'grundsätzlich' – a tricky German word

The term grundsätzlich has various meanings, some of which are almost diametrically opposed. Its essential meaning is to refer to something that is 'in accordance with a principle' and, therefore, of importance. However, it can also mean either 'always, without exception' or, almost the opposite, 'generally, but subject to exceptions'.

Translation pitfalls

If the German uses grundsätzlich as an adjective, the translator has some straightforward options, such as 'basic' or 'fundamental'. Some common examples are 'a basic assumption' for eine grundsätzliche Annahme or 'a fundamental question' for eine grundsätzliche Frage. The German use of grundsätzlich as an adverb, on the other hand, is often far more tricky to translate. Translators frequently opt for 'in principle', which is simply incorrect if the German uses grundsätzlich to express something like 'always, without exception'. In other contexts, 'fundamental(ly)', 'basic(ally)', 'general(ly)' or 'in principle' might not be misleading but are, nevertheless, idiomatically redundant.

Sample sentences

Here are some German sentence examples:

  1. Zahlungen erfolgen grundsätzlich im Voraus.
  2. Das Gesetz sieht vor, dass die Anlage grundsätzlich im gleichen Jahr erfolgt.
  3. Die Entwicklung innovativer Produkte ist grundsätzlich mit Risiko verbunden.
  4. Rauchen ist grundsätzlich verboten.
  5. Ihre Daten werden grundsätzlich nicht an Dritte übermittelt.
  6. Ihre Daten werden grundsätzlich vertraulich behandelt.
  7. Grundsätzlich gilt eine Widerrufsfrist von 14 Tagen.

Sample translations

The following are some possible translations of the above examples:

  1. Payments are made in advance.
  2. The law stipulates that the investment must be made in the same year.
  3. The development of innovative products is always associated with risk.
  4. Smoking is strictly forbidden.
  5. Your data will never be transferred to third parties.
  6. We treat all your data as confidential.
  7. A cancellation period of 14 days applies in all cases.

Translation strategies

Deliberately omit the term or consider using the following: