Upper Case in German: Nouns

Understanding which words to capitalize in German is, for the most part, easier than English. In German, all nouns are capitalized. There are, however, a few cases where words that at first appear to be nouns are not capitalized. When used with the verbs seinbleiben, or werden, the words angstleidpleiterecht, and schuld become predicate adjectives and are written lower case: 

Sie hat geantwortet. „Lieber Unbekannter, Sie haben völlig recht.“
She replied. "Dear stranger, you are absolutely right."
Caption 43, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

As a noun, the word das Recht is written starting with upper case, but in this case the word recht is in fact a predicate adjective, not a noun. If you deconstruct the sentence and replace recht with a noun, it is immediately clear that the sentence makes no sense with anything but an adjective.

Aber hey, ich bin nicht schuld dran, ganz bestimmt nicht.
But hey, I am not to blame for it, definitely not.
Caption 55, Rapucation: Guten Appetit

Here again, in some expressions with the verb "to be" (sein), what may appear to be a noun is actually a predicate adjective. So other than these few exceptions, capitalizing nouns in German is easy. If only noun genders were so simple! 

Further Learning
Read more here about the rules of German upper and lower case. Search on Yabla German for forms of the words listed above in a real world context. 


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Bring the Noise!

In this week's new video Mama arbeitet wieder, a construction company boss tells his foreman: 

Aber bevor wir hier abziehen, lassen wir's noch mal richtig krachen, was?
But before we pull out here, we'll make a really big noise [celebrate], right?
Caption 4, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

The verb krachen is defined by the Duden dictionary as primarily "einen Krach verursachen, auslösen" or "causing a loud noise." Its slang meanings are "to have a fight with somebody" (Krach haben) or "to suffer a bankruptcy" (Krach erleiden), the latter similar to the "crash" of the stock market in English. The verb combination krachen lassen, however, usually means "to celebrate."

Da wünsche ich euch viel Spaß! Lasst es krachen!
Then I hope you have a lot of fun! Make some noise [celebrate]!
Caption 70, Silvester und Vorsätze für das Neue Jahr

A variation to the translation "to celebrate" is made in the case where a car really "makes some noise":

Und die lassen es in der brandneuen, über zweihundert PS starken A-Klasse so richtig krachen.
And they'll really, in the brand new over two hundred horsepower strong A-Class, make some noise [idiom: "cut loose"].
Captions 16-17, Mercedes Benz: Michael Schumacher und Nico Rosberg bei der Nationalmannschaft 

So the slang term "krachen lassen" is usually used in connection with some kind of celebration, such as a birthday party or New Year's celebration. 2016 is still some months away, but that gives you a chance to get some practice celebrations going in the meantime. Lass es krachen! 

Further Learning
Search for more videos on German Yabla that use the verb krachen and watch the entire video to improve your party vocabulary!

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French Loanwords in German

Around 45% of English words have French origins and most of them, such as art, competition, force, machine, money, police, publicity, role, routine, and table are everyday English words spoken with English pronunciation. There are, however, a number of French words that are commonly used in English that have retained their French character and are unmistakably "French sounding" to the English listener. These foreign words that have been incorporated into the native language are called Loanwords (or Lehnwörter in German).

German too has its share of French loanwords, or Gallicisms, although German vocabulary has fewer words of French origin than English does.

Was Avantgardistisches? -Genau, genau, so kann man das sehen.
Something avant-garde? -Exactly, exactly, you can look at it like this.
Caption 16, Rat für nachhaltige Entwicklung: Mode gegen Armut

Some terms come from cultural milieus such as art. In avantgardistisch, the German version of "avant-garde," the hyphen has been dropped, forming single word.

Der Mohn kommt in die Vinaigrette, ein wenig Honig dazu.
The poppy seeds go into the vinaigrette, a little honey's added to it.
Caption 56, Kochhaus Berlin: Rucola-Salat-Rezept

As with English, many French loanwords come from the culinary world. The German Vinaigrette is capitalized as a noun, but otherwise identical to the English and the French.

