Should I say:

What is the English translation of 'ermorden', does it mean "to kill"?

What is the English translation of 'ermorden', does it mean "killing"?

I don't know which one to use, although "Does it mean to kill?" seems the right one, I feel like I'm missing something. May you guys tell me which one is grammatically correct and why?

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    This "to do" and "doing" thing haunts me – Kyle Mar 17 '16 at 17:55
  • I feel like what you're missing most is more context. It's not really fair to native speakers to ask: Which one sounds better? when there is no surrounding context. If I'm asking about a word I don't understand, I might say it like this: "What does 'to murder' mean? Does that mean 'to kill'?" But if I were asking about something else, I might say it differently. For example, to my uncle (assuming he is deeply involved in organized crime): "What do you mean, we're going to 'take care of' Bill? Does that mean killing?" See Details, please. – J.R. Mar 17 '16 at 18:21
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    @J.R. I don't think that OP is asking how to translate ermorden--what he's asking is how to ask how to translate an infinitive. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 18 '16 at 9:47
  • @StoneyB - That's more evident now, but when I left my comment, the question read like this. – J.R. Mar 18 '16 at 17:11

In a general context we would ask this using the infinitive (either marked with to or unmarked), since that's generally regarded as the 'base' form of a verb.

What is the English translation of 'ermorden'? Does it mean "to kill"? OR
What is the English translation of 'ermorden'? Does it mean "kill"?

In some specific contexts, however, things get a little more complicated, because both the infinitive (to) kill and the gerund-participle killing may be appropriate translation of ermorden employed as a nominal designating the act or practice of killing.

"Kleine Kinder ermorden ist schließlich das schlimmste und gemeinste." How should I translate ermorden here? Would "to kill" or "killing" express the sense more accurately?

And in a general context the answer to both of these is "Probably not"—ermorden will usually call for a stronger translation as murder or in some circumstances assassinate—or as a nominal, assassination.

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  • In "Kleine Kinder ermorden" ermorden starts with a lowercase letter, so it is an infinitive and translates as "to kill small children". If it were "Kleiner Kinder Ermorden" - Ermorden starting with a capital letter- it would be a noun, specifically a gerund, and would translate as "Killing small children". germanforenglishspeakers.com/verbs/… – JavaLatte Mar 18 '16 at 5:56
  • @JavaLatte does the fact of the first letter being capital or not alters the meaning? wow, how do you differentiate while speaking? – Kyle Mar 18 '16 at 12:07
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    @Mr.Derpinthoughton, i think that's a question for a German to answer :-) – JavaLatte Mar 18 '16 at 12:13

The word ermorden is an German infinitive. In English, you make a verb into an infinitive by putting the word "to" in front it, and you make a noun (Ermorden with a capital E) or an active participle by putting "-ing" on the end of it. So, it you want to ask for the exact meaning, you would ask

What is the English translation of 'ermorden': does it mean "to kill"?

and the answer would be

"Nearly right... a better translation would be "to assassinate" or "to murder".

For more information about gerunds (verbal nouns), participles and infinitives, see here

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  • Nearly but not quite--the -ing form may also represent a gerund with nominal function: Killing women and children was regarded as unmanly. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 18 '16 at 0:53
  • A gerund is a noun. In German, nouns start with a capital letter. In the example, ermorden starts with a small letter: it is an infinitive. Nearly but not quite, yes. :-) – JavaLatte Mar 18 '16 at 5:43
  • But English makes only a syntactic distinction, not an orthographic one. Killing women and small children is a clause headed by a verb, the gerund-participle killing; the nounier version of the gerund-participle (some but not all call it a 'verbal noun' here) would be the killing of women and children. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 18 '16 at 19:17
  • As @StoneyB says, Gerunds really aren't nouns. They are verbs heading clauses which do the job of Subject or Object in a clause, or Object of a preposition. Gerunds can have Objects for example, but nouns cannot. Gerunds can be modified by adverbs, but nouns cannot. So gerunds do jobs that we associate with noun phrases, but they are not noun phrases or nouns. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Mar 22 '16 at 11:17

It depends on the context. It's perfectly acceptable to ask:

What is the English translation of 'ermorden', does it mean 'to kill'?

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