German Lessons

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Lessons for topic Vocabulary

Wann/Wenn/Als

In English there is only one word for “when,” but in German there are three words: wann, wenn, and als. In German, it’s very important to use the correct word, otherwise the whole meaning of the sentence can change.

Wann is a question word used to ask “at what time” directly as a question, as Diane demonstrates:

Und wann läuft der?

And when does it run [start]?

Caption 40, Diane erklärt: Fragewörter

When you ask a question about the past, you also need to use wann:

Wann hast du Wiener Kurti zuletzt gesehen?

When did you last see "Wiener Kurti" [a nickname]?

Caption 67, Alexander Hauff: Showreel - Part 2

Or when you ask indirectly, as Piggeldy does to Frederick when talking about the arrival of summer:

Dann wollen wir mal den Frühling fragen, wann der Sommer kommt.

Then we want to ask spring when summer is coming.

Caption 17, Piggeldy und Frederick: Sommer

Wenn is the most common form of “when,” referring to time in the following examples:

Wenn er hinter der Bar steht, gibt er alles, wie viele seiner Kollegen.

When he is standing behind the bar, he gives it everything, like many of his colleagues.

Caption 34,  Cocktails mixen: So „shaken“ die Besten

When planning a journey, you would use wenn as shown here:

OK, und wenn ich im Europapark bin, wo kann ich dann übernachten?

OK, and when I arrive at Europapark, where can I spend the night?

Caption 21, Reiseplanung: Gespräch mit einer Reiseberaterin

Wenn doesn’t just mean “when”; in German it is also used to express “if”:

Wir würden uns freuen, wenn alle Menschen auf PETA de [www.peta.de] unsere Onlinepetition unterstützen.

We would be happy, if all people would support our online petition on PETA de [www.peta.de].

Caption 13, PETA-Aktion: Gegen das Wal-Massaker

And the third word for “when” is als, which is always used to describe an event that has already happened or a single point in time. Wann or wenn just wouldn’t be correct here. Remember this and you’re halfway there!

Und haben Sie schon mal gedacht irgendwann, als Sie Ihre Fotos gesehen haben...

And did you ever think, at some point, when you saw your photos...

Caption 30, Bambi-Verleihung: No-Gos auf dem roten Teppich

It's also shown here as Angela Merkel talks about a past atrocity:

als im Herbst eine rechtsextremistische Terror- und Mörderbande aufgedeckt wurde.

when in the fall a right-wing extremist terrorist [organization] was uncovered.

Caption 58 Angela Merkel: Neujahrsansprache - Part 1

So as you see, distinguishing between wann, wenn, and als is not so difficult if you remember the basics outlined above!

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Machen or Tun?

One of the challenges in learning a language is making the right choice among words with similar meanings. Tun means “to do.” Simple enough, but another word means “to do” too. Machen basically means “to make,” and is very often used just like in English (see explanations and examples here), but it also means “to do.” So which one do we use, and when? Usage changes from area to area and sometimes from generation to generation, but as a very general guide, if there is no particular object, machen and tun are usually interchangeable.

Piggeldy and Frederick happen to be talking about a sheep.

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag tut.

It just said what it does the whole day.

Caption 33, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Schaf

Piggeldy could have said:

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag macht.

It just said what it does the whole day.

And here, someone is suspected of cheating at German Monopoly:

Was machst du da an der Kasse?

What are you doing there at the cash register?

Caption 26, Monopoly: Geheime Tipps und Tricks

He could have said:

Was tust du da an der Kasse?

What are you doing there at the cash register?

We've seen how machen and tun can be interchangeable. In practice, though, German speakers will use one over the other in a given situation. So pay attention. Little by little, you will start getting a feel for which one sounds more natural. The important thing is to know when machen and tun cannot replace each other. 

When you are making an apology, go for tun.

Es tut mir sehr leid, dass ich dich danach gefragt habe.


I am very sorry that I asked you about it.

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Sprichwörter

When you accept an apology, you’ll use machen.

