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I have encountered this sentence:

Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine weniger gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.

Can you please translate the part containing "weniger" literally to English? And what would be the difference in meaning if it was:

Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine wenigere gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.

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  • "less just/fair"; the second version doesn't sound correct to me. – Oliver Mason Oct 22 '20 at 19:53
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Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine weniger gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.

First the meaning as literal as possible: »One has to accept once in a while a less just task distribution in the job.«

The »weniger« is the comparative form of the word »wenig« which is an adverb and thus refers to »gerecht«, so it means »less just«. If it was an adjective, it would refer to the noun »Aufgabenteilung« which clearly doesn't make much sense in this context but would be possible in general (»a lesser task distribution«).

In German we wouldn't use »wenigere Aufgabenteilung«, though because »wenig« isn't used as an adjective at all. It only is used as an adverb (and the comparative form »weniger« can be used to express »minus« as a conjunction but we don't have that case here). To express something like »lesser task distribution« we would use e.g. »geringere Aufgabenverteilung«.

So, the sentence

Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine wenigere gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.

just isn't correct.

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  • Oh thank you very much! – Mario Bedoun Oct 23 '20 at 9:32
  • Quote "the word »wenig« which is an adverb" This is wrong! The word »wenig« is NOT an adverb. It is an adjective! Wiktionary, DWDS You can use it as an attribute of a noun (»die wenigen Kunden sind früh gegangen«) and you can increase it (wenig - weniger - am wenigsten) and it will be inflected. This all is impossible for adverbs. For more details, please read my answer. – Hubert Schölnast Oct 23 '20 at 10:40
  • @HubertSchölnast The Duden knows »wenig« only as an adverb and as a pronoun and a »Zahlwort«. The phrase »die wenigen Kunden« is therefore not »wenig« as an adjective (according to the Duden) but rather an article or »Zahlwort«. – Alfe Oct 23 '20 at 20:01
  • @HubertSchölnast But I agree that opinions on this matter obviously differ and Duden, Wiktionary and DWDS don't share a common view. Given that the Duden is not just any source but rather a very canonical one, I tend to agree with it. Also, I think that the question here about the phrase »eine wenigere […] Aufgabenteilung« shows quite clearly that the Duden has a valid point: This phrase just isn't possible. You just cannot combine »wenige« like an adjective with singular nouns (like »Aufgabenteilung«). It only works with plurals: »die wenige(re)n Aufgabenteilungen«. – Alfe Oct 23 '20 at 20:20
  • @Alfe: Zahlwörter können nicht gesteigert werden. Ein Dreieck kann nicht "dreier" Ecken als ein anderes haben, und kein Dreieck hat "am dreisten" Ecken. Und das gilt für alle Zahlwörter. Bezüglich Singular/Plural: In meiner Antwort steht der Satz »Das wenige Essen war sehr teuer.« Bestimme den Numerus von »das wenige Essen« Beispiele aus Wiktionary: wenig Effekt, wenig Aussagekraft. Beispiele aus DWDS: wenig Publikum, wenig Verkehr, wenig Zucker aber auch wenig Erfahrung. ... – Hubert Schölnast Oct 23 '20 at 21:09
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The German word »wenig« is not an adverb, it is an adjective. The main difference between adverbs and adjectives is, that adverbs only can be used in adverbial usage, while adjectives can be used adverbial, predicative and as an attribute.

  • adverbial usage
    • adjective

      Die Frau singt schön. The woman sings beautifully.

    • adverb

      Die Frau singt oft. The woman sings often.

  • predicative usage
    • adjective

      Die Frau ist schön. The woman is beautiful.

    • adverb

      wrong: Die Frau ist oft. The woman is often.

  • attributive usage
    • adjective

      Die schöne Frau singt. The beautiful woman sings.

    • adverb

      wrong: Die ofte Frau singt. The often woman sings.

In your sentence the word »weniger« is used as an attribute, so it can't be an adverb. It must be an adjective.


Adjectives can describe properties of nouns:

Das leise Instrument hat einen schönen Klang.
Das wenige Essen war sehr teuer.

Adjectives can describe properties of participles:

Der leise sprechende Mann war blass.
Die wenig essende Frau schlief etwas später ein.

Adjectives can describe properties of adverbs:

Hoch oben auf den Bergen liegt schon Schnee.
Die beiden Orte liegen nur wenig auseinander.

But adjectives also can describe properties of other adjectives:

Der grell rote Ball lag in der Wiese.
Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine wenig gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.

Note, that in the last two examples the bold marked adjectives do not describe a property of the noun, but a property of the adjective that stands immediately after them.

Also note, that adjectives, that are attributes of other adjectives, are not inflected, since they do not belong to a noun. Only adjectives that are attributes of nouns will be inflected.

Compare:

  1. Der grell rote Ball lag in der Wiese.
  2. Der grelle rote Ball lag in der Wiese.

In 1 the word grell (glaring) describes a property of the adjective rot (red).
In 2 the word grelle describes a property of the noun Ball (ball).

Since in English adjectives never are inflected, both German sentences translate to the same English sentence, but in the English sentence it is ambiguous if the adjective glaring is bound to red or to ball:

The glaring red ball lay in the meadow.

This can mean:

  1. attribute of an adjective: The ball, that is glaring red, lay in the meadow.
  2. attribute of a noun: The glaring and red ball lay in the meadow.

And, like many adjectives (but almost no adverb), the adjective »wenig« not only exists in its positive form, but also in a comparative and a superlative form:

  • positiv: wenig (Engl: little)
  • comparative: weniger (less)
  • superlative: am wenigsten (least)

And in your sentence it is used in the comparative form:

Man muss ab und zu auch mal eine weniger gerechte Aufgabenteilung im Beruf hinnehmen.
From time to time one has to accept a less fair division of tasks in one's job.

Also in the english translation the adjective little in its comparative form less does not describe a property of the noun division. The adjective less describes a property of the adjective fair.

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  • Thank you very much – Mario Bedoun Oct 23 '20 at 9:33
  • Dein mittlerer Teil unterschätzt die englische Sprache ein bißchen. Sie kann sehr wohl ausdrücken, dass ein Ball grell-rot (glaringly red) oder grell und rot (glaring, red) ist. – tofro Oct 23 '20 at 11:19

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