German Lessons

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wurden vs. würden | konnten vs. könnten

You're not likely to mix up the meaning of wurden with würden (or konnten with könnten) when reading or having a conversation in German, as the context makes it pretty obvious what is meant. But I've noticed occasionally when writing in German that it's important to have a clear sense of the difference between the two.

The words wurden and konnten are the Präteritum / Indikativ (preterite / realis) moods of the verbs werden and können, respectively. The words würden and könnten are the Präteritum / Konjunktiv II (preterite / subjunctive) moods of the verbs werden and können, respectively. 

But all grammatical complications aside, an easy way to remember the difference is that these verb forms do not use the umlaut letter when talking about the actual past, and both words do use the umlaut letter when talking about the conditional present or future.

Sie flohen aus dem Königreich und wurden nie wieder gesehen.
They fled from the kingdom and were never seen again.
Caption 85, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Das tapfere Schneiderlein

Wir würden gerne auf eine kleine Clubtour gehen.
We would like to go on a small clubs tour.
Caption 17, Deutsche Bands: Die "No Angels"

Die hungrigen Kinder konnten es kaum erwarten, davon zu essen.
The hungry children could barely wait to eat from it.
Caption 61, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Hänsel und Gretel

„Wir könnten unendlich so weiterlaufen“, antwortete Frederick.
"We could continue walking endlessly like this," answered Frederick.
Caption 10, Piggeldy und Frederick: Unendlichkeit

Got it? An easy way to remember with wurden/würden and konnten/könnten is: if an umlaut letter is present, you are talking about the possible present or future!

Further Learning
Visit Yabla German and watch the two Yabla videos conjugating the verbs werden and können and practice writing some of your own sentences using the different tenses of the verbs.

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What's Mine is Yours

A substantival possessive pronoun is a personal determiner that is used without an accompanying noun, such as "mine," "his" or "hers," "yours," "ours," and "theirs." In English, substantival possessive pronouns sometimes have a different form than standard personal pronouns with a noun: "my" becomes "mine," as in "My wallet is in my bag." "Oh, where is mine?" In German, however, the substantival variant depends upon the inflective ending of the original pronoun that it is replacing. 

Ich nehme mal an, Ihre Schulzeit liegt ähnlich weit zurück wie meine.
I take it your time at school dates, likewise, back as far back as mine.
Caption 1, Sprachschulen: Sprachcaffe Frankfurt

Since he is referring to his time at school (feminine noun, singular nominative case: die Schulzeit), the substantival possessive pronoun is inflected accordingly: meine

Dafür könnt' ich sie bei der Schulbehörde anzeigen, aber dann stünde dein Wort gegen ihres.
I could report her for that to the school authorities, but then it would be your word against hers.    
Caption 15, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

Although the possessive of das Wort would be ihr Wort, the substantival possessive pronoun adds -es to the neuter singular nominative case. If the substantival possessive pronoun were standing in for a masculine noun, it would add -er for the masculine case. You will most often encounter -es endings on pronouns in the genitive case, so best keep a sharp eye out for this exception!

Further Learning
Visit Yabla German and search for examples of nouns that you can practice turning into substantival possessive pronouns. Check out this site to further practice your pronoun skills! 

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Dragons or Kites?

The German word for "dragon" is der Drache, but the word for "kite" is der Drachen, with an -n at the end. Since the plural for both "kites" and "dragons" is die Drachen, if the definite article is not mentioned, the only way you can tell which word is meant is from the context. This week's new installment of the TV series Großstadtrevier has a good example:

Er wollte die Küche streichen und Maries Drachen reparieren.    
He wanted to paint the kitchen and repair Marie's kite.
Caption 8, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

Er fand überall welche, in Schlössern und Palästen, verhext von Hexen und gefangen von Drachen.    
He found them everywhere, in castles and palaces, bewitched by witches and captured by dragons.
Captions 28, 29: Märchen, Sagenhaft: Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse

It is pretty clear from the contexts above that it probably isn't Marie's dragon that is being repaired, nor that the people found in the castles were being captured by kites!  

The singular genitive forms are different, however, with "of the dragon" written des Drachen and "of the kite" written des Drachens, with an -s at the end! 

Wir haben einen Garten des friedvollen Drachen.
We have a "Garden of the Peaceful Dragon.”
Caption 18, Das Tollwood-Festival: BAP und Clueso in der Musik-Arena

Further Learning
Visit Yabla German and search for examples of der Drache and der Drachen as used in a real world—or perhaps a purely imaginary—context. 
 

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Grad or gerade?

In colloquial German, it is common to hear the word grad, which is slang for the adverb/adjective gerade and could easily be confused with the noun Grad. The adverb gerade can be translated as "just," "especially," "exactly," "just now," or even as "directly." The adjective gerade is usually used to describe "even," as in even and odd numbers, and is translated as "level," "direct," "upright," and "ingenuous" as well.

