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In English, I have seen many books and videos with titles like:

Understanding Quantum Mechanics

Finding Nemo

Going away

But how do I say something like the above in German?

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3 Answers 3

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Notice that there is a different cultural background at work. Some things are simply done (and said) differently in English and German. Here are some suggestions but keep in mind that a title needs to be interesting. Regurgitate a formula which has been used over and over and you get the exact opposite of that.

  1. Use the topic itself, e.g. "Quantenphysik". That the book teaches how to understand quantum physics and is not written with the intent to maximise confusion of the reader is something of a given, no? It is possible to have a subtitle, like "Quantenphysik - einfach erklärt" (explained simply) to set a book for laymen apart from, say, a book for physics students.

  2. Titles which make use of the present progressive like in English are not common at all in German. Furthermore English speakers commonly use the result of an action whereas German speakers will use the action itself: "Finding Nemo" would rather be "Die Suche nach Nemo", (the search for) because the book is not about finding the fish but rather the search for it.

  3. If you want to title something the yellow-press would suggest to its readers you can add a "leichtgemacht" (about: "the easy way") to the topic. "Going Away" would become "Weggehen - leichtgemacht". Notice that this type of titles is so abundant that you shouldn't use it if you have something relevant to say. "Quantenphysik - leichtgemacht" will perhaps sell not a single copy because people interested in quantum physics will be put off by the "leichtgemacht" and people who appreciate "whatever - leichtgemacht" will not be interested in quantum physics.

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    For what it's worth, the actual German title of "Finding Nemo" is "Findet Nemo", which I gather is the plural imperative, "Find Nemo". The "X Made Easy" format is common in English, to the point of being a cliche.
    – RDBury
    Mar 31 at 3:03
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    And for what it’s worth, it doesn’t look like Going Away had a localised German title at all. DVDs on German websites all call it either Going Away (in English) or Un beau dimanche (in the original French). Mar 31 at 10:10
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    This is simply wrong. The German equivalent is using the infinitive: "Quantenphysik verstehen", "Nemo finden", "Weggehen". Mar 31 at 23:08
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica: Notice that the question is not about translating the title but to find equivalent titles.
    – bakunin
    Apr 1 at 9:48
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica: I can indeed imagine "Quantenphysik verstehen" as a book title, but the other two sound simply off. Maybe it's also related to the fact that in German, an infinitive can be understood as some kind of an order, as well. Apr 1 at 11:16
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German book and movie titles aren't like that. As simple as that.

A book titled “Understanding Quantum Mechanics” would be e.g. titled „Einführung in die Quantenmechanik“ in German. Or „Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik“, „Quantenmechanik für Ingenieure”, „Lehrbuch der Quantenmechanik“ or if the authors love puns „Quantenmechanik in kleinen Schritten” or something like that.

And similarly for “Finding Nemo”. That one was named “Findet Nemo” in German with the imperative.

That “Going away” movie is originally French and likely the German publisher would translate the French title instead and call it „Ein herrlicher Sonntag“ or similar.

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  • The translations given in this answer are typical titles for such books, but "Quantenmechanik verständlich erklärt", "Verständliche Quantenmechanik", "Quantenmechanik begreifen"or the "Quantenmechanik verstehen" from other answers would be alternatives that hew closer to the original.
    – tobi_s
    Apr 1 at 3:19
  • "Verständliche Quantenmechanik", "Quantenmechanik begreifen" or "Quantenmechanik verstehen" wouldn't be typical book titles. They work very poorly and look very alien to a native reader. Not a good way to sell books.
    – Polygnome
    Apr 1 at 8:53
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    @Polygnome: As a matter of fact, there is a book named "Quantenmechanik verstehen: Eine Einführung in den Welle-Teilchen-Dualismus für Lehrer und Studierende" by an Austrian author, originally published in German. Apr 1 at 11:27
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    @Polygnome: I was indeed thinking about that, but wasn't really sure whether that's the case. Without the subtitle, does it sound unusual because "Quantenmechanik verstehen" cannot stand on its own in German, or because there is a general tendency to add lengthy subtitles in German to somehow clarify a brief main title? Apr 1 at 11:37
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    Re "German book and movie titles aren't like that": A simple google search for "Kunst verstehen", "Physik verstehen", "Chemie verstehen", "Tanz verstehen" and many others shows that this is incorrect. On the contrary, these are common titles. Consequently, this answer which is based on that wrong premise is wrong and even misleading as well. Apr 2 at 8:17
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I understand your question to be about how to translate the English gerund to German, rather than about how movie titles are translated. In German, the infinite is used. The literal translations of your examples would be

Quantenmechanik verstehen

Nemo finden

Weggehen

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  • This is the correct answer (except that I'm not sure about the capital beginnings of the verb: Wouldn't the verb be in lower case, even in a book title? It is not "substantiviert", is it? Vgl. "Musik verstehen" u.ä. Mar 31 at 23:14
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica You are right, even in titles, the verb would not be capitalized if not at the beginning of the title. (So "Weggehen" is fine, but "Nemo Finden" should be "Nemo finden".) German does not have title case. As a side note: There is one place where you will frequently find title case in German: In the track lists of albums. I suspect that this is partially due to some software that automatically transforms track titles into title case, and partially because artists copy what they see on English track lists. (Still, it's incredibly ugly in German, in my opinion.) Apr 2 at 7:16
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Thanks for the hint, I corrected the post accordingly :)
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Apr 2 at 8:07

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