Das macht nichts.

It doesn’t matter.

When you want to explain that you’re busy, tun is the right verb to use:

Was willst du von mir? Ich hab' zu tun.


What do you want from me? I have [things] to do.

Caption 66, Alexander Hauff: Showreel - Part 2

And pretending to do something is child’s play, as long as you remember to use tun!

Ich könnt' so tun, als ob ich dir zum Beispiel eine verpasse.

I could pretend, for example, as if I were to sock you one.

Caption 89, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2

Learning tip:



On the Yabla video page, do searches with machen and tun in any or all of their conjugations, and see where they are used. Then go to the video itself to see the context and the translation. 


Another suggestion: Think of a sentence using one or the other, like Was tust du denn so in deiner Freizeit? and Google it to see if and how many times it comes up. If you searched tun where most of the time machen is used, you will find that Google gives results for machen—the more commonly used word.

Have a look at this blog about machen and tun.

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False Friends

You may have come across the phrase “false friends” or “false cognates” (as they are more accurately known) during your language training. So what does it mean? It has nothing to do with disloyal friends, although linguistic false friends can also be treacherous. They are words that sound similar or are spelled identically but have different meanings in their respective language.

Here are some common German phrases with their English “false friend” below them.

Be careful what aktuell actually means:

German: aktuell – topical, current, up-to-date 

English: actuallyeigentlich, tatsächlich, wirklich

Eigentlich stammt es aus dem aktuellen Album der Rocksängerin.

Actually, it comes from the rock singer’s current album.

Caption 9, Liza: ein Lied für Opel

When Germans talk about the imminent future, you may think they're talking about someone's lack of hair:

German: bald – soon

English: baldkahl

…die olympischen Winterspiele, die bald in Vancouver stattfinden werden.

…the Winter Olympic Games that will soon take place in Vancouver.

Caption 3, Deutsche Sporthilfe: Ball des Sports - Part 2

Watch what you give someone on their birthday! 

German: das Gift – poison, venom

English: giftdas Geschenk 

Sein Gift ist vergleichbar mit einem Bienenstich.

His poison is comparable to a bee sting.

Caption 9, Summer Cheergirl 2010: Fotoshooting mit Skorpionen 

If you want to make a marriage proposal to a German, pay attention to how you ask...

German: sich engagieren – to be committed, get involved 

English: to get engagedsich verloben

Find' ich das immer gut, sich für solche Sachen zu engagieren.

I think [it's] always good to get involved in such things.

Caption 8, Luxuslärm: rockt gegen's Saufen

The winter is dragging on and spring seems a long way off, but we all know it will come eventually. However, confusing “eventually” with the German eventuell makes spring seem far less likely:  

German: eventuell – possibly, perhaps

English: eventuallyschließlich, endlich, irgendwann

Eventuell habe ich in der einen oder anderen Situation emotional überreagiert.

Possibly I overreacted emotionally in one or another situation.

Caption 28,  Filmtrailer: Keinohrhasen

You may describe a horse as being brav, but this has nothing to do with being brave! 

German: brav – well, well-behaved, dutifully

English: bravemutig, tapfer

Die schönste Wiesn-Erfahrung? Dass immer die Pferde brav gingen.

The best meadow experience? That the horses always went dutifully.

Caption 9, Oktoberfest München: Auf der Wiesn - Part 2

As you can see, using “false friends” in the wrong context can be embarrassing, but most of the time it is just a funny mistake. However, you should try to learn these deceitful words to avoid any faux pas!

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All You Need Is Liebe

Did you know that the Beatles, owing in part to the time they spent in Hamburg at the start of their career, released a version of "She Loves You” in German? Its title is „Sie liebt dich.

The German noun and verb for love (Liebe, lieben) are used with more variety of meaning than “love” in English. So, liebe (dear) Yabla subscribers, let’s see all of the different ways we can make love work for us in German!