Wir sind ja grad [gerade] erst gekommen.
We indeed only just arrived.
Caption 4, Oktoberfest München: Auf der Wiesn

However, the neuter noun das Grad is a technical term that refers to measurable "degrees" of temperature or the "degree" of a geometric angle. In non-technical usage, it is a masculine noun (der Grad) and may refer an academic degree.

Es soll bis über zwanzig Grad warm werden.
It should get warm, up to more than twenty degrees.
Caption 16, München: 180. Oktoberfest eröffnet

Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and search for examples of geradegrad and Grad as spoken in a real world context. 

 

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German Idioms of Decline

The German language has a colorful variety of idioms for describing when a situation is in decline or when things have gone badly.

 

If something is "in the bucket" in German, at least it's not as bad as "kicking the bucket" in English!

 

Wenn Thorsten nicht genommen wird, ist seine Karriere im Eimer.
If Thorsten is not accepted, his career will be in the bucket [idiom, over].
Captions 18-19, Die Pfefferkörner: Eigentor

 

The less polite version of the above is im Arsch, which for politeness' sake is perhaps best left untranslated.

 

Whereas something going badly is said to be "going downhill" in English, in German the expression relates to water rather than mountains.

 

Seit ich wieder angefangen habe, geht unsere Ehe den Bach runter.    
Since I started again, our marriage has been going downstream [idiom, falling apart].
Caption 7, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

 

If things get too bad, maybe it's high time you hightail it out of there!

 

Sie macht sich aus dem Staub.
She makes herself out of the dust [idiom, absconds].
Caption 45, Alpenseen: Kühle Schönheiten

 

Further Learning
This extensive listing of German idioms is amusing for the fact that the English translations are all literal and intentionally humorous. Pick out a few whose real meaning is unclear to you and look online to discover what the expressions really express, then search for some examples used in real conversations on Yabla German.

 

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English Present Perfect vs. German Perfekt

Both English and German refer to past events using the simple past tense and the present perfect tense. The perfect past tense is called Perfekt in German, but it is important to understand that although the German Perfekt is considered the closest equivalent of present perfect in English in terms of its structure, in fact there are some notable differences in the ways each language uses this tense. 

Both English present perfect and German Perfekt have in common that they are compound tenses, formed with an auxiliary or helping verb together with the past participle. This auxiliary verb is usually "to have" (haben) and sometimes, in German, "to be" (sein):

Wir haben sieben Tafeln Schokolade gegessen.    
We have eaten seven chocolate bars.
Caption 15, Konjugation: Das Verb „essen“

Wir sind zusammen in die Stadt gegangen.
We have gone to the city together.
Caption 12, Konjugation: Das Verb „gehen“

The main difference, however, is that the English present perfect refers to an action or state that begins in the past and continues into the present, whereas the German Perfekt is usually used to speak about completed states and actions, and is therefore rather the direct equivalent of the simple past tense. In fact, Perfekt is often called the "conversational past" because it is the primary spoken form of the past tense. In many cases where spoken English would use the simple past tense ("We already ate."), German would almost always use the Perfekt tense (Wir haben schon gegessen).

Alternately, the German Präsenz (present tense) can sometimes be best translated into the English present perfect: 

Und Gitarre spielt die Vierunddreißigjährige schon seit ihrem sechsten Lebensjahr.
And the thirty-four year old has played guitar since her sixth year of age.
Caption 12, Ann Doka & Band: New Country aus dem Rhein-Main-Gebiet

Further Learning
Read this article about simple past vs. Perfekt and take this quiz about the German Perfekt tense, then find some examples of the tense used in real conversations on Yabla German.

 

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German Verbs: sagen, ansagen, or besagen?

The verbs sagen, ansagen, and besagen appear similar when written in their infinitive forms, but have quite different meanings. In common English usage, there are a number of examples where all three might be translated with the English verb "to say," although for besagen the English verbs "to state," "to imply," "to mention," or "to mean" are usually more accurate, and for ansagen, "to declare," "to introduce," or "to present" are usually better.

Here is the verb sagen in its present perfect (German Perfekttense:

Sie haben mal gesagt, dass sich erfolgreicher Fußball in erster Linie durch Schnelligkeit und Präzision auszeichnet.
You once said that successful soccer is, above all, characterized by velocity and precision.
Captions 22-23, Fußball: Saisonpremiere

The verb ansagen, in its Perfekt tense, is written identically to and should be distinguished from its slang adjectival form angesagt, which means "popular," "hip," or "hot" (the latter two in the English slang sense). Here is the verb ansagen in present perfect tense:

Einige Schüler haben lästigem Kabelsalat den Kampf angesagt.
Some students have declared war on annoying cable clutter.
Caption 8, Erfinder: Erfindermesse in Nürnberg

And lastly, here is an example of besagen in present tense:

Zu wenig Einsatz, wenig überzeugend beim weiblichen Geschlecht, besagt die Studie.    
Too little effort, less than convincing for the female sex, says the study.
Caption 25, Balztanz: für Fortgeschrittene

To sum up: the verb sagen is the act of saying; the verb besagen is referring to what is stated, such as in a law, a study, or on a sign; and the verb ansagen is referring to the act of stating, usually in reference to declaration, such as declaring war.

