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The German noun "Ansatz" is widely used (at least) in physics and, less frequently, in math texts in English. I have seen it always in singular though and now I must use its (English) plural. The German plural of this word is "Ansätze".

Which of the following plural forms is the right one for the Germanism "Ansatz"?

  1. Ansatzs (perhaps the expected one)
  2. Ansätze (too exaggerated?)
  3. other unexpected, like "these Ansatz are..." (unchanged)
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By the way, I have often wondered what the best translation would be. "Educated guess" comes to mind but I'm sure one can do better. Suggestions anybody? –  Georges Elencwajg Jun 12 '12 at 21:41
    
Yes, "educated guess" sounds good. "Judicious guess" is a common name for a method in differential equations which, I think, tacitly tries to replace "ansatz". –  c.p. Jun 13 '12 at 3:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The OED entry for ansatz lists it as a regular noun in English. That means it takes -es for the plural here.

On the other hand, its earliest citation almost looks invariant:

  • 1942 Jrnl. Indian Math. Soc. 6 41 (title) Studies in Fourier ansatz and parabolic equations.

The other citations, through 1990, all look completely singular. There are no clear examples of a plural. It just isn’t marked as irregular, and they always do that if it is.

There are extremely few words in the OED of German derivation that retain their German plural in English, perhaps a half-dozen odd ones, and seldom as the dominant form. For example, there is one citation from 1962 of bratwurst > bratwürste:

  • 1962 Punch 11 July 51/2 We ate two delicious Bratwürste apiece.

In contrast, Wandervogel is definitely marked Wandervögel in the plural, and the plural forms Wandervogel and Wandervogeln are marked catachrestic — that is, erroneous. Here are two examples of the word as an irregular plural:

  • 1967 Listener 30 Nov. 705/3 Around 1930, alienated and disaffected youth was being manufactured mainly in Germany, where the First War had produced the biggest earthquake. Some of them called themselves the Wandervögel, and wandered around Europe with their guitars and their interchangeable girlfriends, living on what they could get wherever sympathisers would accept them.
  • 1978 J. I. M. Stewart Full Term xxi. 241 A bunch of juvenile Wandervögel.

You can tell those uses aren’t assimilated because they’re still written in italic in the original. And they’re still capitalized, unlike most (but not all) citations of ansatz.

One more example with an irregular German plural in English is Land, “a semi-autonomous unit of local government in Germany and Austria”, whose plural is given as any of Länder /ˈlɛndər/, Laender, Lands, and in that order.

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you mean, with respect to the word "ansatz" in the paper of Minakshisundaram, is "ansatz" in plural in the text not just in the title? –  c.p. Jun 10 '12 at 23:08
    
@JorgeCampos The OED citation is just for the title, not the contents, and I haven’t myself read Minakshisundaram’s doctoral thesis to see how he uses it therein. –  tchrist Jun 10 '12 at 23:19
    
Thanks again. Well, in that case he is using ansatz in singular in that title- so it is not invariant because it is singular. Otherwise very illuminating! –  c.p. Jun 11 '12 at 13:57

"Ansatzes" is most commonly used as a plural in English.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ansatz

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oh, it was in Wiktionary...I should have seen there first. Thanks! –  c.p. Jun 10 '12 at 22:42
1  
No problem. It was an interesting question :) –  Contention Jun 10 '12 at 22:42
    
...but with or without capital? –  Cerberus Jun 11 '12 at 1:33
    
In English text, without capital. –  GEdgar Jun 11 '12 at 1:48
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And why do you believe Wiktionary? –  Peter Shor Jun 11 '12 at 4:02

The most commonly used plural in English seems to be "ansätze".

Searching in Google books between 1990 and 2010, I find 98 results for "the ansatze" and only 36 for "the ansatzes". (I added "the" to eliminate German results, which dominate if you leave it out, even if you ask for English pages).

Google web search returns 372 results for "the ansatze" and 283 results for "the ansatzes".

Looking at the actual results, the majority of them seem to have umlauts (you often have to click the link and look at the document itself to check for an umlaut) and are lower-case, so despite what the dictionaries say, I would recommend using ansätze as the plural.

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Although note ansatzes is a perfectly good plural as well, and both ansaetze and ansatze (without the umlaut) appear. –  Peter Shor Jun 11 '12 at 9:10
    
...and I do prefer it with umlaut! –  c.p. Jun 11 '12 at 13:58

Here is an indirect argument for Ansätze.
The core result of classical algebraic geometry is Hilbert's zeros theorem.
In all languages I am aware of it is usually referred to as Nullstellensatz, with a footnote translating it into the language of the text.
Since there are various more or less general versions of this result one is led to speak of Nullstellensätze or some other plural forms.
Google gives 2590 answers for Nullstellensätze and only 142 for Nullstellensatzs.
Here is the first page of the answers for Nullstellensätze.

On a personal note it has happened a few times that I told mathematicians who had written, say, Nullstellensatzs that the German plural was Nullstellensätze.
What is interesting is that, although I absolutely did not plead for the German plural but just gave them the information , they immediately modified their original text and adopted that German form.

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The correctly formed English plural is not Nullstellensatzs but Nullstellensatzes, although the German one is probably used more often (definitely by mathematicians; on arxiv.org the German plural wins 27 to 2, with Nullstellensatze—no umlaut—coming in second with around 9 hits). –  Peter Shor Jun 12 '12 at 23:09
    
Just Google search probably doesn't work. If you search for "Nullstellensatzes", you get 4330 results, but most of these are in German, where Nullstellensatzes is the genitive case. This makes me suspect that many of the results for Nullstellensätze are also in German, although the English ones seem to appear first. –  Peter Shor Jun 12 '12 at 23:19

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