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The Goethe Institut vocabulary list for B1 level includes the word »ausreichend«, which I understand to have general correspondence to the English idea of sufficient, or enough.

However, the example sentence in the list that I have is

Dafür bekommst du leider nur die Note ausreichend.

On the face of it the sentence seems to be saying something like "It's unfortunate that your grade was only sufficient", but I can't think how this can make sense. If the grade is sufficient, why would that be unfortunate? Have I misunderstood the meaning, or simply the context in which my translation might make sense?

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5 Answers 5

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The grading system (Noten) in German schools is usually from best to worst:

1 - sehr gut

2 - gut

3 - befriedigend

4 - ausreichend

5 - mangelhaft

6 - ungenügend

With a 4 or ausreichend you pass, but just so. The work and effort was just sufficient, but certainly not great. Mangelhaft and ungenügend will fail your class. In that sense this is also used in other context when this grading system can be used to judge the quality of something or some work or an effort, even informally; every person who went to school in Germany knows these meanings and can relate.

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  • And these numbers are sometimes used instead. »Dafür bekommst du leider nur eine Vier« for actual grades. Sometimes colloquially when you like or dislike something, but are not handing out real grades: »Eins mit Sternchen« (One with a star) when somebody did more than was required or »Sechs, setzen!« (A six, sit down!) if somebody said something stupid.
    – ospalh
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 9:05
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In this sentence, «ausreichend» does not have its literal meaning. Instead, it is the name of a specific grade. This could be made more explicit by quoting the grade name or displaying it in italics:

  1. Dafür bekommst du leider nur die Note «ausreichend».
  2. Dafür bekommst du leider nur die Note ausreichend.

An appropriate translation into English might be as follows:

  1. Unfortunately, you only get a grade of “ausreichend” for this.

Or, assuming that grade D is the lowest possible passing grade in your country:

  1. Unfortunately, you only get a grade of D for this.

Grammatically speaking, «ausreichend» is an apposition to the noun «die Note». Its dependency on the noun can be verified by the question test:

  1. Was für eine Note bekommst du dafür leider nur? – Die Note ausreichend.

That «die Note ausreichend» forms a single constituent can be shown by the move test:

  1. Die Note ausreichend bekommst du dafür leider nur.
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  • "«ausreichend» does not have its literal meaning." - but it does, even though it is also the name of a specific grade. It's just that the literal meaning doesn't rule out there can't be anything "better than sufficient". Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 13:52
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In Germany, ausreichend is the worst grade with which you pass. Anything lower than that means you fail and don't get a certificate. If you're searching for a job and have only ausreichend, it is very likely that the employer will take another candidate with better grades.


In other answers you find sufficient explanations of the grading system in Germany. But german.stackexchange.com is not a site about the country Germany. It is a site about the language German, and German is spoken in much more countries than just in Germany, and these other countries have very different grading systems, and I think they should also be mentioned.

German is the main language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein and it is an additional official language in Belgium, Luxembourg and South Tyrol (which is a region in the north of Italy). In all these countries and regions you find schools teaching in German. But they use different grading systems than Germany.

positive grades: You pass
negative grades: You fail

  • Austria
    Main language in Austria is German. There are some small regions where also other languages are additional official languages (Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian). All Schools in Austria teach in German. In regions where other languages are also used as official language teaching is allowed in these languages, but I don't know if there really exist schools that make use of this possibility. Exceptions are some rare and expensive private school where teaching is in English or French. In Vienna there even is a school teaching in Ukrainian who's number of students raised from 250 to more than 1000 in the last 2 weeks as I've learned these days from the news. But official names for marks exist only in German:

    1 = Sehr gut (very good, the best grade)
    2 = Gut (good)
    3 = Befriedigend (satisfying)
    4 = Genügend (sufficient, the worst positive grade)
    5 = Nicht genügend (not sufficient, the only one negative grade in Austria)

  • Switzerland
    Switzerland has 4 official languages which are main language in different regions of the country: German, French, Italian and Romansh. For details see Wikipedia: Languages of Switzerland. So, there are grade names in all 4 languages. I list only the German names here:

    6 = Sehr gut (very good, the best grade)
    5.5 (between 5 and 6, this mark doesn't have a name)
    5 = Gut (good)
    4.5 (between 4 and 5, this mark doesn't have a name)
    4 = Genügend (enough, the worst positive grade)
    3.5 (between 3 and 4, this mark doesn't have a name. It is the best negative grade)
    3 = Ungenügend (insufficient)
    2.5
    2 = Schwach (weak)
    1.5
    1 = Schlecht (bad, the worst negative grade)

  • Liechtenstein
    Liechtenstein is the only country on this planet, where no other language than German is the official language. Although Liechtenstein is a very small country, they still use two different grading systems: The Austrian system and the Swiss system (see above).

