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According to the answers given here, you'd normally use Katze instead of Kater in normal conversation, even for a male cat. The only time you'd use Kater is a) if you're a veterinarian or breeder who has a professional interest in the sex of the cat, or b) if you want to specify the sex for some other reason, e.g. Ich habe sowohl eine Katze als auch einen Kater. -- "I have both a female and male cat." This is more or less as I expected, constantly calling your pet cat a tomcat would be a bit weird in English and I assumed the same would be true in German.

The problem is that I'm watching a television show (Bosch) with German subtitles, and they use Kater more than once where it seems like Katze would be the normal word to use. In the first scene, a man is being arrested and wants to make sure his cat will be taken care of:

Und Buddy?
- Wer?
Mein Kater.
Ich kümmere mich um Buddy, Sir.

In the second scene the man's daughter comes to collect the cat and the same detective want's to know what she's doing in the man's house, since she's poking around as well:

Was tun Sie hier?
Ich wollte den Kater holen.
Ich hab mich nur umgesehen.

So my question is, since nobody, least of all the detective, cares about the sex of cat, why use Kater both times? My thinking now is that it's some quirk of the translator. The German audio uses Kater both times as well though.

The reason I'm curious about this is that one of the first things you learn about German as an English speaker is that German uses grammatical gender instead of natural gender as in English. So even if you're talking about a male cat you might say:

Wo ist die Katze? Sie liegt auf dem Sofa.

Specifically, you'd use sie instead of er even though the cat is male. But if you use Kater instead of Katze for no good reason it kind calls the whole grammatical gender theory into question.

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    I would not attribute too much authority to the answers of the linked question; I personally don't agree.
    – guidot
    May 9 at 13:45
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    Compare the title of the fairy tale Der gestiefelte Kater where it is (in my view) not very important that it's about a male cat, yet it's Kater, not Katze.
    – RHa
    May 9 at 17:13
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    As a sidenote, " Ich habe beide eine Katze und einen Kater" is wrong, correct would be "Ich habe sowohl eine Katze als auch einen Kater". Situationally you could say "Ich habe beide, eine Katze und einen Kater", but that implies you are replying to somebody e.g. asking "do you have my cats?" and does not have the meaning "I have both types". May 10 at 3:58
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    It is completely natural and common to refer to male cat as "Kater".
    – Sonyfreak
    May 10 at 9:19
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    @RememberMonica Yes "beide" implies that are are only two very specific things. Though you could also say "Ich habe beides, eine Katze und einen Kater" when you're asked whether your cat is male or female.
    – haxor789
    May 10 at 13:18

5 Answers 5

36

you'd normally use Katze instead of Kater in normal conversation, even for a male cat. The only time you'd use Kater is a) if you're a veterinarian or breeder who has a professional interest in the sex of the cat, or b) if you want to specify the sex for some other reason

Not necessarily. "Kater" is commonly used to refer to a male cat even in colloquial conversation. You can alternatively use "Katze" but more often only when you don't know the gender or (explicitly) don't care. In fringe cases, "Kater" may even be used for a female cat, e.g. out of habit (a neighbor of mine used to do that).

Correctly, you'd use "sie" to reflexively refer to "Katze" where last used, or "er" to refer to "Kater". In spoken German, that might not be followed all too strictly.

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    So I gather the rule is that if you know the cat, for example if it's your cat or it belongs to a friend, then you'd probably use Kater, just like you'd probably call a male person you know Mann and not Person or Mensch. It would be strange though to keep calling a male cat, even one you know, a "tomcat" or a "tom" in English. German and English often disagree on issues like this, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.
    – RDBury
    May 10 at 23:18
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    Pretty much so. While "tomcat" puts emphasis on the gender, "Kater" doesn't. It's just less ambiguous.
    – Zac67
    May 11 at 4:09
  • We used to refer to our male cat as "der Kater" colloquially. Example: "Wo ist denn der Kater?" 2 days ago
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If there is any kind of personal relation to a cat, like when it is your pet or you are acquainted enough to know the name by which it is called and doesn't come, you'd usually refer to it gender-specifically as "Katze" or "Kater". An exception may be if you are referring the cat to a stranger, like "haben Sie eine schwarz-weiße Katze gesehen?". If you are relating specific feats, like its ability to catch rats, you'd usually revert to the gender-specific form as that makes it personal.

If there is a multitude of cats on the premises that is kept to keep rodent populations in check (farms, stables, and so on), the likelihood of individual names goes down along with the likelihood of gender-specific references.

As a corollary, "die Kater" is almost exclusively used when referring to the male subset of specific cats and the non-deterministic plural "Kater" is basically only used when referring to behavior specific to male cats. "Die Katzen" may include male cats as does "Katzen".

While "Haben Sie meinen Kater gesehen?" may be asked of a stranger when looking for your male cat, "Haben Sie meine Kater gesehen?" would be quite unusual even if both cats you are looking for happened to be male.

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    This is wrong - surely, some people do that, but a lot (maybe even most) people have no problem refering to their own tomcat as "Katze" at all times. "Katze" is simply the correct category name for this animal, and "Kater" is only used to emphasize the sex or out of personal preference. May 10 at 4:03
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    This is right. When you talk to a cat owner and say Katze, will they be saying Kater simply bacause they know their pet better than I do. May 10 at 10:05
  • I mostly agree. When referring to our tomcat even within our family, I use both "der Kater" and "die Katze" from time to time. And yes, asking "Haben Sie meine Kater gesehen?" sounds funny and made me chuckle.
    – hunger
    May 12 at 7:19
  • Dann müssten Besitzer weiblicher Katzen immer "weibliche Katze" sagen um zu verdeutlichen, dass es eine weibliche Katze ist und nicht vielleicht doch ein Kater. May 16 at 3:09
7

"Katze" is the generic term (a case of the generisches Femininum in German), like when you are refering to cats in general ("Es gibt viele Katzen in dieser Stadt") or to a non-specific cat ("Da läuft eine Katze über die Straße")

When you refer to a specific cat, and it happens to be male, then you can use "Katze" and "Kater" pretty much as you wish. It's like refering to a doctor (Arzt) who happens to be female - you could use "Ärztin" if you want, whether or not you are particularly interested in her sex. It just makes it more clear that you are talking about this specific individual.

