6

This is yet another case where English and German don't seem to agree on when to use a definite article. There were two similar recent questions on the same theme: When to use a definite article with 'Leute' and When is an article to be used with Tränen?. (I came to the conclusion then that there is no entirely satisfactory answer to this type of question, but I'm asking here about a fairly special case.)

Wiktionary uses Er glaubte, dass es auf dem Mars Kanäle gibt, as a usage example for glauben, and I noticed that it uses dem Mars instead of just Mars. This is consistent with German Wikipedia's usage:

Der Mars ist, von der Sonne aus gezählt, der vierte Planet im Sonnensystem ...
Die Venus ist mit einer durchschnittlichen Sonnenentfernung von 108 Millionen Kilometern ...
Der Merkur ist mit einem Durchmesser von knapp 4880 Kilometern ...
Der Saturn ist von der Sonne aus gesehen der sechste Planet des Sonnensystems ...
Der Uranus (...) ist von der Sonne aus mit einer durchschnittlichen Sonnenentfernung ...
Der Neptun ist der achte und äußerste bekannte Planet unseres Sonnensystems.

But:

Jupiter ist mit einem Äquatordurchmesser von rund 143.000 Kilometern ...
Pluto ist der größte und zweitmassivste bekannte Zwergplanet unseres Sonnensystems ...
Ceres ist nach der römischen Göttin des Ackerbaus benannt; ...
Rigel ist der hellste Stern im Sternbild Orion und der siebthellste des Nachthimmels.

In English, the names of heavenly bodies are proper nouns, and so they don't use an article. Exceptions are "the Earth", "the Moon" and "the Sun", though in science fiction they are sometimes given proper names: "Terra", "Luna" and "Sol". In German, it seems that the exceptions extend to all planets except, for some reason, Jupiter. (Pluto was demoted to Zwergplanet; I don't know if it was der Pluto before that.) Apparently when you're referring to the mythological beings then the names Venus, Mars etc. are considered proper nouns in German and articles aren't used.

So: 1) Is Jupiter really an exceptional case or it the definite article optional for all planets? 2) Are definite articles used with any other heavenly bodies? For 2, it appears that certain constellations use a definite article, for example der Orion, but I haven't been able to see a pattern for when. (Part of the reason I'm asking is I want to know if the usage example in Wiktionary is correct; it can be easily changed of not.)

1
  • 1
    I think the article is omitted if the celestial body is personified. Names are generally used without articles (in standard German).
    – user6495
    Apr 29, 2022 at 9:05

2 Answers 2

8

It's tricky. And I generally agree with guidot's answer but there's some more finer details I'd like to point out:

Sun, Moon and Earth always go with an article when referred to.

Der Mond geht auf während die Sonne noch am Firmament steht und wir auf der Erde beides beobachten.

The other planets (Merkur, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptun) can go with or without article - and it's hard to figure out when an article is used. It feels like using an article adds a bit more emphasis on "this body, not any other".

Merkur geht kurz nach der Sonne erst unter und Venus, Jupiter, Mars und Saturn sind nur in den Morgenstunden kurz vor Sonnenaufgang gut zu beobachten.

Merkur ist Ende April in den Abenstunden am besten zu sehen.

Der Merkur ist Ende April in den Abendstunden am besten zu sehen.

Using an article somewhat places a bit more emphasis and distinction on the planet. My impression is you will find without article more often, especially in observation guides etc. Yet it also depends on sentence structure. Taking the example from guidot again:

Es gibt kein intelligentes Leben auf der Venus.

It would sound a bit strange to me to leave out the article in this sentence structure. Yet if I shuffle the elements, it sound ok:

Auf Venus gibt es kein intelligentes Leben.

yet I still prefer here the version with article nonetheless:

Auf der Venus gibt es kein intelligentes Leben.

Smaller solar system bodies, like the dwarf planets, e.g. Pluto (though here traditionally an article is sometimes used), Ceres (=the biggest asteroid in the asteroid belt), Makemake, Oumuamua etc usually go without article, and so do other smaller bodies like comets:

Tschurjumow-Gerassimenko wurde insbesondere durch den Besuch der Raumsonde Rosetta bekannt.

Als erster größerer Körper von außerhalb des Sonnensystems wurde Oumuamua bekannt.

but with article when you use a body type designation ('Komet', similar applies to 'Planet', 'Zwergplanet', 'Asteroid' etc)

Der Komet Tschurjumow-Gerassimenko wurde insbesondere durch den Besuch der Raumsonde Rosetta bekannt.

Stellar names like 'Rigel', 'Epsilon Eridani', etc generally go without an article.

When it comes to galaxies, it's only "Die Milchstrasse" (our milkyway / our Galaxy), but all other are again referenced without article:

M31, die Andromeda-Galaxie, ist ca. 3 Millionen Lichtjahre von uns entfernt und wird in knapp 3 Milliarden Jahren mit der Milchstraße anfangen zu verschmelzen.

4
  • Die Frage passt zu Deinem user-Namen ...
    – Paul Frost
    Apr 29, 2022 at 15:58
  • It's no co-incidence :) Apr 29, 2022 at 16:27
  • @Paul Frost: I'll try to come up with a question about extreme cold next time :)
    – RDBury
    Apr 29, 2022 at 18:31
  • Thanks, that's very thorough. I gather that the reason Jupiter appears without der in Wikipedia is that it's kind of up to preference, and the authors had a different preference in that case. I'm getting the impression that using a definite article is hardly ever 'wrong'. Even for people's names it's allowed in some regions. So the advice for learners should be: Use one when in doubt.
    – RDBury
    Apr 30, 2022 at 2:22
5

My impression is that the article is somewhat optional, but only as far as the nominative applies. (I don't share the assumption that the presence or absence of the article is an indication of any other quality like size). Since planet names remain unchanged in the different cases (neglecting the genitive-s), the article is at least good style for clarifying the case. In the example:

Es gibt kein intelligentes Leben auf der Venus.

omission of the article gives the sentence an abbreviated style similar to newspaper headlines.

I also note that rivers, mountains etc. practically always use articles in German as well.

This thread in Leo shares my impression and assumes that the omission of the article is influenced by the English example.

Summary: Using the definite article is the more universal approach.

1
  • Thanks. One of the many uses that DWDS lists for der is case and/or gender clarification. But suppose it's up to the individual to decide if the case or gender is ambiguous in the first place. Many geographic features use articles in English as well. I think the difference is that celestial bodies tend to be named after mythological figures, so English regards the names more like the names of people.
    – RDBury
    Apr 30, 2022 at 1:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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