Du hast für PeTA eine ziemlich coole neue Kampagne geschossen.
You shot a pretty cool new campaign for PeTA.
Caption 30, Tierfreund Mario Barth: Der Tätowierer der Stars

Many other French loanwords in German come from politics and military jargon. In this last example, the spelling of the original French word campagne is Germanized as die Kampagne, and the English spelling "campaign" is different as well! In most cases, however, loanwords retain the original spellings and diacritical marks.

Further Learning
Go to the German Wikipedia listing of Gallicisms, and when you find a familiar word, do a video search on Yabla German and see how the French loanword is used in German.


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German Wordplays

In a video launched last week, German comedian Bastian Pastewka — yes, the same actor who narrates the animated Märchen series — plays himself in an eponymous TV series. In one scene, another actor says:

Das ist Bastian Pastewka, einer der beleibtesten Komiker Deutschlands.

On a first reading, you might think the actor saying that  Pastewka is one of the "most beloved comedians in Germany," but if you look closer, you see that word is not beliebtesten but rather beleibtesten:

That is Bastian Pastewka, one of the most obese comedians of Germany.
Caption 12, Pastewka: Neue Serie für Kessler

So simply switching the letters "ie" with "ei" results in the word changing from beliebt (beloved) to beleibt (obese). Rearranging the letters in a word to form a word with a different meaning is called an anagram. Such subtleties are often the basis for humorous wordplays or Wortspiele in many languages.

Other kinds of wordplays focus on associating two words in unexpected ways. In the following example from the animated Piggeldy und Frederick series, the young Piggeldy notices a sheep bleating "baa", which in German is transcribed as mäh. He then says:

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag tut. Es mäht das Gras.
It just said what it does the whole day. It’s mowing the grass.
Captions 33-34, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Schaf

So in German, the word for a sheep's "baa" (mäh) is similar to the German verb for mowing (mähen). Using an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound is called a malapropism.

In a video celebrating World Pi Day, (yes, the mathematical constant "pi" has its own holiday), someone asks the riddle, "Which tower has a downward lean of 3.1415 percent?" The answer is:

Der Schiefe Turm von „Pi-Tag”!
The Leaning Tower of "Pi Day!"
Caption 59, Welt-Pi-Tag: Unser Leben mit der Kreiszahl

The invented word Pi-Tag or "Pi Day" is a pun on the word "Pisa" from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Puns are, of course, the source of a lot of very corny jokes and wordplays. The 1996 French film Ridicule even goes so far as to call puns "the death of wit!"

Further Learning
Learn more about English types of wordplay on English Wikipedia and German wordplays on German Wikipedia and find some of your new German vocabulary words in a real world context in videos on German Yabla.

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Top German Idioms Roundup

When was the last time you had a swine? Do you only understand "train station?" Is your life like a pony ranch? Is your nose full of it? Is it really about the wurst? Are you pressing your thumbs for me? If any of these phrases seem odd to you, now is the time catch up on some of the most common German idioms!

„Wir haben ganz schön Schwein gehabt", sagte Frederick,
"We pretty much had a swine [idiom: were lucky]," said Frederick.
Caption 33: Piggeldy und Frederick: Reise nach Schweinebrück

Maybe villages used to award pigs at farmer bingo games, but whatever the reason, "having a swine" means you're in luck in German!

Also, ich versteh' nur Bahnhof.
Well, I only understand "train station" [idiom: I don't understand anything].
Caption 27, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

"Bahnhof" might be one of the first words a new arrival to Germany learns, so if you only understand "Bahnhof," then you don't understand very much at all.

Ist das Leben für Sie ein Ponyhof?
Is life a pony ranch [idiom: easy, fun] for you?
Caption 1, Oktoberfest München: Auf der Wiesn

Apparently a pony ranch is the German idea of a "bowl of cherries"...

Aber seit dem gestrigen Halbfinale hab' ich die Nase voll!
But since yesterday's semi-finals, I have the nose full [idiom: am very disenchanted]!
Caption 23, Konjugation: Das Verb „mögen

One can only surmise that having your nose stuffed up could get pretty uncomfortable.

OK, jetzt geht's wirklich um die Wurst.
OK, now it's really about the wurst [idiom: getting serious].
Caption 35, Rhein-Main Szene: Miss Interkontinental

Germans traditionally take their sausages very seriously, so if it's "about the wurst", everybody is paying serious attention!