As illustrated above, the adjective liebe/lieber (dear) is used as an informal form of address. We see this usage in the following Yabla video, starting at the very top: with God.

Du lieber Gott, welchen Weg müssten die denn abends zurücklegen, wenn Köln Gulu wäre?

Dear God, which way would they have to travel in the evening, if Cologne were Gulu [a city in Uganda]?

Caption 47, World Vision: Wolfgang Niedecken

Working our way down from God to tattoo exhibitions, we find: 

Liebe Zuschauer, es fand eine Tattoo-Ausstellung in Frankfurt im Hotel „Roomers" statt.

Dear viewers, a tattoo exhibition took place in Frankfurt at the Hotel Roomers.

Caption 1, Tätowierungen: Tattoo-Ausstellung

If you would prefer your Liebe to mean more than merely "dear," listen to how Thomas uses a variation of the root word (lieb) to mean “rather” or “preferably”:

Aber ich glaube, ich nehm' mir lieber ein Taxi.

But I believe I'd rather take a taxi.

Caption 49, Melanie und Thomas: treffen sich

This can work to express superlative preferences as well: 

Am liebsten vermutlich eine Sendung…

Most preferably, presumably, a broadcast…

Caption 54, Frauenfußball-WM: Der Bundespräsident am Ball - Part 1

If you prefer popularity to love, add the be- prefix for a refreshing change of meaning: 

Orangensaft ist sehr beliebt in Deutschland.

Orange juice is very popular in Germany.

Caption 11, Jenny beim Frühstück: Teil 1 - Part 1

Add -haber to lieb to stir up some enthusiasm:

Machst du ja auch Auftragswerke für Kunden oder für Interessenten und Liebhaber.

You also do contract work for customers or for potential buyers and enthusiasts.

Caption 2, Lokalhelden: Art House - Part 2

Liebhaber can also mean “lover” in the more intimate sense:

Tristan und Isolde waren Liebhaber.

Tristan and Isolda were lovers.

And in the end, it is best to make love, even while preparing for war: 

In zwei Sekunden Frieden stiften, Liebe machen, den Feind vergiften…

In two seconds make peace, make love, poison the enemy…

Caption 3, Andreas Bourani: Alles nur in meinem Kopf - Part 1

So you see that in German, the word for “love” (Liebe) is the basis for a number of different expressions ranging from “dear” to “preferably” to “enthusiast” to the actual object of one’s desire. 

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Rutsch and rutschen: A good “slide” into the New Year!

The most typical New Year’s greeting in Germany is the slang phrase Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! or simply Guten Rutsch! These can be translated literally as “A good slide into the New Year!” or “Good slide!

Dann wünsch' ich euch schöne Weihnachten, 'nen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr und viel Spaß beim Anschauen. Tschüß!

In which case I wish you a wonderful Christmas, a good slide into [start to] the New Year and a lot of fun while watching. Bye!

Captions 83-84, Weihnachtsinterviews:  Cettina in Linkenheim

The word Rutsch means a downward sliding movement, and the greetings are meant to convey a smooth transition into the New Year, though the origin of the phrase is still uncertain. Let’s have a look at the more ordinary ways Rutsch and rutschen are used. 

In an interview, Germany’s top windsurf star, Bernd Flessner, is asked if he can get from Altenteil Halpen to the Lighthouse in einem Rutsch durch (in one go [literally “through in one slide”]). The answer? Yes!

In einem Rutsch durch? -In einem Rutsch.

In one go? -In one go.

Caption 9, Das "Race around Fehmarn":  Neuer Surfrekord        

A professor involves his talking pet bird named Dodo in demonstrating Newton's law of inertia using the “Dodomobil," (really just a shoebox). The verb rutschen (to slide or skid) is in more common usage than the noun Rutsch:

Dann... theoretisch, fährt dann das Dodomobil oder rutscht, besser gesagt... rutscht das Dodomobil unendlich weiter.

Then… theoretically, the Dodomobile then continues to drive... or slide, rather… the Dodomobile continues to slide infinitely.

