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I think This question is related but it doesn't seem very helpful. I'm trying to understand why Leute is preceded by die in cases where you'd simply use "people" in English. Yes, I know German and English don't have to agree on this kind of thing, but I'd like to know if there is any kind of pattern, rule, or subtlety in meaning involved. Leute is always plural so the only choices are Leute by itself and die Leute. You can use a definite article when you're referring to a specific group, for example Die Fische hier schwimmen sehr schnell. This seems to be the gist of the answers given to the question mentioned above, and the same thing holds in English: "The fish here swim very fast." So that doesn't explain examples where German uses die but English does not use "the". Some examples (from the DWDS usage database, translations per Google Translate):

Die Leute wollen wissen, was vor sich geht.
People want to know what's going on.

Die Leute sollten mich in der Show sehen und das sollte zu größeren Rollen führen.
People should see me on the show and that should lead to bigger roles.

Bringt die Leute in den Bus.
Get people on the bus.

Gewöhnlich brezeln sich die Leuten auf, wenn sie fliegen.
"People usually dress up when they fly.

Going the other direction, DeepL translates my example "The farmer is giving people apples," as Der Bauer schenkt den Leuten Äpfel. Would the sentence be incorrect without the den? Would it be correct but unusual phrasing? Or is this issue simply due to faulty machine translation?

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  • In the sentence without the article, Der Bauer schenkt Leuten Äpfel, how would you know whether the farmer was giving apples to people or he was giving people to apples? The article clarifies. You see this going on with "den Tränen nahe sein", which can also be stated, "die Tränen jdm nahe sein".
    – user44591
    Apr 20 at 18:10
  • @user44591: I think the farmer giving people to apples would be Der Bauer schenkt Äpfeln Leute, The dative ending moves from Leute to Äpfel, telling you what is being given to which. Also the word order would be a hint; dative before accusative is preferred when both objects are nouns. Tränen is different because it doesn't have a dative ending. If the farmer were giving cherries to women it would create ambiguity.
    – RDBury
    Apr 20 at 22:12
  • All of your examples would by perfectly correct without "die". But with a different meaning. With "die", your're more specificly referring to a bunch of people, while without, you're more general. Hence, In the lat example, "die" is not idiomatic, as you make a very general statement. In other examples, both versions are possible depending on whether your talk about people in general or a specific crowd. E.g., "Bringt Leute in den Bus" would ask to recruit anyone to fill up the bus, while "Bringt die Leute in den Bus" would ask to get the people waiting outside into the bus.
    – Bastian J
    Apr 21 at 6:53

3 Answers 3

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In addition to guidot's answer, and the question and answers to it as linked by the OP:

There is a subtle difference: Without article it is very general with no connection between the individual people. When you use it with a definitive article, you attribute to the people some common interest or other type of connection which distinguishes them from people in general. This distinction might not even be material in that this group is really distinct from people in general - it might just be a random group of people who are just lumped together simply because they happen to be at the same place at the same time.

Some more examples to possibly illustrate the matter:

Leute kommen und gehen

People come and go (people in general, no particular group or over-arching common interest)

Die Leute kommen und gehen

People come and go (those people - which might have something in common)

Leute drängten in den Bus

People crowded to get into the bus

Die Leute drängten in den Bus

Those people crowded to get into the bus (probably the people from that travel group, or just the people who are in that place.

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  • So in Der Bauer schenkt den Leuten Äpfel," the *Leuten are more or less connected by being, say, on the farm or near the farmer. He's not giving apples to anyone it the world, just to people in the immediate area.
    – RDBury
    Apr 20 at 15:16
  • yes, exactly. They are connected by being there and having gotten apples from him. Apr 20 at 16:08
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This is not an issue about German language, but about the different meanings of "the people" and "people" in English:

There is an important point that was not mentioned in the other languages. You can use the word "people" with definite article also in English, but then it doesn't translate to Leute in German:

The people v. O. J. Simpson TV show
Das Volk gegen O. J. Simpson.

For the people TV show
Für das Volk

We the People of the United States, ... constitution of USA
Wir, das Volk der Vereinigten Staaten, ...

Will of the people music album
Des Volkes Wille

The German word »das Volk« (the people) means the community of all women, men and children living in a country. It also can be an ethnical group with it's own identity. Das Volk is: "Us, who we belong together and form a great and strong unity".

But »die Leute« (people) is just a group of any persons without any particular common characteristic.

In Germany, right-wing extremist protesters like to hold up signs that say, "Wir sind das Volk" which is in English "We are the people". When you say in English "We are people" this would be in German "Wir sind die Leute" or "Wir sind Leute".