In general, whenever we refer to a specific individual, using the more specific term instead of the general term is fairly common. The same could be done with the breed, or a military rank or whatever other terms there are. It just makes it easier for the conversation partner to understand which specific individual we are refering to, or that we are talking about a specific individual at all, instead of a type in general.

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    Actually for German military ranks it's even worse as there isn't just a default masculine there is ONLY a masculine version so "Frau Hauptman" und "Gefreiter Jennifer" are really terribly awkward from a linguistic perspective but afaik the ONLY correct way. So yeah confusion guaranteed if the standard identifier is just rank and last name. Edit: At least it use to be like that for the longest time, changes are discussed but as far as I know not yet implemented.
    – haxor789
    May 10 at 13:10
  • @haxor789 Changes are not really in sight, I'm afraid...
    – Zac67
    May 10 at 13:40
  • @Zac67 Hard to imagine changes which actually make sense, meaning not even more awkward or just a sacrifice on the altar of political correctness. Thus no wonder there are none in sight. May 10 at 19:56
  • Die Aussage zu spezifischerer Terminologie ist schlicht falsch. Man kann fast immer noch spezifischer werden und noch spezifischer, aber die meisten Leute sagen eben "Meine Katze" und nicht "Meine Siamkatze" oder "Der Hund" wird eher gesagt als "der Schäferhund" usw. Man sagt auch eher "ein Auto hat mich angefahren" als "ein 3er-BMW-turbo-injection, rot mit schwarzem Heckspoiler und Duftttannenbaum hat mich angefahren." May 16 at 3:05
  • @userunknown Es gibt einen großen Unterschied zwischen "meine Katze / mein Kater" und "meine Siamkatze" - dadurch dass ich "mein" gesagt habe, ist bereits klar, welches spezifische Tier ich meine. Wenn ich mehrere Katzen unterschiedlicher Rassen habe, dann macht "meine Siamkatze" Sinn. Ansonsten ist es unnütze Information. Für Hund/Auto gilt gleiches. Wenn ich nur ein Auto habe, sage ich "mein Auto". Wenn ich 2 oder mehr Autos habe, sage ich "mein BMW" - wir wählen typischerweise die kürzeste Form, die eine eindeutige Identifizierung zulässt.
    – Tom
    May 16 at 4:41
2

I agree with most of the answers given. But I would like to add something.

The whole gender issue is a big thing in Germany right now. This refers especially to humans. Calling a "Ärztin" "Arzt" could be criticized in this day and age. I don't want to let this topic degenerate into a political discussion whether this is understandable, but most Germans would certainly agree with me that some female doctors might feel attacked.

Now referring to cats... I think that this whole gender discussion is also projected onto animals nowadays. The older generation would rarely really call a "Kater" "Kater" in a normal conversation, but would use the word "Katze".

Especially in older movies you rarely hear the word "Kater".

I think all my German friends wouldn't have been surprised if in the show you're referring to, the "Kater" was called "Katze". But no one would notice that the "Kater" is really called "Kater" either.

So all in all: For most people it's okay to say "Katze" to a "Kater", but to call a "Katze" "Kater" would be strange.

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    While the generic-masculinum was widely used in German to refer to people of both sexes in general terms, could one say that the use of "Katze" for a cat of unknown sex represents a generic femininum?
    – Dohn Joe
    May 10 at 12:10
  • Interesting idea, you're probably right. I just noticed that the generic feminine is often used in the animal world. "Kuh", "Pferd" etc May 10 at 12:44
  • It makes sense to me that this might be changing, so what was true 100 years ago is less true today. I'm guessing it has something to do with cats being more likely to be considered companions in recent decades, as opposed to pest control.
    – RDBury
    May 10 at 23:12
  • @DohnJoe that is correct - Wikipedia has de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katze and de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arzt and in both cases refers to the generic that includes both sexes.
    – Tom
    May 16 at 4:44
  • With respect to this meta question I recommend to delete the first paragraph. I also have some problems with your comment, since Pferd is neuter and I could not come up with another feminine example quickly.
    – guidot
    May 16 at 15:00
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Katzen is the generic term for this kind of animal so you can use it for male, female or unknown sexes of that animal. Something of the opposite is true with dogs where "(der) Hund" is the default for male, female or unknown. The plural versions "die Kater" and "die Hündinnen" are rather uncommon as they would be solely used for groups of only male cats or only female dogs.

Though if the sex of a cat is known and if the owner of the pet has a close relationship with it, including giving it a name, then it's not uncommon to use the correct description (at least by them).
I mean in your example the cat is referred to as "Buddy" which from the context seems to be a (mostly male) name and not "a buddy", so if you've gone so far in giving your cat a name and personality you might as well address it with the correct sex. Like if someone introduced his cat to you with the words "That's Horst (male name), she's a real queen" you'd probably be a little confused.

Also, it's not as if you'd actually confuse other people by calling your cat a tomcat. I mean if someone told you that his tomcat is driving them insane, you'd still know it's a cat and what they're talking about, it's just information that you wouldn't care about either way.

And another fun fact, the German word for (alcohol related) hangover is also Kater. Apparently it comes from the similar sounding German word for "Catarrh", but is more often used in puns and with the association of cats.

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