I have encountered this sentence:

Warum schläft der Mensch ein Drittel seines Lebens? Damit Hirn und Seele entspannen? Oder weil die Erde kahl wäre, gäbe der Allesfresser Mensch nicht zwischendurch Ruhe?

The bold sentence is what confusing me. Please do me two favors:

  1. Can you please translate it literally to English so that I would completely understand it?
  2. Why is "Der Allesfresser Mensch" written like that as if "Allesfresser" is an adjective of "Mensch"?
  • There is no grammatical secret in this sentence. You should be able to translate it, if you have checked all words. It means that the humans eat all - like pigs, meat, vegetables, fruit, fish. Not like cows, which prefer gras only. Someone who eats all, can be named as Allesfresser, which a substantive and rather used for animals. Dec 20, 2020 at 22:29
  • 1
    @HaraldLichtenstein A "hidden" (no conjunction) counterfactual conditional is something one would expect to be understood at the B2 level (i.e. it is an advanced topic).
    – David Vogt
    Dec 21, 2020 at 0:54

3 Answers 3


The noun Allesfresser is a Gattungsbezeichnung or Gattungsname (category designation, category name). It is used like ...

  • a profession,

    Der Schuster Weingruber macht Schuhe. = The cobbler Weingruber makes shoes.
    Der Dachdecker Petrovich deckt das Dach. = The roofer Petrovich covers the roof.
    Der Bäcker Steininger bäckt Brot. = The baker Steininger bakes bread.

  • a nationality,

    Der Russe Putin spricht russisch. = Putin, the Russian, speaks Russian.
    Der Österreicher Kurz ist jung. = The Austrian Kurz is young.
    Der Franzose Macron lebt in Paris. = Macron, a Frenchman, lives in Paris.

  • a denomination,

    Der Katholik Krautwaschl ist Bischof. = Krautwaschl, a Catholic, is a bishop.
    Der Jude Hofmeister ist Rabbiner. = The Jew Hofmeister is a rabbi.
    Der Muslim Koleib ist Imam. = The Muslim Koleib is an Imam.

  • an illness,

    Der Diabetiker Müller muss Medikamente nehmen. = Müller, a diabetic, has to take medication.
    Der Epileptiker Hofmeister liegt im Spital. = Hofmeister, an epileptic, is in the hospital.
    Der Alkoholiker Bauer ist in Behandlung. = Bauer, an alcoholic, is in treatment.

  • or a party affiliation.

    Der Sozialdemokrat Scholz möchte Kanzler werden. = The Social Democrat Scholz wants to become chancellor.
    Der Republikaner Trump wurde abgewählt. = Republican Trump was voted out of office.
    Der Kommunist Marx schrieb ein Buch. = The communist Marx wrote a book.

This pattern is quite common in German, and as the examples show, it also exists in English, but is not as common in English as in German.

And here is the translation:

Why do people sleep for a third of their lives? So that brain and soul can relax? Or because the earth would be bare, would mankind, the omnivore not rest in between?

Maybe also

... would the omnivore man not rest in between?

Note, that this site is not a translation service. Translation requests are normally off topic, but in this case it makes sense to give you a correct translation.

  • Note that the order can be switched around (Weingruber, der Schuster), which puts the proper noun first. It should be mentioned that this construction is known as apposition.
    – David Vogt
    Dec 21, 2020 at 11:38
  • 1
    Thank you so much!! Dec 22, 2020 at 9:21

A translation would be

Or because earth would be barren, if the omnivore humankind wouldn't rest once in a while.

"Allesfresser" is a normal noun here. I don't know the name of the construction, but basically it sets "Allesfresser" and "Mensch" equal. You can use the same contruction in English as I have done. It is similar to the phrase "der Maler Rembrandt": "the painter (called) Rembrandt".

  • In English you can switch it around: "Man the omnivore", "Rembrandt the painter".
    – RDBury
    Dec 21, 2020 at 1:29

I think that there is something worth adding to the answer given by @RoToRa, particularly as you ask for a literal translation into English.

I think that a close rendition into English — rather than a word-by-word attempt — must (i) deal with the words Allesfresser Mensch that you specifically asked about, and (ii) correctly capture the Konjunktiv II form of the second part of the sentence (which you didn't mention and which isn't properly captured in the answer of @RoToRa )

As, so often with language, the choices that one has in translation are often constrained by context, but they are sometimes expanded by the context because it gives one an opportunity to rely on what the speaker already knows. The sentence fragment that you quote appears, slightly changed, in the Aspekte Neu B2 Lehrbuch where the context is as follows :

Bis heute weiss die Wissenschaft nicht, warum der Mensch ein Drittel seines Lebens verschläft. Damit die Organe entspannen? Oder weil die Erde kahl wäre, gäbe der Allesfresser Mensch nicht zwischendurch Ruhe?

A close translation might be:

To this day, science does not know why humans slept away a third of their lives. To allow the body to recuperate? Or because the earth would be bare were the omnivores not to give it occasional rest.

Clearly this differs from any kind of word-for-word approach to the German sentence but I do think that it gives a more "complete understanding" (at least to a native English speaker) of what is being said in the German. Specific points:

  1. I think that Allesfresser Mensch is better rendered in the context simply as omnivores. It is obvious that we are talking about humans. So, although the German could be rendered as ominvore humans (compound-noun and not humankind), or more likely, omnivorous humans (adjective noun), the word omnivores seems better.

  2. ... were the omnivores not to ... captures the Konjunktive II form of ... gäbe ... nicht ... .

  3. ... slept away a third ... is a better English rendition for verschläft than overslept. (Of course, in the quotation as you have given it, with the verb schlafen, ... slept a third ... would work just fine. The point about slept away is that it emphasizes the apparent waste.

  4. One would be unlikely to read about resting "the organs" in an English translation; instead, unless there was specific evidence about how an organ such as the heart was affected by sleep, one would be more likely to read about "the body".

N.B. Thanks to Hubert Schölnast for highlighting an error in my terminology that detracted from the main point of my answer.

  • I guess, it should be sleep away, since it is Präsens in German. Dec 21, 2020 at 7:33
  • Quote »RotTaRa has already stressed that Allesfresser Mensch is a compound noun« No. That's wrong! It is double wrong! Neither did RotTaRa or RoToRa (which is the correct name) say this, nor is it a compound noun. German compound nouns are always written as one word without any spaces between the components like Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft or Fußbodenschleifmaschinenverleih. If there is a space between the two parts, then we have two separate words which are not compound. Dec 21, 2020 at 9:06
  • I have changed my answer to chop out the offending words, but it is worth pointing out that you are wrong! Although Gattungsname is a German word to describe the word Allesfresser in the noun-string Allesfresser Mensch there is no doubt that the English term compound noun correctly describes the double noun string Allesfresser Mensch, ... (continued) Dec 21, 2020 at 10:54
  • ... in addition to correctly describing a word like Fußbodenschleifmaschinenverleih. Fowler's Modern English Usage and the OED explain that "compound" (noun, preposition, etc) describes a succession of like elements (nounal, propositional, etc.) that function together to produce a meaning different from that of any element on its own. ... (continued) Dec 21, 2020 at 10:55
  • As for Allesfresser Mensch, is each of the elements a noun? Yes. Do the two words function together like a noun but with a meaning that is different from either of the two words alone? Yes ... Therefore, compound noun is a correct English description. Dec 21, 2020 at 10:59

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