It would seem that the German language views the plurality of the word meaning "news" differently than does English. In English I would say,

That is bad news.

Singular. In German it is,

Das sind schlechte Nachrichten.


Are there rules or guidelines when to use singular or plural in German?

  • 1
    You could also say "These/those are bad news" in English and "Das ist eine schlechte Nachricht" in German, imho. Hence, I don't understand (yet), what you're up to. – Arsak Jan 12 at 17:33
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    I absolutely disagree. "Those are bad news," is not English that would be used in any setting of which I am aware, having lived using the language for more than 60 years. – user44591 Jan 12 at 19:12
  • You may also note that police is pluraletantum in English whereas Polizei in German isn't – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 13 at 7:35
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    @user44591 Regarding the English part, I was mislead by a number of (obviously wrong) google-hits - sorry for that - and there's a nice answer over in EnglishLanguage&Usage.However, I still think it would help your question to add, why you think that one uses Nachrichten only as a plural in German. – Arsak Jan 13 at 11:38
  • No, I know that Nachritchten is used both singular and plural, but I do not know when to use one and when the other. – user44591 Jan 14 at 1:51

First, keep in mind that German and English are different languages; not only different word for word, but different phrases are often handled differently. While "news" and Nachrichten have roughly the same meaning and usage, they are not really the same, so it's best to learn Nachricht as a different word with it's own meanings which don't always match the meanings of "news".

Nachricht has two meanings in German. The first is that of "notification" or a message informing you of something. In this sense it can be either singular or plural depending (of course) on whether there are more than one of them. Confusingly, English sometimes uses "the news" for a single message: "I just got the news that my sister is pregnant." The second meaning for Nachricht is for a certain type of radio or TV program. In this case the plural Nachrichten is always used and the words around it are inflected accordingly. English uses "the news" for a similar type of program, but for some reason it's treated as a singular noun.

I'm not sure whether you meant the last question about rules and guidelines to be about Nachricht in particular or on plurals in general. The only general guideline I know of is the obvious one that you use singular when there is one and plural when there is more than one. But there are probably dozens of cases like this one where English and German count differently, so occasionally a plural in one language corresponds to a singular in the other language. As far as I know you just have to learn these individually since there's no consistent logic behind them.


Well, the first problem is the "wrong" translation and interpretation of the word news between languages. The word stands for NEW thingS (NEW_S) and shouldn't be translated with "Nachrichten" but with "Neuheiten" instead. "Nachricht(en)" would translate to "message(s)".

So we use different words for the same Action.

Watching the news. --> Die Neuheiten ansehen. (valid, but noone says that in Germany)

Watching the messages. --> Die Nachrichten schauen.

So the 2nd problem is the interpretation and/or the "comon toung"/dialect.

Also, always keep in mind, that German and Enlish are mostly (~90%) the same languages with the same words. Dont fully rely on only one Website or one translation, and look for an simillar translation. For example:

Car --> Auto

is accpeted and mostly right, but its not the correct translation of the word car. That would be

Car --> Karren

wich would mean cart. But since everybody knew carts and wagons before "Cars" where a thing, the "common toung" named the new vehicle "car(t)" or "wagon" aswell, hence the name "Volks-Wagen (VW)" or "Kübel-Wagen" in German. We also still use the word "Karre" and "Wagen" in a sloppy way/dialect to describe a car. ("Automobil" / Autoum Mobile)

And as you noticed, neither of both sides got the real word (latein or greek) correct, since it means "moving on its own" and would be (and in fact is) in both languages the same, untranslated word. Car, cart, Karre(n) and Wagen are nothing but synonymes for the same thing.

Hope that makes things a bit clearer, since RDBury's answer is mostly wrong or "to easy".


So to answer the question of plural vs. singular - in fact, it's the english phrasing that is wrong/common toung. You are adressing the plural of "new (thing)", so "new (thing)s" with an is. The correct sentence would be either:

This/These are bad news. --> Das sind schlechte Neuheiten/(Nachrichten).


This is (a) bad new (thing) --> Das ist (eine) schlechte Neu(-heit).

It's yust an exception, mostly because of the interpretation, dialect/common toung and word-shifting over the last years. The normal Plural- and Singular-Forms/Rules apply to all german words the same.


In fact, to confuse even more, its one of these wierd Plural-Form-Exceptions:

1 Fish, 2 Fishes

would be correct, yust like dish and dishes, but for some reason

1 Fish, 2 Fish

is accepted and used. So even though the english language has and can form the plural of Fish without problem, its never done.

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