, ärmlich, demütig, gering, niedrig. In your context bescheiden is the word you are looking for. – Hubert Schölnast Jan 29 '18 at 11:16
  • what about aufrecht? As applied to personality, not the stature. – MarcinSzaleniec Jan 29 '18 at 12:50
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    IMHO - in my humble opinion. Meiner bescheidenen Meinung nach. – rexkogitans Jan 29 '18 at 13:26
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    From google translator, "humble man" is translated with "einfacher Mann", which is perfectly fine with a positive meaning – XtremeBaumer Jan 29 '18 at 15:12
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The concept of being humble in the positive sense is best reflected in the German virtue of

Bescheidenheit, bescheiden sein

If you can read the German Wikipedia you will find a lot of German phrases that have their analogy in the English being humble but still there are many phrases with a negative connotation where Bescheidenheit is used in the meaning of poor.

It is mainly the context that decides about the connotation of bescheiden sein.

  • Hmm. Everyone seems to claim humble in English cannot mean poor - But it does. So bescheiden is pretty correct. – tofro Jan 29 '18 at 12:44
  • @tofro - I wouldn't say it means "poor" exactly (but it is close). For instance, a common phrase is "He came from humble beginnings". This fits one of the definitions "ranking low in a hierarchy or scale ." – BruceWayne Jan 29 '18 at 14:59
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    @BruceWayne: In that particular case, I'd rather interpret humble as a euphemism. As in: They had little money, nothing to eat, no luxury? Oh, no, no! They didn't want much, they didn't ask for more. They were humble. I think the interpretation as "ranking low in a hierarchy of scale" is mostly found with things, e.g. "Der Film war bescheiden." = "The film was poor/pretty bad." Maybe the boundary to a euphemism is blurry, and it should also be noted that bescheiden can be used to "mask" the vulgar word beschissen. – O. R. Mapper Jan 31 '18 at 8:52
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If you don't want to use the adjective bescheiden because of its connotation to poverty and possible insults, you have to use a negative phrase:

Er prahlt nicht (mit …).

Er gibt nicht (mit …) an.

He doesn't boast (about …).

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In this context I suggest

bescheiden

as translation of "humble". So your sentence reads "Er ist ein bescheidener Mann." In this context "bescheiden" is a positive word and describes what you mentioned.

But note, that "bescheiden" can have a negative meaning. As mentioned in the comments, for example "Er lebt bescheiden." can mean "He's living poor".

  • +1, but bescheiden in many situations also has a negative connotation, of sugarcoating poverty or even insulting someone as poor, or poor in mind. – Janka Jan 29 '18 at 11:03
  • You can get rid of the negative context by phrasing. Compare: "Er lebt bescheiden." - "Er ist bescheiden." - "Er ist eine bescheidene Persönlichkeit". First one means that he is probably poor, the second one is ambiguous, the third one says that he is a humble personality. If you want to avoid the negative phrase from @Janka's answer, this is the only way that comes to mind. – Ian Jan 29 '18 at 11:27
  • But don't accidentally say Er hat eine bescheidene Persönlichkeit. – Janka Jan 29 '18 at 12:52
  • @Janka Correct, but doesn't hurt, as humble has the same possible connotations in English. – tofro Jan 29 '18 at 13:05
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unprätentiös might be the one you're looking for if you want to describe a person's character and don't want the possible "poor" notation bescheiden has. This word is, however, not really commonly used.

In case you are happy with some wider distance from the original, bodenständig (which literally translates to "down-to-earth", another meaning of humble) could be an acceptable translation.

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