2

DeepL gives Ich gebe meinen Kindern Spielzeug. as a possible translation of "I'm giving toys to my children." This seems odd though since "toys: is plural in English but the translation Spielzeug is singular. The Wiktionary entry under Zeug gives a reasonable seeming explanation:

The plural Zeuge is quite rare (except in compounds such as Fahrzeug). Generally, Zeug is treated as uncountable.

So apparently this carries over to Spielzeug, at least to some extent. In other words you might think of Spielzeug as meaning "play equipment" rather that "toys". Is this interpretation correct? But the plural Spielzeuge still seems to be common. An example using plural, via the DWDS usage database:

Einige meiner alten Jungs mögen ihre Spielzeuge. from "Elementary" Details, 2013 (Filmuntertitel)

And an example using singular:

Sie spielen während der Arbeit mit Spielzeug? from "N.C.I.S.: Enquêtes spéciales" Crescent City: Part 2, 2014 (Filmuntertitel)

So I also wanted to know if there is a difference in meaning between Spielzeug as an uncountable noun and Spielzeuge as a plural noun? There are dozens of Zeug compounds so I'm also wondering if there is some more general rule than can be extrapolated from this. I would assume that large, easily distinguishable objects like Fahrzeug or Flugzeug would normally be plural, while small, easily mixable objects like Werkzeug would tend to use the uncountable form.

3

As you mentioned, "Spielzeug" in singular can be used as a Stoffname (a mass noun). Those are uncountable and are used without an article. Therefore, in

Sie spielen während der Arbeit mit Spielzeug?

"Spielzeug" refers not as much to a specific toys, but more to the concept, the category of toys in general. In this context it might be helpful to translate "Spielzeug" kind of "too literal": "Spielzeug" -> "stuff to play with".

If you use an article, you refer to a specific toy

Sie spielen während der Arbeit mit dem Spielzeug?

or to specific toys in plural

Sie spielen während der Arbeit mit den Spielzeugen?

In English, there's a similar concept, but here the plural is used. Compare

They buy toys for their children.

with

They buy the toys for their children.

That's where the difference between singular in German and plural in English comes from.

Be aware that not all composita with "-zeug" can be used as a Stoffname like that. For example, you can't use "Fahrzeug" without an article to mean "stuff to ride with" in general, so "Er verkauft Fahrzeug" would be wrong. But there are other composita where you can do it, for example "Flickzeug" (repair kit, for example for bicycles) or "Nähzeug" (sewing kit).

2
  • I'm not aware of any formal rule to decide which composita with "-zeug" can or can't be used like this. But as a gut feeling, if the "stuff" in question has a tool-like qualitity, like "Spielzeug", "Flickzeug", "Nähzeug", I'd say it can be used as a Stoffname. I wouldn't call a "Fahrzeug" or a "Flugzeug" a tool, exactly ;) Jun 10 '21 at 18:53
  • Thanks. I think the Wiktionary entry under Werkzeug handles the situation nicely and concisely by giving two meanings, one for countable and one for uncountable. I'll update the Spielzeug entry, and any other entries where it seems applicable, to do the same. I think the Zeug entry could be clarified as well, so I'll work on that as well.
    – RDBury
    Jun 11 '21 at 5:22
3

Spielzeug can be an uncountable term referring to the general category of toys.

Spielzeug can also be as a generic term for one specific toy without telling any details about the toy. The plural form Spielzeuge is the generic term for a specific set of toys without telling further details.

Your example

Einige meiner alten Jungs mögen ihre Spielzeuge.

may refer to the set of toys owned by one of the old boys/guys each or to the toys of all old boys/guys together. In the latter case it does not tell if every boy/guy owns more than one toy.

In the singular example

Sie spielen während der Arbeit mit Spielzeug?

Spielzeug refers to the uncountable category of toys. It doesn't tell if there is only one toy or more of them.

The translation of "I'm giving toys to my children." can be

  • Ich gebe meinen Kindern Spielzeug.
    This refers to the category of toys without telling anything about the quantity.
  • Ich gebe meinen Kindern Spielzeuge.
    In this case you are giving them more than one toy.
1
  • Yes, that's more or less how I though it would work; thanks for confirming it.
    – RDBury
    Jun 11 '21 at 5:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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