Deswegen müsst ihr mir ganz doll die Daumen drücken.
For that reason you have to press the thumbs [idiom, “cross your fingers”] for me very much.
Caption 25: Summer Cheergirl: Vorstellung der Kandidatinnen

Much in the same way that (as shown in the well-known scene in the film Inglourious Basterds) that a European will indicate "three" with the thumb and first two fingers, and an American with only the first three fingers, so too in Germany the thumbs are pressed rather than fingers crossed for luck.

Further Learning
Look up some common English idioms and see if you can find the German equivalents in a real world context in videos on German Yabla.

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Fake English in German

A pseudo-anglicism describes a word borrowed from English but used in other languages in ways that native speakers may not easily understand. For a native English speaker learning German, these pseudo English words can be a common source of misunderstanding, and German has more than its fair share of them!


Most people would think of a "cutter" as someone in the clothing trade who cuts cloth, or a cutting machine or a boat, but in German der Cutter (or in this case, die Cutterin) has a different primary meaning:


Es gibt eine Regie, es gibt einen Tontechniker, es gibt eine Cutterin.
There is a director, there is a sound technician, there is an editor.
Caption 32, Christian Brückner: Synchronstimme von Robert De Niro


If somebody offers to play Flipper with you in German, they aren't talking about playing with a talking dolphin:


Früher, da stand in jeder anständigen Kneipe ein Flipper.
There used to be a pinball machine in every decent pub.
Caption 19, Flipperautomaten: Kunstwerke für flinke Kugeln


If a German speaker ever asks you to find out about an Oldtimer, he doesn't mean an old man:


Sie sammelt sämtliche Informationen über Oldtimer.
It gathers all the information about classic cars.
Caption 37, Porsche 356: Der erste Porsche


In English news, a Shooting would be a tragic event, but in German:


Ich nehme euch mit auf die coolsten Shootings.
I’ll take you along to the coolest photo shoots.
Caption 10, Palina Rojinski: News for Original Girls


The German word Shooting is short for Fotoshooting, whose meaning should be pretty obvious by now!


Further Learning
Das Happy End, das Handy, das No-Go, das Public Viewing, der Smoking — the list of German words based on misconstrued English is a long one. Take a look at German Wikipedia and see if you can find some "fake English" words used in context on Yabla German.


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"Was für" is not "what for"

Although the German words was für may translate directly as "what for" as separate words, when you put them together they have a different meaning. If somebody asks you to do something in German and you want to know "What for?", you would properly respond with "Warum?" ("why") or "Wofür?", which is another way of saying "why."


In English, the word combination was für usually means "what" or "what kind":


Was für ein Geschenk soll ich dir mitbringen?     
What kind of present should I bring back with me for you?
Caption 14,  Märchen, Sagenhaft: Die Schöne und das Biest


Hach Gott, was für ein Tag!
Oh god, what a day!
Caption 8, Kein Kredit: im Land der Klone


The phrase was für in other contexts can also mean "something for":


Also, wäre der Modeljob definitiv was für dich?
So, would the modelling job definitely be something for you?
Caption 10, RNZ Top Model: Casting 2010


In the example above, the word was is functioning as a shortened version of etwas, which means "something."


Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and put in the search words "what kind" to see the different ways that was für is used in different contexts.


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Hold Your Positions!

The German noun die Stellung is usually defined as "position" in English. As in English, to know the specific meaning of the word, it is important to know the context in which it is used.


In this short TV ad, a provocatively dressed woman makes the suggestion:


Dann gehen wir schon mal hoch, ein paar neue Stellungen ausprobieren.
Then we'll go on up and try out a few new positions.
Caption 5, Klicksafe Werbung: Wo ist Klaus?


The "positions" she is referring to are the primary definition of Stellung in Duden, the German standard dictionary: to place the body in a particular posture.


In the next video, the speaker is referring to a celebrity who has been a patron of their non-profit activities:


Der Bülent hatte hier auch eine Stellung.
Bülent also had a position here.
Caption 64, Sallys Tortenwelt und Kochwelt: Backen mit Kindern & Auftritt bei Radio Rumms


Here the Stellung being referred to is a  job position or a role.


