Signing off on emails/Wie unterschreibe ich eine E-Mail?

Diamond Geezer has a great post on how to start and end an email, with 44 comments at present. It starts Hi Reader and ends Many thanks dg.
I think this shows that there is no easy answer to how to address people in both formal and informal emails.
I hope this post doesn’t come across as prescriptive, because I have great doubts about all forms of address and closing.
In German, the problem is just as great.

First, in letters (British English only):
Dear Sir or Madam … Yours faithfully
Dear Mr. Smith /Dear John … Yours sincerely

In the law firm I worked in, we had this closing for clients:
Kind regards

In formal emails, you might start
And close:
Best regards
Kind regards

Is this right? I rarely write formal emails in English and I have been known to close
Yours sincerely

which may be a no-no in email.

Now the emails to friends, acquaintances and forums.
I usually start:
Some write

To a forum, I often start without a greeting.

To close, I usually write
Some write
Kind regards
Best regards

which seem awfully formal to me.
Then there are
and if one wants an answer
Many thanks
Best wishes

I particularly liked dg’s comments on Take care.

Take care. Whereas this one’s not so good. It may be only eight letters long, but there’s an unspoken hint within that something terrible is about to take place. You might as well end your email with “Watch out!” instead. It’s much too negative for me, and I’d hope for you too.

But I suspect that Take care is more common among Americans.

Now about German. First, formal.
A potential new client might write:
Sehr geehrte Frau Marks … mit freundlichen Grüßen /freundlichen Gruß
Hallo Frau Marks
Guten Tag Frau Marks

This is less formal and might come from the secretary of a client one already knows.
After some time, the client might want to be more friendly:
Liebe Frau Marks
Hallo Frau Marks /Guten Tag Frau Marks

Beste Grüße
Herzliche Grüße
Viele Grüße

Not everyone likes Viele Grüße, but I quite like it, and in any case I follow the client’s lead.
Non-Germans should note that the ß character has not been abolished – Gruß/Grüße and Straße are the most common pitfalls (except in Switzerland, of course).

Now in German to friends, acquaintances and forums.
I do have a difficulty here, because I have found German forums more formal than American and British ones. Maybe that’s because I was on CompuServe much earlier than on German forums and they seemed slower to relax. I have had my knuckles rapped and been thought to be intentionally rude for writing to a forum without a greeting. This was obviously an offence against German netiquette. I don’t know if that is the case any more, but I have an uncomfortable feeling when I write to a German forum.
So some write
Liebes Forum
Liebe Mitglieder

or some variation on the forum’s name.
Otherwise it’s down to
I don’t feel northern enough to use Moin (which is not limited to the morning)
I usually close with
but always feeling it is a bit abrupt.
I have not got used to the increasingly common
Liebe Grüße
which feels overfriendly to me but is possibly becoming standard.
I have just checked my inbox and found one
Schöne Grüße
and one
Mit kollegialen Grüßen
(this reminds me a bit of Mit sozialistischem Gruß in Goodbye Lenin).
It’s also, I remember, fairly common to mention the weather in one’s location:
Mit verregneten Grüßen aus Köln
Mit sonnigen Grüßen aus München

or if one wants a reply to a question
Neugierige Grüße
Is this done in English? I certainly avoid it.

It’s been pointed out by a commenter that MfG is a bit of a no-no, especially in formal correspondence.
That reminds me of some abbreviations widespread in informal contexts. Thnx rather irritated me because it’s scarcely shorter than Thanks.

Lawyers among themselves use Mit kollegialen Grüßen (see comment). I sometimes have to translate this into English, and the equivalent is just Yours sincerely or Best/Kind Regards. There’s a lovely heated discussion on this on the LEO forum.

And I forgot to mention the direct address I often use on forums: just the name of the person addressed, without any ‘Dear’.

Indirect speech in judgments/Indirekte Rede in Urteilen DE>EN

There was a query on Proz this week on a topic I remember once discussing on u-forum: when you translate a judgment from German to English, how do you indicate that part of it is in reported speech?

