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Generally, if I want to translate the word "abuse" I'd use "Missbrauch". For example:

"The carpenter abuses his tools, which causes extra expenses."

"Der Zimmermann missbraucht sein Werkzeug, was zusätzliche Kosten verursacht."

or in a compound word:

"Child abuse is investigated by the police."

"Kindesmissbrauch wird von der Polizei untersucht."

But there are other uses of the word in English where using "Missbrauch" sounds wrong to me (in a colloquial context):

"It turned out that his girlfriend was abusive" --> (?) ... Freundin war missbräuchlich.

"People stuck in an abusive relationship often don't know how to get help." --> (?) ... missbräuchliche Beziehung ...

"Toxic relationships are often characterized by emotional abuse." --> (?) ... missbrauch.

"The abusive husband wiped his wife's hard drive on purpose, deleting the novel she was writing." (?) Der missbräuchliche Ehemann ...

In these examples, the translations using "Missbrauch" sound wrong to me. For example, I don't think I'd say "missbräuchlichen Beziehung" as the translation of "abusive relationship", and it just sounds wrong to use it as an adjective, especially in my last example.

Question:

Am I simply mistaken, and "Missbrauch" is the common translation for "abuse" all these cases? Does a better word exist for these specific use cases? Is it commonly used?

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    It seems you're looking for a translation of "abusive", not so much for "abuse". The dictionary of your choice should help you here. Jan 28, 2022 at 17:45
  • @HenningKockerbeck Sure, but neither "gewalttätig" nor "beleidigend" (or the other translations I've found) really capture the essence of what I'm trying to translate. Gewalttätig seems more focused on violence-aspect and beleidigend seems softer or less serious than a correct translation warrants in my opinion.
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 28, 2022 at 17:55
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    This is the kind of thing that dict.cc is good at.
    – RDBury
    Jan 28, 2022 at 22:50
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    Note that "abusive" in English means "anything done wrong" - German wants you to be more specific (physical or psychological abuse). Mißbrauch is pretty strong abuse, and doesn't include simply being aggressive, for example.
    – tofro
    Jan 29, 2022 at 9:58
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    BTW, I'd say "verwendete sein Werkzeug falsch" because "missbrauchen" has such a strong connotation of physical/sexual abuse. Jan 29, 2022 at 21:04

1 Answer 1

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I think in German you would rarely to never encounter a description like

Die Beziehung war [gesuchtes Adjektiv]

Der [gesuchtes Adjektiv] Ehemann ...

for a translation of your example sentences. I think a decent translation would sound more like:

"It turned out that his girlfriend was abusive" --> Wie sich herausstellte, hat seine Freundin ihn misshandelt.

"People stuck in an abusive relationship often don't know how to get help." --> Menschen, die von ihrem Partner misshandelt werden, wissen oft nicht wo sie Hilfe bekommen können.

But you wouldn't say

Der misshandelnde Ehemann ...

About the term itself, in this case potential translations for abuse/abusive are misshandeln, missbrauchen, gewalttätig. I chose misshandeln, because missbrauchen in this context carries more a connotation of sexual abuse (with focus on the use part) which does not necessarily include a large amount of physical violence, and gewalttätig does not cover the mental aspect of abuse.

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  • Ah, thanks for pointing out the thing with the adjectives--now I know why all the attempts I was making sounded funny! Does "Der Mann hat seine Frau misshandelt, in dem er den Roman, an dem sie gerade geschrieben hat, gelöscht hat." work as a better translation of the last example?
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 30, 2022 at 16:57
  • No, I wouldn't call deleting a novel's draft "Misshandlung". But I can see how a husband who is otherwise abusive would do that. Not sure how you could say that in German. Jan 31, 2022 at 14:40

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