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This post gave me insight on the title topic but I am still confused how to identify which is more appropriate to use

Wenn man ein öffentliches Transportmittel wie Bus, Straßenbahn oder S-Bahn benutzt, ohne eine Fahrkarte gekauft zu haben, nennt man das "Schwarzfahren". Da es immer Menschen gibt, die öffentlich(e) Verkehrsmittel ohne Ticket nutzen, gibt es in allen Städten Beamte, die die Fahrkarte der Fahrgäste kontrollieren.

The question in my book was to figure out the adjective ending in the bracketed spot. I used "es" because Verkehrsmittel is neutrum. However, the correct answer required me to consider Verkehrsmittel as plural here. What I am confused is, why is that in the first sentence we consider Transportmittel as singular but in the mentioned sentence, Verkehrsmittel as plural?

Also, why is it Beamte and not Beamten? It seems more natural to me to use Beamte?

2 Answers 2

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You can use either, in my opinion. It's a meaning-focused question.

It could just as well have been:

Wenn man öffentliche Vekehrsmittel wie Bus, Bahn, ...

Menschen, die ein öffentliches Vekehrsmittel ohne Ticket nutzen...


"Beamte" is declined like an adjective.
It has different forms depending on whether an article preceeds it. It is die Beamten, but without article just Beamte.

The reason it is not declined like a Substantiv is the origin of the word. It is originating from an adjectival participle form of an old verb. Since these are declined like adjectives, this word kept its declension. This is typical, although not obvious.

Other examples are "Fremder", "Angestellter", "Reisender".

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  • Why is beamte declined like an adjective?
    – Babu
    Aug 11, 2023 at 19:13
  • @SBrian I wrote in the second part of my answer that it originates from a participle. Aug 11, 2023 at 19:38
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There are multiple points you should understand relating to your question:

  • In accusative, the word "Verkehrsmittel" on its own can be either singular or plural. So this is no help to find out whether it is "öffentliche" or "öffentliches".
  • Unless in special idioms, in German you have usually a definite ("der/die/das") or indefinite ("ein/eine") article in conjunction with a singular noun that refers to a tangible items. If you talk about reading a book, and the context clear indicates the book you are currently reading, you use the definite article. "Weißt Du, wo 1984 von George Orwell im Regal steht? - Das Buch steht nicht im Regal. Ich lese das Buch gerade." (Do you know where 1984 by George Orwell is located in the shelf? - That book is not in the shelf. I currently read the book." If the identity of the book doesn't matter, but any book will do, you use the indefinite article. "Kanst Du mir ein Buch geben, um die Mücke zu erschlagen?" ("Can you pass me a book to smash the moth?"). The concept here is very similar in German or English, but it seems to be difficult to embrace by native speakers of slavic languages. You only leave out the article if you are talking about a concept instead of a tangible item. "Ich habe das mit Absicht gemacht" ("I did that on purpose"). If you just explained the purpose before, and you refer for to a specific purpose, you can say "Ich habe das mit der Absicht gemacht" ("I did it on that purpose"). If you are hinting that there is a specific purpose, but you have not mentioned it yet (perhaps you are going to explain it in the next senctence), you can say "Ich habe es mit einer Absicht gemacht" ("I did that on a purpose"). This feels very clumsy if you don't pick it up, like in "Und zwar wollte ich, dass Du die Folgen davon selbst siehst". ("In particular, I wanted you to see the consequence of doing it for yourself"). As a bus or a train is a tangible item and you when you get caught without a ticket, you are using a specifc bus or train, this sentence is not talking about the mere concept of a bus or train, so the use of the singular requires an article, as the other answer suggests. It would be "Wenn man ein öffentliches Verkehrsmittel nutzt" if singular is intended, just as Oran Matheus explains in the other answer. So the non-presence of "ein" is the main clue that plural is intended here.
  • The distinction between singular and plural at this point isn't that strict, but to me (a native German speaker) it makes sense as written. The first sentence is about a signle person using public transport. ("Wenn man ... nutzt"). A single person can not be on two busses on the same time. So it makes sense to use the singular form. If you wrote it in plural ("Wenn man öffentliche Verkehrsmittel nutzt, ..."), the sentence will be understood just the same way by the general public, but some smart-ass might claim ("This rule talks about using multiple buses or trains, it's plural. I only used a single bus without ticket, so it doesn't apply to me"). On the other hand, the second sentence does not refer to a single person using public transport without a ticket, but refers to the whole group of persons that (sometimes) use public transport without a ticket. Not every person using public transport without a ticket is on the same train or on the same bus, so using plural at this point makes sense. Multiple busses or trains are carrying people without tickets. The idea that "Es gibt Leute, die ein öffentliches Verkehrsmittel ohne Ticket nutzen" might refer just to a single specific vehicle is likely stronger in German than in English, because in German, the indefinite article is the same as the number one. So "Leute, die ein öffentliches Verkehrsmittel nutzen" could be "people using a public transport vehicle" or "people using one public transport vehicle" in English.
  • As a side note, because this is so much about busses and using articles: There is a big difference between "Ich fahre Bus" und "Ich fahre einen Bus".
    • "Ich fahre Bus" means "I go by bus". In this instance, "Bus" is not used as a classical object, and "fahren" is used in its intransitive form ("I am moving because I am using a vehicle"). If you want to consider the word "Bus" refering to an object and not just the concept of using a bus, you need to use a prepositional clause: "Ich fahre mit dem Bus" or "Ich fahre mit einem Bus". Surprisingly (even for me) "Ich fahre mit dem Bus" still is idiomatic even if it is not specified at all which bus you are going to use. It's still more the specific idea of using a bus than an individual physical bus. Actually, "Ich fahre mit einem Bus" feels unidiomatic to me, except if the idea of using a single, but yet unspecified bus is the main point of focus, as in "Wenn ich mit einem großen Auto fahren will, fahre ich mit einem Bus" ("If I want to ride on a big car, I go by bus"). In this case, the clause "mit einem Bus" refers to the concept of a "big car" already mentioned before, and the sentence is OK. The sentence would be OK too if it were "..., fahre ich mit dem Bus" (as this is generally OK for describing that you go by bus), as is "..., fahre ich Bus".
    • On the other hand, if I say "Ich fahre einen Bus", "Bus" clearly is the (accusative) object in this sentence, so "fahren" is used in the transitive form ("I am operating a vehicle (the object) to make it move"), that is "I drive a bus" in English.

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