So,

  • When ever you read the word "Leute" in German, no matter if with or without article, this is always "people" without article in English.
  • When you use "the people" in English, it never is "Leute" or "die Leute" in German. It always is "das Volk" (a big ethnical group or the persons that make up a country or nation).

So what is this definite article for "Leute" in German all about?

Well, it's just the same as for all definite articles. Nothing special. When you mean a specific group of any persons, then you have to use the definite article:

Die Leute wollen wissen, was vor sich geht.

I better replace the word by another word that has not this Leute/Volk issue on top:

  1. Die Kinder wollen wissen, was vor sich geht.
    The kids want to know what's going on.

  2. Kinder wollen wissen, was vor sich geht.
    Kids want to know what's going on.

In 1 you have a specific group of children (maybe the kids in a classroom or the children of Mr. Smith). But in 2 we are talking about some kids in general. It's the very same in the next example:

  1. Die Kinder sollten mich in der Show sehen und das sollte zu größeren Rollen führen.
    The kids should see me on the show and that should lead to bigger roles.

  2. Kinder sollten mich in der Show sehen und das sollte zu größeren Rollen führen.
    Kids should see me on the show and that should lead to bigger roles.

But what works very well with "the kids" vs. "kids" in English, doesn't work in English with "the people" vs. "people", because in English these are two different terms with different meanings, while in German the difference between "die Leute" and "Leute" is the same as between "die Kinder" and "Kinder" or any other noun.

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  • I'm not sure that "the people" has just the meaning you describe, but it is a meaning and I can see how you might avoid "the people" to prevent confusion. Most of time you can use "people" instead of "the people" without much change in meaning: "The people in this city are very nice."/"People in this city are very nice." I suppose another issue I'm having is that I think of "people" as the plural of "person" since "persons" is rare. But Mensch and Person have perfectly good plurals of their own.
    – RDBury
    Apr 20 at 15:05
  • Den Satz "Wir sind das Volk!" mit Rechtsextremisten in Verbindung zu bringen, finde ich genauso unverschämt wie die Tatsache, dass diese den Satz gelegentlich missbrauchen.
    – Olafant
    Apr 20 at 23:39
  • @Olafant: Sorry, wenn ich dir da auf die Zehen gestiegen bin, aber die, die diese Schilder vor sich rumtragen sind doch - so nehme ich das jedenfalls aus Österreich wahr - mehrheitlich AfD-Sympathisanten. Und soweit ich das mitbekommen habe, hat der deutsche Verfassungsschutz die AfD als rechtsextrem eingestuft. Ich glaube, das ist maximal ein halbes Jahr her. Die deutsche AfD ist, nach allem was ich den Medien entnehme, offenbar ähnlich weit rechts wie die österreichische FPÖ. Apr 21 at 7:39
  • Ach ja: Ich habe nicht den Satz an sich mit Rechtsextremen in Verbindung gebracht, sondern Schilder auf denen er steht, und mit Leuten, die solche Schilder herumtragen. Apr 21 at 7:42
  • Ja, diese Saftnasen benutzen das gerne. Eigentlich ist dieser Satz aber bei den Montagsdemonstrationen in der DDR entstanden. Und da hatte das nun mit Rechtsextremismus überhaupt nichts zu tun. Ich finde einfach ganz furchtbar, dass inzwischen den Leuten bei diesem Satz zuerst rechtsextreme, geistige Tiefflieger in den Sinn kommen. Und dass du diese Verbindung hier ohne inhaltliche Relevanz erwähnst, finde ich einfach traurig.
    – Olafant
    Apr 21 at 10:25
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This is a Nullartikel issue, see also this question. In general I would use the definite article in all of your cases, one hopefullly instructive distinction is

Bringt die Leute in den Bus.

probably meaning, that the commuters should prefer public transportation over their own car. The article also allows, to add a subclause for giving more details, like:

Bringt die Leute, die weniger als 10 km Arbeitsweg haben, in den Bus.

The variant:

Bringt Leute in den Bus.

in comparison is a much more specialized expression; one valid context would be a photographer, who thinks the interior of a bus gives better photos with some passengers, but no special people are meant, since no group of models hangs around.

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  • The relative clause is possible if there is no article as well: Bringt Leute, die weniger als 10 km Arbeitsweg haben, in den Bus. So, I guess the example is rather confusing. Apr 20 at 14:42
  • The examples are all from the DWDS usage database, so I was expecting them to be idiomatic German. The question is more why does German prefer the articles over no articles in these cases? There seems to be some difference in meaning between Leute and dei Leute which is either different or nonexistent in English. I think the distinction you're talking about here also exists in English.
    – RDBury
    Apr 20 at 15:32

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