Captions 38-39: Das 1. Newtonsche Gesetz: erklärt am Beispiel des Dodomobils - Part 1

Piggeldy and Frederick are playing on a Rutschbahn (a slide):

„Richtig", schrie Frederick und rutschte die Rutschbahn hinunter.

"Right," shouted Frederick and slid down the slide.

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Spielen

Watch out, Grandma! Here rutschen takes on another meaning:

Dann rutscht die Oma auf einer Bananenschale aus.

Then the grandmother slips on a banana peel.

Caption 27: Sabine und Ivana: erzählen Witze

So whether you are sliding down a slide, sliding into the New Year, or slipping on a banana peel, understanding this versatile word can help you have a guten Rutsch ins Deutsch!

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Eben: Exactly just even!

While watching Yabla videos, especially interviews, you may well have noticed that German speakers love using the word eben. Used as an adjective, eben means “even” or “flat or level”; as an adverb it means “evenly.”

But there’s more to it. Let’s take a closer look! 

Der kultivierte Camper ist eben anspruchsvoller geworden.

The cultivated camper has just become more discriminating.

Caption 5, Glamping: Camping mit Stil

Eben is used in this video to emphasize the fact that there are some people who are used to high standards and will not be satisfied spending their holidays in a simple tent made of four poles and a piece of cloth (whereas others surely will!). People are different. Das ist eben so!  (That’s just the way it is!) So the example of eben in this video is used in the sense of “just"or “simply.”

In Unser Universum: Der tiefste Blick ins All, we learn that eben also means ”exactly” or "precisely":

Was wir oder unsere Teleskope sehen, ist das Licht, das von eben diesem Himmelskörper ausgeht.

What we or our telescopes are seeing is the light that radiates precisely from this heavenly body.

Captions 35-36, Unser Universum: Der tiefste Blick ins All

Eben can also describe something that has happened just now:

Marco du hast eben schon aufgelegt

Marco you just DJed

Caption 2, Big City Beats: DJ Marco Petralia

Further Learning

Sicher ist es nicht eben einfach (of course it’s not exactly easy) to implement eben correctly in your conversation right away, but as with everything: Übung macht eben den Meister! (practice just makes perfect!). So why not start right now and create three sentences in which eben is used as “exactly,” another three in which it is used as “just,” and three more in which it has the meaning of “just now.”

Examples:

Das ist eben der Film, den wir gestern in der Vorschau gesehen haben.

That’s exactly the movie we saw yesterday in the preview. 

Ich esse eben gerne mein Frühstück im Bett.

I just love having my breakfast in bed.

Ich bin eben am Flughafen angekommen.

I have just arrived at the airport. 

Viel Spaß! (Have fun!)

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Laufen: Extrapolations on a Useful Verb

Gehen means "to go," rennen means "to run." But what is laufen all about? Laufen can mean all of the above! It means "to walk", "to run," or simply "to go." Note that its noun form, das Laufen, is neuter (in fact, all noun forms of verb infinitives are neuter), and means "a race" or "racing."

In Jan Wittmer: Ich laufe (Tim Bendzko), we have an example where laufen has the meaning of "to run":

Und ich laufe

And I run

Ich laufe davon

I run from it

Und ich laufe

And I run

So schnell und so weit ich kann

As fast and as far as I can

Captions 6-9, Jan Wittmer: Ich laufe (Tim Bendzko)

In this video, Jan Wittmer sings over and over again the line Ich laufe davon. He is running away. He is not just walking, he is running as schnell (fast) and as weit (far) as he can.

You would say Ich laufe jeden Tag ins Büro (I walk to the office every day) if you wanted to use laufen in the sense of walking. Surely you do not run to the office every day in your suit and high heels, with your laptop tucked under your arm, unless you overslept or your profession happens to involve Marathon laufen!

