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German Idioms and Slang

As always, Yabla's German videos show how the language is spoken in a real world context, offering you a lively selection of idioms and slang. Here are some examples from this week's new videos.

So, dann geht's jetzt ans Eingemachte
So then, it's getting to the preserves [to the matter at hand].
Caption 3, Pastewka: Cantz fährt betrunken Auto

In its standard definition, the noun das Eingemachte means canned or jarred food preserves (especially fruit), but in slang usage it means "getting to the matter at hand." An English equivalent might be "getting down to brass tacks."

Frau Korff verarscht uns nach Strich und Faden.    
Ms. Korff is fooling us after stitch and thread [idiom, thoroughly].
Caption 14, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

The idiom of doing something nach Strich und Faden means to do something very thoroughly. There are no equivalents in English related to sewing, but a literary translation of this might be "to go through something with a fine-toothed comb."

Mann, jetzt halt doch einfach mal die Fresse.    
Man, now simply just shut your mouth.
Caption 37, Pastewka: Cantz fährt betrunken Auto

The noun die Fresse, described by Duden dictionary as derb ("coarse" or "crude"), means the mouth or the face. It is derived from the verb fressen, which means "to devour," but is also used as the verb "to eat" when referring to animals. The phrase die Fresse halten, or literally "hold your mouth," is a definite request to stop talking!

Further Learning
Brush up on your German idioms on this Wikipedia page and go to German Yabla to find the phrases used in context in some Yabla videos.

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German Cognate Verbs from English

cognate is a word that has its origins in a word from another language, and there are many verbs in German that have their roots in the English language. Some of these German verbs have in common the fact that they end with -ieren, are usually weak verbs, and usually do not use the prefix ge- in the past participle.

Many English verbs that end in consonants can be turned into German verbs by adding the suffix -ieren, such as "to profit":

Davon profitieren wir jetzt natürlich.
We're profiting from this, of course.
Caption 2, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

Sometimes you drop a "y" from an English verb and add -ieren to make it German, such as "to study": 

Ab dem Wintersemester möchte ich Medizin studieren.
Starting in the winter semester I would like to study medicine.
Caption 23, Konstantin: ein Freiwilliger in Israel

Many English verbs ending in -ize can simply take the German -isieren ending, such as "to organize": 

Vor jedem Event muss man alles organisieren.    
Before every event one has to organize everything.
Caption 37, Traumberuf: Windsurfer

Further Learning
Take a few English verbs such as to alarm, to dominate, to export, to exist, to modernize, to probe, to reserve, and to ventilate, and see if you can construct German verbs from them based on the ideas above, then go to German Yabla and find the words used in a real world context. 

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All About Anniversaries

This week marks the 100th Yabla German lesson, and in celebration we'd like to offer you some examples of the German word das Jubiläum in context. 

2010 feierte der Klassiker unter den deutschen Volksfesten zweihundertjähriges Jubiläum.
In 2010, the classic among the German folk festivals celebrated its two hundred year anniversary.
Captions 26-27, Reiseland Deutschland: Vielfalt im Herzen Europas

In German, das Jubiläum can mean not only the anniversary, but the party or celebration for the anniversary as well: 

Ich bin heute hier in der Rockfabrik in Bruchsal zu dem dreißigjährigen Jubiläum.    
Today I am here in the Rock Factory in Bruchsal for the thirtieth anniversary celebration.
Caption 2, Rockfabrik Open-Air: Demons-Eye-Interview

Das Jubiläum can also, like many German words, be used to form a compound word.

2014 ist ja das große Jubiläumsjahr der Rapper.    
2014 is, indeed, the rapper's big anniversary year.
Caption 2, Thomas D: Der Aufstieg und Fall des Tommy Blank

Further Learning
Brush up on your usage of typical celebration words like Prostfeiern, and Sekt on Yabla German and see if you can properly translate these compound words that are formed with das Jubiläumdie Jubiläumsausgabedie Jubiläumsausstellungdie Jubiläumsfeierdas Jubiläumsheftdas Jubiläumsspiel, and die Jubiläumsveranstaltung.

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Some German Business Idioms

This week's dramatic installment of the German TV series Mama arbeitet wieder has some good examples of German idioms in a context that makes them easy to understand. Let's take a quick look!

Kann sich der Grünschnabel erst mal die Hörner abstoßen.
The greenhorn can first shed his horns.
Caption 30, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

The phrase die Hörner abstoßen translates directly as "to shed the horns" and alludes to an old German student hazing ritual, in which a newcomer has to put on horns like a goat and knock them off as a sign of maturity. In this case, it means "to gain some experience."