I basically agreed with the solution in this case, although it wasn’t quite what I would do (using words like ‘allegedly‘ was one of the points, and I find that a bit negative). I must say that the suggestions and discussions on Proz are often extremely helpful to me. Proz has this weird system called Kudoz, whereby you get points if you help someone to answer a question. This seems to force people to put effort into their answers, because they get even more points if their answer is selected, although sometimes the asker doesn’t select the best answer. There are discussions on Leo and dict. cc too, which tend to be more time-consuming to consult.

So here’s the problem: German uses the subjunctive for reported speech. It is absolutely clear from the verb itself that this is reported speech, even without the reporting verb. Here is a sentence from a judgment of the Bundesgerichtshof:

Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts hat die Klägerin einen Anspruch darauf, dass die Beklagte die Bezeichnung der Klägerin als “Terroristentochter” unterlässt (§ 823 Abs. 1, § 1004 BGB analog). Die Bezeichnung verletze die Klägerin rechtswidrig in ihrem allgemeinen Persönlichkeitsrecht.

The judgment quotes another court. It is a vital part of the meaning that this is a quotation. In the second sentence, the verletze
is subjunctive, so clearly indirect speech, without any introductory verb or ‘Nach Auffassung’ and so on.

In English, it is essential to make this reporting clear. If the reporting verb is in the past tense, the reported verb is backshifted, but this is not always enough to show reported speech: it could mean ‘verletze’ or ‘verletzte’.

English reported speech rules are not terribly well understood in Germany, partly I think because students are expected to adhere rigidly to the backshift whereas we don’t backshift every single verb if it’s clear. Still, here is a summary:

Reporting verb in present tense or ‘According to’ etc: no backshift
Reporting verb in past tense: backshift

Canoonet has a nice summary of the German practice.

In the German example above, the first sentence has ‘Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts’ and no subjunctive, the second sentence has subjunctive.

In English, the reporting phrase ‘In the opinion of the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht)’ would also be followed by a present tense, and the second sentence would remain present tense too.

Techniques of showing it is reported speech: you may replace ‘in the opinion of the court’ by ‘the court held’, followed by a backshift.
You may pepper the translation, as it continues with a big block of reported speech in the subjunctive, with more reporting verbs and ‘in the court’s view’ – these may not be there in the German, but they convey the subjunctive.
Another help is that if a whole paragraph is quoted, the layout alone may make it clear that is the case. This is the approach taken by an online translation of this very judgment.

Here’s a block of judgment (for reference see below) with the reported verbs marked. Note that the last sentence turns to the opinion of the present court, the Bundesgerichtshof, which is no longer subjunctive:

Entscheidungsgründe: I. Nach Auffassung des Berufungsgerichts hat die Klägerin einen Anspruch darauf, dass die Beklagte die Bezeichnung der Klägerin als “Terroristentochter” unterlässt (§ 823 Abs. 1, § 1004 BGB analog). Die Bezeichnung verletze die Klägerin rechtswidrig in ihrem allgemeinen Persönlichkeitsrecht.

Die Äußerung “Terroristentochter” stelle eine Tatsachenbehauptung dar.

Ein durchschnittlicher Leser verstehe den abstrakten Aussagegehalt der Bezeichnung dahin, dass jemand die Tochter von Terroristen oder eines Terroristen sei. Durch den Bezug zu Ulrike Meinhof sei für den durchschnittlichen Leser klargestellt, dass die Bezeichnung im Sinn von “Terroristin-Tochter” gemeint sei.

Es könne dahingestellt bleiben, inwieweit die Klägerin grundsätzlich dulden müsse, dass auf ihre Abstammung von Ulrike Meinhof hingewiesen werde.

Selbst wenn sie dies hinnehmen müsse, dürfe ihre familiäre Abstammung von Ulrike Meinhof nicht durch das eindringliche Schlagwort “Terroristentochter” zum Ausdruck gebracht werden. Zu familiären Beziehungen als Teil der Privatsphäre hätten andere grundsätzlich nur Zugang, soweit er ihnen gestattet werde. Die Klägerin habe keine Einwilligung erteilt, die familiäre Beziehung zu ihrer Mutter und ihre Abstammung darauf zu reduzieren, dass sie eine “Terroristentochter” sei. Sie müsse die Bezeichnung daher nicht dulden.