On the other hand, let's say you're in a singles bar looking for the perfect partner, like Tanya and Sandra in RheinMain Szene - Singles der Woche. You might be tempted to say something along the lines of:

Also, mit ein Meter sechsundsiebzig ist es nicht so einfach. Hier laufen so viele kleine Männer rum.

Well, being one meter seventy-six is not so easy. Here there are a lot of short men walking around.

Caption 34, RheinMain Szene: Singles der Woche

So if you want to start using laufen in conversation, just pay attention to the pace you want to emphasize.

Wir drücken dir die Daumen, dass alles gut läuft beim Lernen mit Yabla!

We're crossing our fingers that everything goes well with Yabla learning!

Learning tip

After you’ve established a firm grip on a useful German verb, take the next step. For instance, you’re stuck in traffic. Put the time to good use by composing a simple sentence using the verb in the present tense. (One immediately comes to mind: Ich laufe davon.) Now alter the same sentence, changing its verb tense only, and see how many sentences you can come up with. It’s an ambitious goal, but getting comfortable with all 12 German tenses won’t happen overnight. So let’s get crackin’! No, seriously, think about it: when speaking your own language, notice how often and effortlessly you shift from one tense to another within a single conversation. When you get back home, check your results in Baron’s 501 German Verbs, a must-have for any aspiring German speaker, or click here for a useful website about verbs.

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German Slang Part 1

In the lesson on The Many Ways to say "Well" we covered one way to sound more like a German speaker. This time we'll talk about another: using slang or colloquial language. Tschüss (bye) is a good example of this. It's an informal way of saying goodbye and in many situations of even passing familiarity, it's how people part.

Let's look at some more slang you can sprinkle into your German speech.

In the following example, we learn that:

die Catwalks der Welt sind voll von schicken und vor allem nicht ganz billigen Klamotten.
the catwalks of the world are full of chic and, above all, not exactly inexpensive clothing.
Caption 2, Highend-Fashion aus dem Kloster Ein Mönch als Maßschneider

Klamotten is a very common colloquialism for "clothing." As with all such words, you might use it with a hip store clerk or a friend, but not with a complete stranger or even a less familiar coworker.

Another common slang word is blau, meaning "drunk":

Ich find' diese Aktion "bunt statt blau" total wichtig.
I think this campaign "Colorful instead of Blue [Drunk]" is totally important.
Caption 3, Luxuslärm: rockt gegen's Saufen

Slang can vary greatly according to region. The word Kiez, used in the following example, is fairly specific to Berlin, where it means a small, cohesive neighborhood. It is also used in Hamburg, and to a lesser extent in Hannover, where it is suggestive of prostitution. By contrast, it is entirely unfamiliar in most of southern Germany.

Gitarrist Jürgen Ehle wohnt seit fünfundzwanzig Jahren in dem Kiez und schwelgt in Erinnerungen.
Guitarist Jürgen Ehle has lived for twenty-five years in the area and luxuriates in memories.
Captions 3-4, Pankow: Rolling Stones des Ostens

That just about wraps things up for now. Tschüss and till next time!

Learning Tip

Getting frustrated with the pace of your learning? Try this fun exercise. Watch a video that is a level of difficulty higher than usual and then go back to one you had to work particularly at to master. You will find that you have come a longer distance than you had thought.

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The Many Ways to Say “Well”

Sounding like a native speaker in a newly acquired language can be tricky. There are all of those grammar rules and new vocabulary words and social conventions to be considered. One way you can make yourself sound more like a German speaker is by learning some of the common “filler” words people use in conversation. The word “well” is such a word in English. Let's learn some equivalent words a German speaker might use.

Here are two variations on ja (yes) which are used in this way:

Tja, was hat das mit Hollywood zu tun?
Well, what does this have to do with Hollywood?

Caption 6, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier Latin - Part 1 of 2

Na ja, das is' halt mein Titel, ja.
Well, that is just my title, yes.

Caption 83, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2 of 2

Deciding whether to use tja or na ja is a bit of an art, but you can think of it this way: tja might also be translated as "hmm" or "let me think"; na ja might be translated as "you know."

