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This is the German text I would like to translate:

"Der Mensch definiert sich durch seine Taten."

I know all the words above in English, but if I use online translators to verify my translations like Linguee or Google, I get confused about whether I am right with my translations or not.

These are my attempts:

"Men defines itself with its doings!"

Or

"One defines himself with his doings!"

Both seems to me strange and not really English.

How would you translate this sentence?

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  • Ja das ist gut. Blau ist meine Lieblingsfarbe. – Benjamin Harman Jan 16 '16 at 19:31
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    How about this one: 'People are defined by their actions'. – haha Jan 16 '16 at 21:32
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Translation:

"A man defines himself by his deeds."

or, more passively than the German,

"A man is defined by his deeds."

This is of course not gender-balanced because of "man" and "his," but that is matching the German and you could neutralize this if important for your context.


Thanks to StoneyB for an update.

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  • similarily (but not a close translation): "A man shalll be judged on his achievments". – Graffito Jan 16 '16 at 23:18
  • @Graffito, you are right! ^^ HAVING is the result of DOING and DOING is a desicion of BEING. HAVING is the last stage DOING achives. DOING is something in PROCESS and this is not a guarantee that the HAVING will be reached in future. All things begins with the decision to BE, then ACTION follows and is DONE until the goal is reached. The answer of the question "who am I?" are my decisions of the things I DO (and not I would like DO) but the better answer is all the things I HAVE reached because this DEFINES me REALY. Thank you. Thank you all. – NECIP Jan 17 '16 at 10:50
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    The passive form is definitely better. +1 for the rhythm and alliteration, too. – Ben Kovitz Jan 19 '16 at 2:31
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"We define ourselves through our actions" seems more natural to me, and also avoids the issue of grammatical gender. Of course, using the first person pronoun is a grammatical change, but I don't think it ends up changing the meaning much (presumably, it's safe to assume that the author and reader both fall under the category of "Menschen"/"men"). I think "actions" sounds more normal than "deeds" in English for this sentence, even though the latter is the cognate word to Taten.

Another translation I have found that seems reasonable:

A man is defined by his actions

listed on the Reverso context search.


Translation questions are often somewhat opinion-based and don't have one right answer. For this reason, I don't think Stack Exchange is the best place to ask questions like this. Also, since this site is dedicated specifically to English, many of the users here don't know German (I don't) which makes it hard for us to evaluate the accuracy of a translation. In the future, I'd recommend asking about translation of specific sentences like this on a forum for English-German translators, such as the Word Reference German forum. English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is great for questions about how specific words or constructions are generally used. English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a good place for questions that relate most to people who are learning English.

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You could also make it more contemporary (especially since you ask for a natural way of expressing the idea):

We define ourselves by our deeds.

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If you need a gender neutral version, it could be written as "A person's actions define them" or "A person is defined by their actions". Another example could be "A person is what they do".

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