The word Stellung is also the first half of the word Stellungnahme, which means "statement" in the sense of a document that announces the position one is taking on a topic:


Grund für die Stellungnahme…     
Reason for the statement
Caption 21, Aufklärung der NSU-Verbrechen: SPD fordert Sonderkommission


This week's new video "Mama arbeitet wieder" shows us an idiomatic use of Stellung:


Ich halte hier seit fünfzehn Uhr die Stellung.
I’ve been holding the position [idiom: taking responsibility] since three o'clock.
Caption 2: Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder


A looser literary translation might use the American English idiom "holding down the fort" (just "hold the fort" in British English), a military phrase dating from the middle ages meaning to keep a military installation occupied to prevent enemy takeover. Apparently the US State Department was objecting to its use as politically incorrect a few years ago.


Further Learning
Watch the above videos on Yabla German to get a better sense of the use of the noun die Stellung in real world context.


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How Embarrassing: "verlegen" as Adjective and Verb

Using the German adjective verlegen and the verb verlegen could lead to some embarrassing mix-ups if their meanings are not clearly understood. As you can see in this week's premiere episode of a new season of "Die Pfefferkörner," the meaning of the adjective verlegen is... embarrassed!


Um eine Ausrede bist du ja nie verlegen.
You are never embarrassed to make an excuse.
Caption 6, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche


The German verlegen is often also translated to English as shy, awkward, bashful, or as you see in its adverbial form in this video on Yabla:


„Ach so, hm“, meinte Frederick verlegen.
"Ah, so, hm," said Frederick sheepishly.
Caption 34, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Lachen


On the other hand, the verb verlegen has to do with more concrete matters:


… um eine ganz normale Hartsteinbetonplatte, die wir verlegen.
… with a totally normal hard stone concrete panel that we are installing.
Caption 19, Schadstoffarme Straßen: Neue Gehwegplatten für reinere Luft


Hundert Jahre nachdem das berühmte Kinderbuch erschienen ist, hat der Regisseur die Story in den Zweiten Weltkrieg verlegt.
A hundred years after the famous children's book was published, the director
relocated the story to the Second World War.
Captions 35-37, Kinotipp: Battleship und Unter Wölfen


The verb verlegen can also be translated as to publish, postpone, or evacuate. The German word for "publisher," which you see in nearly every German book, is der Verlag. Here you can easily see the connection to the verb verlegen.


Further Learning
For some advanced learning on the topic, go to the online Wiktionary and see some other examples of verlegen in context and some other related words.


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Pluralis Majestatis or the "Royal We" in German

The "royal we" form is mostly found today in fairy tales, medieval fiction, and fantasy literature such as "The Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones." In centuries past, it was common for royalty and religious leaders to be referred to (and to refer to themselves) in the plural tense, based upon the conceit that, in referring to themselves, they were referring to "God and I." German uses the Latin term Pluralis Majestatis to denote the "royal we."


This obsolete form of personal pronoun does not present any grammatical problems in English, since it is commonly either rendered in modern English as "we" or "you" (in the plural sense), or in archaic English as thee, thou, thine etc., although these forms are also merely archaic and not necessarily reflecting the "royal we" form.


In German, however, the use of "royal we" can be initially perplexing. For the nominative second person singular pronoun, instead of the modern Sie  (you), the "royal we" form uses Ihr, with the Ihr always capitalized. Initially this may appear to be the same as the plural pronoun ihr, but is actually addressed to a single person:


Majestät, Ihr seid die Schönste hier.
Majesty, you are the most beautiful here.
Caption 86, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Schneewittchen


In standard German, the above sentence would have been written: Sie sind die Schönste hier. The "royal we" case Ihr conjugates the verb the same as the plural nominative second person pronoun ihr.


The accusative second person singular pronoun Sie (you), in a similar fashion, uses for the "royal we" form of the capitalized version of the accusative second person plural Euch:


Ich befreie Euch von dem Versprechen, Prinzessin!
I free you from the promise, princess!
Caption 58, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Hans, mein Igel


In standard German, the above sentence would have been written: Ich befreie Sie von dem Versprechen.


Further Learning
To further familiarize yourself with the use of the "royal we," go through the videos (listed on the right hand side of this lesson) on Yabla German that include extensive examples of Pluralis Majestatis.


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