Etwas anderes gelte auch nicht deswegen, weil die Klägerin mehrfach über Ulrike Meinhof und den RAF-Terrorismus veröffentlicht und dabei auch offen gelegt habe, dass sie die Tochter von Ulrike Meinhof sei. Die Klägerin sei als freie Journalistin tätig. Im Rahmen der in Art. 5 Abs. 1 Satz 2 GG garantierten Pressefreiheit habe sie das Recht, Art und Ausrichtung, Inhalt und Form ihrer Veröffentlichungen selbst zu bestimmen. Der Ton, in dem sie ihre Artikel verfasse, sei Teil der Meinungsfreiheit. Dass sie die Grenze zur Schmähung überschritten habe, werde nicht vorgetragen.

Die Bezeichnung “Terroristen-Tochter” sei rechtswidrig. Zwar habe niemand einen Anspruch darauf, so gestellt zu werden, wie er sich selbst sehe, wohl aber darauf, zutreffend und nicht verfälscht dargestellt zu werden.

II. Die Ausführungen des Berufungsgerichts halten einer revisionsrechtlichen Überprüfung nicht stand.

And here are a couple of ways of translating the beginning:

Grounds: I. In the opinion of the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht), the plaintiff has a claim for the defendant to cease and desist from referring to the plaintiff as ‘Terroristentochter’ (terrorist’s daughter; section 823 (1), section 1004 with the necessary modifications, German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch)). The court finds that the term unlawfully violates the plaintiff’s general right of personality.

Grounds: I. The Higher Regional Court … held as follows: that the plaintiff had a claim…The term unlawfully violated

The expression ‚terrorist’s daughter’ was a statement of fact.

In the translation by Raymond Youngs online, the layout makes it obvious that the whole block is indirect speech. This works here. Youngs uses a past tense, ‘infringed’, without an introductory reporting verb to justify it, but I doubt a reader would normally notice that.

7 In the appeal court’ s view, the claimant has a claim for the defendant to desist from describing her as a “terrorists’ daughter” (¿¿ 823 para 1, ¿¿ 1004 of the BGB by analogy). The description unlawfully infringed the claimant’ s general right of personality.

8 The expression “terrorists’ daughter” represented an assertion of fact.

BGH, Urteil vom 5. 12. 2006 – VI ZR 45/05; OLG München (,3371)

Raymond Youngs translation on the University of Texas site: Case: BGH VI ZR 45/05, Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Supreme Court), 6th Civil Senate
VI ZR 45/05

University of Texas Institute for Transnational Law


I just had to translate Lohndumping into English. Not easy! Someone on suggests using wage dumping plus a definition. It’s true, sometimes a single term needs a single term (one or two words) rather than a long definition, to work in a text. Apparently Lohnunterbietung is a synonym. So the suggestio would be to write ‘”wage dumping” (forcing the reduction of wages and salaries)’ or something like that.

Here are some people on a Swiss forum getting very angry on the subject:

thanks, I’m intrigued by the term itself though. Why use “dumping”? Isn’t the German language capable of describing this practice?

This is kindergarten stuff…

The term is used in English too, usually in inverted commas with a definition. It does usually apply to bringing in foreign workers.

Shooting star

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg after his eventual resignation:

Die Union stritt derweil über den Umgang mit ihrem ehemaligen Shootingstar.

Germans use the term shooting star to refer to a rising star rather than a falling one, so he has now become a ‘former shooting star’. See earlier entry of May 2007, quoting an interview with Hilary Hahn in which she was surprised at Gustavo Dudamel being described as ‘the shooting stare from Venezuela’.

I you do a Google search for Guttenberg “shooting star”, you get over 235,000 ghits. Although the number of those in Germany should be falling now.

Have you got freizeitstresse?/Mord an deutscher Sprache

The Germans have always been good at coming up with words for those emotions we all feel but don’t have a name for: schadenfreude, for example, or angst. “Freizeitstresse” is the latest, a term that literally translates as “free-time stress”.