  • Belgium
    About 60% of Belgian people are Flemish and speak Flemish Dutch. Almost 40% are Walloons who speak French. But still there is a German speaking minority in the eastern regions of the country and they have schools where students are taught in German. But still the whole country uses the French grading system. This system is a fully numeric system without names for grades:

    20 is the best grade
    ...
    10 is the worst positive grade
    9 best negative grade
    ...
    0 the worst grade you can get

  • Luxembourg
    In Luxembourg, French and German are the two dominant languages in which classes are held. In primary and lower secondary education, teaching is mainly in German. In the higher grades, instruction is mainly in French. At some schools, instruction is also given in Luxembourgish. There are French and German official names for the school grades.

    50–60: très bien = sehr gut
    40–49: bien = gut
    30–39: satisfaisant = befriedigend (30 ist the worst positive grade)
    20–29: insuffisant = ungenügend (29 is the best negative grade)
    10–19: mauvais = schlecht
    01–09: très mauvais = sehr schlecht

  • South Tyrol
    Tyrol was for long times a sovereign country before it became part of Austria. Whole Tyrol was German speaking. In 1919, at the end of World War I, the northern and eastern parts remained as two disconnected parts in Austria, but the southern part of Tyrol became part of Italy. So, South Tyrol is a bilingual region today. There are German and Italian schools in this region, but the grading system is that of Italy, and even German schools use this system, but with German names for the grades:

    10 = eccellente = ausgezeichnet
    9 = ottimo = sehr gut
    8 = distinto = gut
    7 = discreto = zufriedenstellend
    6 = sufficiente = genügend
    5 = insufficiente = nicht genügend
    4 = scarso = unzureichend
    3 = molto scarso = sehr unzureichend
    2 = decisamente scarso = entschieden unzureichend
    1 = estremamente scarso = extrem unzureichend
    0 = non classificabile = nicht bewertbar

For completeness (although it is already mentioned in other answers too):

  • Germany
    German is the dominant language in the whole country, but there still exist some regions with additional official languages and also schools where students are taught in other languages than German (like Danish and Sorbian). There are also private schools teaching in English. But the grading system is the same in the whole country:

    1 = sehr gut (very good, the best grade)
    2 = gut (good)
    3 = befriedigend (satisfying)
    4 = ausreichend (sufficient, the worst positive grade)
    5 = mangelhaft (deficient, the best negative grade)
    6 = ungenügend (insufficient, the worst negative grade)

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The other answers already provide explanations specific to the grading system, and they are spot-on in the context asked about in the question. Nonetheless, I'd like to add this answer with an equally valid explanation on a more general level which works even unrelated to grades:

You write:

If the grade is sufficient, why would that be unfortunate?

This appears to presuppose that "sufficient" is a binary measure, that something is either sufficient or not, and that's it. With this assumption, it is indeed hard to grasp why something being "sufficient" would be unfortunate, as "sufficient" is usually the more desirable state among the two.

However, consider that there can be states that are better than "sufficient", and the statement suddenly makes sense again. "Sufficient", is, well, sufficient, but not any better than that. Hence, it can well be unfortunate that something is only "sufficient".

This is the principle at work with the grades, but it also works with any other adjective:

  • Unfortunately, the food is only tasty. (But it is not addictive.)
  • Unfortunately, the delay is only very short. (But it is not completely absent.)
  • Unfortunately, the new product will only increase the percentage of customers among the intended target audience. (But it will still not entice everyone among the target audience to buy it.)
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  • I'm struggling to find a context where the first example fits. Is it the boss of some evil food company talking or why would it be desirable for food to be addictive?
    – David Vogt
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 10:06
  • @DavidVogt: Read "addictive" not in the literal, medical sense, but in the sense of giving high praise to something. For example, "This ice cream isn't just good, I'm downright addicted to it!" Or, imagine a slightly humorous product evaluation form: "Please rate your experience with our meals. Did you find them [ ] So-so. [ ] Quite tasty. [ ] Want more. [ ] Absolutely addictive." Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 11:45
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I think it has to do with grading systems of this sort (this one is Goethe-Zertifikat): enter image description here

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  • dict.cc lists "D" (the grade) as a possible translation. This is not a common meaning though; dict.cc top 3 translations are "sufficient", "enough", "adequate". In my opinion the meaning in the example isn't common enough to worry about, but I've never tried for a B1 certification so I have no idea if it would be on an actual test.
    – RDBury
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 4:48
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    Please do never put information in pictures into the answer. There are different reasons for this. The most important: It makes the information unreachable for people using a screen reader. Please extract the information from the image into a text answer.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 10:00

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