Further Learning
Read these posts about about sagen and besagen, and brush up on the conjugation of sagen with this video on Yabla German. For advanced learners, check out what Friedrich Wilhelm Genthe wrote about sagenbesagen and ansagen in the "Handwörterbuch deutscher Synonyme" way back in 1834!

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Dankeschön, Danke schön or danke schön?

This basic expression of gratitude can be written in three different ways: 1. Upper case as Dankeschön, one word; 2. Two words upper case Danke and lower case schön; or 3. as two words danke schön in lower case. But which of these are correct?

The uppercase single word Dankeschön is a neuter noun, and should actually only be written thus when clearly used as a noun in a sentence: 

Das Lied ist ein Dankeschön an Menschen, die die Sporties inspiriert haben.
The song is a thank-you to people who have inspired the "Sporties."
Captions 26-27, Sportfreunde Stiller: Neues Album

Und ganz herzliches Dankeschön auf jeden Fall.    
And very heartfelt thanks in any case.
Caption 20, Tierfreund Mario Barth: Der Tätowierer der Stars

The more common greeting of Danke schön / danke schön is written as two words, and in most cases is written lower case (except when starting a sentence, of course): 

Das bestelle ich später, danke schön.
I'll order that later, thank you.
Caption 17, Abendessen: mit Marko

The upper case exception Danke schön, which is recommended (but not required) by Duden, can be used when expressions of gratitude are referred to with the verb sagen in a sentence, in which case the expression is handled grammatically as a noun phrase:

Nächste Woche geht es wieder weiter und ich sage Danke schön und Auf Wiedersehen.
We'll continue next week, and I'd like to say thank you and goodbye.
Captions 28-29, Ball des Weines: Tombola

Note that even the Auf in Auf Wiedersehen is upper case, but this rather complicated rule is not of great concern, since lower case is also an acceptable form. Remember too that danke can also be the first person singular form of the verb danken, "to thank," and is therefore always written in lower case. Ich danke euch herzlich!

Further Learning
Find some more ways to express thanks in German and look for these expressions on Yabla German to see them used in a real world context. 

 

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Upper Case in German: Adjectives

Capitalizing words in German is, for the most part, easier than English. In German, all nouns are capitalized, and most pronouns (except for the formal and "royal we" cases) are written in lower case. Unlike English, most German adjectives (including nationality) are written lower case.

 Der Unterschied zwischen deutschen Texten und englischen Texten...
The difference between German lyrics and English lyrics...
Caption 34, Frida Gold: Interview

Nor are adjectives capitalized, unlike the English title case in headlines or names of films, songs, etc. For book and film titles, only the first word and nouns (or nominative cases) are in upper case.

Deswegen gucken wir jetzt einfach mal rein in „Das heimliche Geräusch“.
Therefore we'll now simply take a look at "The Secret Noise."
Caption 10, Kurzfilm-Festival: Shorts at Moonlight

The only exceptions are if the adjective is part of a proper name, such as of a species, a legal or historical term, or a place name, or titles of books, films, etc.

Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg wurde Berlin in vier Sektoren unterteilt.
After the Second World War, Berlin was divided into four sectors.
Caption 1, Berlin: der alte amerikanische Sektor

Nominalized adjectives are adjectives that are used as nouns, and in German these too are written in upper case. Generally, an adjective that has the definite article before it (derdie oder das) is a nominalized adjective: 

Das ist das Beste, was es gibt auf der Welt.
That's the best thing that there is in the world.
Caption 36, Monsters of Liedermaching: Ein Pferd

A possibly confusing exception are superlative adjectives, usually preceded by am and written in lower case:

Was hat dir am besten gefallen?    
What did you like best?
Caption 33, Umweltlernen: Propellerpflanzen am Kräutertag

Sometimes too, adjectives are written apart from the noun they are modifying and may at first appear to be nominalized. As you see in the following, schönsten actually modifies the preceding noun Auswärtssiege

Am Samstag, da wir eh alle nach Kaiserslautern fahren und Auswärtssiege die schönsten sind, müssen auf jeden Fall drei Punkte her.
On Saturday, since we are all already driving to Kaiserslautern and away wins are the most beautiful, three points are definitely a must.
Captions 54-56, Fußball: Eintracht-Fan gewinnt Wimpel

Further Learning
Find some nominalized adjectives from this list, then search for them on Yabla German to see them used in a real world context. If you want to go really deep into German nominalization rules, see the rules themselves as specified by Duden
 

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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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German Pseudo-Anglicisms

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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