Why has Marx's "Das Kapital" been translated to "Capital" and not to "The Capital"? Actually, the article "Das" in German points out that it is not any capital, but the capital as the process of the current production mode - which is, in fact, capitalism. For example in French the translation is "Le Capital". Is there a specific reason for that? Or is "Capital" the more appropriate translation of "Das Kapital" in English?

Actually, I know we must use "Capital" and not "The Capital" to identify "the financial capital", but I wanted to understand the underlying rule in terms of usage or linguistic. It seems to me (but maybe I am wrong) that in English "the" does not only define the word it precedes, but it also changes the meaning: "capital" is completely different from "the capital (city)". Conversely, we say "The society of the spectacle" (the famous book of Guy Debord) and not "The society of spectacle" for example.


3 Answers 3


The article is actually used in other languages as well, for instance:

in French Le Capital, in Italian, Il Capitale, in Spanish El Capital, and in Portuguese O Capital.

In English “Capital” in the economic sense is used without article:

In economics, capital consists of assets that can enhance one's power to perform economically useful work.

In Marxian political economy, capital is money used to buy something only in order to sell it again to realize a profit. For Marx capital only exists within the process of the economic circuit (represented by M-C-M') —it is wealth that grows out of the process of circulation itself, and for Marx it formed the basis of the economic system of capitalism. In more contemporary schools of economics, this form of capital is generally referred to as "financial capital" and is distinguished from "capital goods".


  • 4
    This is because capital is an uncountable mass noun: cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/massnouns . Like water, money, or cement, you can't say "a capital", "five capitals". You can only talk about "some capital", etc.
    – user151841
    Sep 6, 2019 at 20:49
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    @user1359 But even as a mass noun you can say "the capital" in respect to a specific collection of it. "The capital I raised for my first company came from my golf partner." "The capital available to first generation immigrants is less that it has been in the past." -- So whether it would have been better translated as "Capital" or "The Capital" would depend on if the title is referring to capital in a general sense, or if it's referring to a identifiable set/group/collection of capital.
    – R.M.
    Sep 6, 2019 at 22:53
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    @R.M. That's also true of all other mass nouns: "The milk/water/money available to immigrants..." It doesn't meant it's not a mass noun: it's just referring to a specific amount of the "stuff".
    – user151841
    Sep 8, 2019 at 4:28
  • According to this answer, it seems more generally that, unlike others languages such as German or French, the definite article - "the" in English - can change the meaning of the word, whereas in French or German it just defines or "presents" the word/concept.
    – Moth
    Sep 8, 2019 at 10:16
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 13, 2019 at 15:30

Abstract nouns do not take articles in English.

Marx is using the term in an abstract sense and that is why there is no article in the title. Other languages don't all have this feature.

Just like: goodness, wealth, poverty and capital.

  • Capitalism is all about capital.
  • Wealth must be built.
  • Goodness is a relative term in cooking and philosophy.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

But please note: - The capital the bank had in its reserves was not sufficient to meet the reserve standard.

  • The wealth of a nation is measured through macroeconomics.

  • The goodness of your friends is not easy to measure.

This is a basic grammar rule in English.

abstract nouns

[Please note: the society of the spectacle is wrong. A society of spectacle.]

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14, 2019 at 23:33

This is a good question, as an avid Marx Engels reader! (But not a Marxist in any sense though).

As user 070221 points out, to Marx and Engels, their philosophy streams in Das Capitak aka Capital in English version in order for them to analyze how the capital-in-general works in order to gain more money for more money's sake, aka, G-W-G' process, or manmon the money, not the capital of some specific economic entities such of that as many factories producing stuff A,B,C or railroad companies, or banks, shipyards, farming section like poultry makers or gigantic food chain under the capitalistic mode of the production., whose mode was at that time and also currently prevalent today. So there should be no definite article, or more to say, there shouldn't be no definite article, since Marx' and Elgel's focus in not on that of one company but as the capital in general observed wordlwidly under the capitalistic mode of the production.

The Capital? Actually, the article "Das" in German points out that it is not any capital, but the capital as the process of the current production mode - which is, in fact, capitalism.

Yes so as I answered, it is not any capital but the capital as the process of the production mode, which is G-W-G'

which is, in fact, capitalism.

Actually Marx and Engels are not using the word "capitalism". They are using "capitalistic mode of production" instead, if you understand if you read it.

Since it seems to me English lost the gender distinction of nouns and adjectives etc, Marx chose the word "Capital" in order to express the "capital in general" in English version.


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