Admittedly one doesn’t always get decent newspapers when staying with relatives. This was the Times, speculating once more about foreign languages. Those Germans are lucky to be able to make portmanteau words, albeit somewhat misspelt in this case. We could call it ‘recreational stress’, but that would not be one word.

Figures show that about 75 per cent of people are incapable of relaxing; even on holiday they experience high levels of stress and feel more overburdened than anything else,” says Professor Doctor Henning Allmer, a psychologist and expert in freizeitstresse at the German Sport University Cologne. “One of the reasons for this is because people take too much on. In Germany, at least, the idea of doing nothing has negative connotations. A ‘nichtstuer’ (a do-nothing) is a derogatory term. So there are people who fill their free time with a very busy schedule.”

LATER NOTE: The Times article, which was wrong in print and online, has now been corrected online (see comments).

Legal entity/Legaleinheit

I wrote about legal entity earlier.

Now Professor Noack of Unternehmensrechtliche Notizen points out that the term Legaleinheit is creeping into German.

Google nennt immerhin ca. 1 600 Treffer, der Duden kennt das Wort noch nicht, ebensowenig die juristischen Lehrbücher. Mir ist der Begriff auch erst so richtig aufgefallen, als ich die Einladung zur außerordentlichen HV der Deutschen Telekom AG las: “Zur Steigerung der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit sollen T-HOME und T-MOBILE in Deutschland in einer Legaleinheit zusammengeführt werden.” Dann wird erläutert, dass Vermögen im Wege der Ausgliederung auf eine GmbH übertragen werden soll.

(There are c. 1,600 ghits; term is not in Duden or German law textbooks. In an invitation to an extrarodinary general meeting of Deutsche Telekom, it is used to refer to a GmbH after a merger).

It seems to me that they could often use Gesellschaft to refer to a new association of persons. Gesellschaft means either company (US corporation) or partnership. Legal entity works quite well for this in English, or it would if people didn’t so often use it to mean a company (legal person).

On the whole, the term seems to be used by people who don’t quite understand what they’re writing:

Die LWSG existiert weiter, allerdings mehr oder weniger nur noch auf dem Papier als so genannte “Legal-Einheit”, das heißt als juristische Firma, aber ohne eigene Geschäftsführung.

(This relates to Evonik, who seem keen on the term elsewhere too).

Definitions found on the Web:
rechtliche Person
rechtlich eigenständiges Unternehmen

Twisted expressions/Drehwortwettbewerb

The German publisher Kiepenheuer und Witsch has a competition for twisted German sayings:

Die Letten werden die Ersten sein. Eva Hasil

Oh nein, ich habe Hochhaus verloren. Daniela Möhrke

Das wird von den Medien ziemlich hochsterilisiert. Marcel Znamenak

Da wurde die Kuh von hinten aufgerollt. Evelyn Kessler

Möge dieser Elch an mir vorübergehen. Ragna Sieckmann

Google reveals a lot of English ‘twisted sayings’, but I haven’t found any really good ones.


It’s OK to be negative about Esther Rantzen, but the comments ought not to do an injustice to the German language:

Please stand for Parliament. Please. I cannot think of a better candidate to beat a worse one. In German, her name means “to talk to others in a patronising manner” as in the phrase “Ich rantze wie dieses herablassende Weibchen Esther Rantzen”.
Lt.-Cnl. Kojak Slaphead III | 05.20.09 – 6:20 am


A reference on a translators’ mailing list to Anglo-Saxon accounting conjured up visions of, at best, Fred Flintstone with an abacus. It reminded me of the blurb in Erlangen (in the early 1980s) saying I taught Anglo-Saxon law.

A Google for angelsächsisches does reveal sites relating to Old English, but also the term Angelsächsisches Modell, translated sometimes as ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model (i.e. in inverted commas), Continental or Anglo-Saxon, the British and American ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model, or the so-called Anglo-Saxon model, which shows that at least some journalists are aware it isn’t really English.

An Anglo-Saxon model in Ipswich Museum:

It was mooted that the term Anglo-Saxon was first used in French in the late 19th century, actually meaning Jewish (les financiers anglo-saxons). But that seems to be past.