Also, which is commonly used to mean “therefore” or “so,” often finds its way into conversations like this one:

Also, wir waren schon damals eigentlich...
Well, we were already back then actually...
Caption 33, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2 of 2

When used as a filler, also is generally applied for one of two reasons. In the example above, it is used because the speaker is thinking back or reminiscing. It can also serve to add emphasis or impact to a declarative statement, like this one about a subject of controversy:

Also, da scheiden sich die Geister.
Well, here the spirits divide [opinions differ].
Caption 13, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier Latin - Part 1 of 2

Well, that's it for now! 

Learning Tip

Trying to learn how to pronounce German? Go through a video that is short and sweet at least two or three times. Then practice saying the things that are said by the participants of the video. Take turns speaking each individual participant, so that you start to get the hang of some of the nuance of tone and pronunciation.

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True Friends!

True friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, AND share a common meaning

The lesson Beware of False Friends! showed that German words that have similar sounding and written English counterparts aren't what one might take them for, at first glance.

The good news is that there are hundreds of these jewels, the so-called "true friends," lying about in plain sight. Yours for the taking! After studying articles and tenses for countless hours, what a welcome change! They are, indeed, "true friends" to the savvy German learner who is bound and determined to keep his eye pealed for them, ready to pocket them and place them in the strongbox of his Wortschatz (vocabulary, literally "treasury of words"). In the text below are some dead reliable "true friends."

German children lernen (learn) from early on, that at bedtime der Sandmann (the sandman) comes around with his bag of sand to tell a story and then sprinkle Sand (sand) in their eyes, which is said to make them sleepy. The stories of pig brothers Piggeldy and Frederick form a part of this collection. In every episode Piggeldy asks his older brother a question which they then try to explore together. The questions revolve around the simplest of matters, around almost philosophische Konzepte (philosophical concepts) like rain, the sky, tidying up...

In the following example you can see that "true friends" do, in fact, contribute to sentence comprehension.      

Sie liefen eine Weile durchs Moor

They walked a while through the moor
Caption 7, Piggeldy und Frederick: Regen

For more examples of true friends, please go here.

Learning Tip

Have you noticed that every clip features the speech rate under the Videos tab of our GermanYabla site? If not, go to the Vocab tab (which you will find on the Videos page below each clip). In addition to a vocabulary list for the clips, you will also find the speech rate at the top.

As a rule, pick videos with a speech rate that is right for your level and stick with it until you feel comfortable increasing it. If you feel up to the challenge, try a couple of clips out of your comfort zone with higher speech rates and see how much content you can glean intuitively. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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Beware of False Friends!

False Friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning.

Have a look at the text below about the video Balztanz: für Fortgeschrittene, which includes a few false friends in German (in bold italics) and see if you can determine their true meaning in English!

A recent study investigating male dance moves that catch a woman's eye has shown that certain dance moves executed by men are more likely to grab women's attention than others. Neither robot impersonation and windmill-like flailing of the arms nor dezente dance moves (...noch dezente Tanzbewegungen...) set female hearts racing! Men might sich auch blamieren if they dance in circles (Männer könnten sich auch blamieren, wenn sie im Kreis tanzen.)

If they, however, emphasized upper body movement, paid attention to the right action in the left shoulder, the neck and the right knee and incorporated variety into their dance patterns they might bekommen what they are after ( ...könnten sie bekommen, was sie suchen). This just leaves one question open: Which traits lie hidden behind those moves?

  • dezent = discreet, subtle ≠ decent
  • sich blamieren = make a fool of oneself ≠ to blame
  • bekommen = receive, get ≠ to become
  •  

Consider an example from one of our videos.

Bitte, seien Sie jetzt ganz still.

Please, be completely silent now.

Caption 60, Magie - Die Zaubershow

For more examples of false friends, please go here. This quiz will test your grasp of some common false friends!

