The following sentence is from an article in Cicero:

Die SPD sollte froh sein, nach einem desolaten Wahlergebnis bei der Bundestagswahl noch eine Frau im Petto zu haben, deren ganzes politisches Leben Vorbereitung auf diese große Aufgabe war. Source

According to Duden and my Collins Klett German-English dictionary, the expression should be in petto. But a simple Google search returns results for in Petto and im petto, as well as im Petto as in the Cicero article.

Are any of these alternatives to Duden's in petto acceptable?

  • 7
    For me im Petto is simply wrong.
    – IQV
    Apr 23 '18 at 7:27
  • Tip: Use the Ngram viewer to search for real occurrence: books.google.com/ngrams
    – Thomas
    Apr 23 '18 at 9:49

Etwas in petto haben

This fixed phrase was derived from Italian in petto. From the Etymologisches Wörterbuch nach Pfeifer we read that it was first used in the context from the ultra vires of the pope to hold back the name of a new cardinal:

geht auf die Befugnis des Papstes zurück, den Namen eines neuen Kardinals zunächst für sich (in petto) zu behalten und erst später bekanntzugeben.

The DWDS lists many quotes from a variety of different sources where we can find in petto as the correct version. The error from the Cicero source may have been overlooked by the editor.

Because of the etymology a 100% identical alternative to in petto in the context of a personal position is not easy to find.

If we need to avoid in petto we may try the following similar phrases: etwas in der Hinterhand halten, jemanden bereit halten, eine Alternative verfügbar haben, etwas in der Pipeline haben (I would not use this on people).


The phrase is "in petto", not "im petto". People often use it wrong. It's a bit like writing "ect." instead of "etc.".

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