I just started learning Genitiv. I remember the article 1 of German Basic Law: "Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar". I assume Menschen is plural. Why des instead of "der" is used here?

  • 2
    I think that Menschen is just the genitive case of the singular Mensch. Thus, the sentence means something like "the dignity of the human is inviolable" or "human dignity is inviolable". Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 10:44
  • 1
    Die Würde des Menschen (each and every one) ist unantastbar - Singular
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


No, it is not plural. It is singular. If it were plural, it would have been

Plural: Die Würde der Menschen ist unantastbar.
The dignity of humans is inviolable.

But it is

Plural: Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar.
The dignity of man is inviolable.

This is a rhetoric figure called "synecdoche". Synecdoches appear in various forms. Pars pro toto is a very common form of a synechdote (counting noses instead of counting people).

In German also using singular if you mean all is a form of a synechdote:

Der Deutsche isst gerne Kartoffeln. (means: Deutsche essen gerne Kartoffeln)
The German likes to eat potatoes. (Germans like to eat potatoes.)

There is also to add, that the meaning of this sentence is not the statement "The dignity of man is inviolable". This is not true. Dignity of man can be violated. There are millions of example in human history where die dignity of people have been violated. So, claiming that you can't violate dignity is not the meaning of this sentence.

The real meaning is not a statement but a rule or law:

Die Würde des Menschen darf nicht verletzt werden.
The dignity of man must not be violated.


I assume Menschen is plural.

No, it's singular.

In German, singular with a definite article is sometimes used to make statements that apply to all individuals of a group. This style may sound somewhat old-fashioned nowadays, but it used to be typical in various contexts, e.g. politics (saying "der Franzose" when actually, "the French" are meant) or biology ("Das Krokodil ist ein Fleischfresser.", which is meant as a general statement about all crocodiles).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.