Learning Tip

Pick two to three clips from one category, e.g. food, which discuss the same or a similar subject. Watch them in ascending order according to their level of difficulty. While watching you will notice that some of the vocabulary is the same. This exercise will enhance your contextual understanding, as well as, reinforce familiar words, consolidate your grasp of newer words and improve your listening skills.

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Lightning-quick, crow-black and Co! Compound Adjectives

Compound Adjectives:

I invite you to take a journey with me back to the Middle Ages. At the Medieval Christmas market, soul-snatcher Markus lures us to abandon ourselves to the vice of gambling. Of course, there is a reward involved!

Für jeden Mitspieler gibt es einen Edelstein des immerwährenden Glückes,
For every player there is a precious stone of everlasting happiness,
Caption 9, Mittelalterlicher Markt: Mäuseroulette

What makes this precious stone so enticing? The aspect that it's immerwährend, right? Immerwährendes Glück is something everyone dreams of. When you use compound adjectives you can include additional information in a sentence and still keep it compact. They prevent you from having to write lengthy versions like ...einen Edelstein des Glückes, das immer währt. This clause is grammatically correct and has the same meaning. (There is another compound adjective hidden in the above clip. See if you can find it!)

Compare the sentence lengths of the German and English clauses below.

diesmal mit systemkonformen Kunstwerken.
this time with artworks in conformity with the system.
Caption 6, Restituierung von Raubkunst - aus der Nazi-Zeit - Part 2 of 2

The words in bold emphasize clearly that compound adjectives can shorten a German sentence without having to omit any wanted information.

Have you seen and spoken this tongue-twister before? Kohlpechrabenschwarz (coal-pitch raven-black). If you haven't, try saying it just for fun! This compound adjective emphasizes the absolute blackness of something. So compound adjectives are also used to intensify and creatively underscore a noun's attributes in ways that one of the off-the-shelf variety cannot achieve.

Note: If you're searching for the definition of an adjective and aren't getting results, it may be a compound. In this case, break it into its component parts and search their meanings individually.

For an exercise on the formation of compound adjectives go here.

Learning Tip

Set small, achievable short-term goals. While watching the videos:

  • Write down and learn 10 words or useful phrases of your choice every day. Repeat them on Saturday. Take Sunday off.
  • Make a list of your typical German errors. Do an error analysis and consciously review the grammar.

Finally, if progress is slow, keep at it. Take the long view. Recall where you started and how far you've come. Bear always in mind that learning a second language is a life-long endeavor that will enrich your life for years to come!

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Versatile Verbs

aufheben: to suspend; to pick up

Have you ever longed to put the pedal to the metal? Car enthusiasts throughout the world dream of hitting the Autobahn in their favorite gas guzzler. In a recent move that has environmentalists upset and speed demons ecstatic, Germany has removed more barriers to high-velocity travel:

Das Verkehrsministerium hat einige Tempolimits aufgehoben.
The Ministry of Transport has lifted some of the speed limits.
Caption 2, Deutsche Autobahnen: Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungen

The infinitive of the verb in boldface is aufheben. As with many other German verbs, it has numerous meanings in different contexts. In this case it means to "suspend something", to "declare something as invalid."

Die Geldstrafe wurde aufgehoben.
The fine was cancelled.

Mit dem Ende der Apartheid wurde das Handelsembargo gegen Südafrika aufgehoben.
With the end of apartheid, the trade embargo against South Africa was lifted.

In our video about Karlsruhe's phenomenal ultimate frisbee team, we encounter another meaning of aufheben, "to pick up":

... du würdest ihn einfach aufheben.
... you'd simply pick it up.
Caption 19, Ultimate Frisbee: Oli erklärt das Spiel - Part 1

Have you heard the expression Viel Aufhebens um etwas machen? In the figurative sense, the expression means to "make a fuss about something." It originated from the language of fencers, who, prior to fighting, picked up their swords from the ground, accompanied by elaborate ceremonies and boastful words.

Keep an eye out for these and other uses of aufheben, an extremely versatile German verb!

 

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