Wird Zeit, dass wir da runterkommen und den Laden auf Trab bringen.
It's time that we get down there and bring the shop to a trot.
Caption 31, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

Here you'll find two idiomatic usages. The noun der Laden usually refers to a shop, but is often used in a slang way to indicate any kind of business or even a specific project. The noun der Trab, which is a nominalization of the verb traben, means "trot" as in "a horse breaks into a trot." To bring den Laden auf Trab thus refers to bringing their "business operation up to speed."

Further Learning
If you haven't been keeping up with Mama arbeitet wieder, now is the time to start! Go to this Yabla German video page to see the entire series.

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Weak Masculine Nouns Not Ending in -e

Most nouns that are masculine and end in -e in their nominative singular form are called weak nouns, or schwache Substantive. Since most German nouns ending in -e are feminine, these exceptions are easy to recognize. There are, however, also weak nouns that don't end in -e in the nominative singular form, and these are harder to recognize. Many of these words are very similar to their English equivalents and relate to professions or politics. They can often be recognized by the fact that they end in -ant or -ist. 

What sets them apart from other nouns is the fact that in all cases except for nominative, they end in -en or -n.

Here's an example of the weak noun der Präsident with the -en ending in the singular dative case: 

Ich habe auch mit dem französischen Präsidenten darüber gesprochen.
I've also talked to the French President about this.
Caption 68: Angela Merkel: beim Nachhaltigkeitsrat

And the weak noun der Elefant in the singular accusative case:

Frederick, zeig mir einen Elefanten!
Frederick, show me an elephant!
Caption 3, Piggeldy und Frederick: Der Elefant

And finally, der Mensch in the singular genitive case: 

Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar.
The dignity of a human being is inviolable.
Caption 38, Integration von Nationalitäten: Hessen miteinander

Further Learning
Visit this page to see more examples of weak nouns, and visit Yabla German to find more examples of weak masculine nouns in practice.

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Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!

We've gone into detail about the German phrase of "sliding" (rutschen) into the New Year in a lesson last year, so let's instead take a quick peek at two new videos that Yabla is releasing in celebration of Silvester — and I don't mean "Sylvester and Tweetie!"

Was machen wir eigentlich an Silvester?    
What are we actually doing on New Year's Eve?
Caption 2, Im Zoo: Der Jahreswechsel für die Tiere

A major part of New Year celebrations in many countries is the shooting off of fireworks and firecrackers. Der Böller is a firecracker, and "to set off a firecracker" is the verb böllern. If we turn this verb into a noun or nominalize it, it becomes das Böllern

Fester Bestandteil: meist das Anstoßen auf das neue Jahr und das Böllern.
An integral part: usually the toast to the new year and the setting off of firecrackers.
Caption 4, Im Zoo: Der Jahreswechsel für die Tiere

And of course parties are a key part of the celebration: 

Der Neujahrsempfang ist aber auch die ideale Plattform, um gute Neuigkeiten bekannt zu machen.    
The New Year's reception is indeed also the ideal platform for announcing some good news.
Captions 3-4, Rhein-Main-TV: FSV-Neujahrsempfang

You may also see it described as die Silvesterparty or das Neujahrsfest. Either way, have fun — but not so much that you'll regret it the next day! 

Further Learning
Visit Yabla German to find more examples of typical New Year's terms like das Anstoßen and das Feuerwerk.

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Fröhliche Weihnachten von Yabla!

It's Christmas time again and in the spirit of the season, Yabla has three new videos with a Yuletide theme. Let's take a quick look at some highlights and expand our holiday vocabulary.

The literal translation of the German version of "Christmas Eve" is "Holy Eve": der Heilige Abend or even der Heiligabend.

Gehen Sie da direkt am Heiligen Abend zu Ihrem Sohn? 
Are you going to your son's house right on Christmas Eve?
Caption 26, Weihnachtsinterviews: Diane in Karlsruhe

Another holiday eve with which you may be less familiar is Saint Nicholas' Eve: der Nikolausabend. You can read more about the European traditions associated with this holiday on Wikipedia

Bald ist Nikolausabend da.    
Soon Saint Nicholas' Eve will be here.
Caption 11, Weihnachtslieder: Lasst uns froh und munter sein

The phrase "Bitte nehmen Sie Platz" is an invitation to sit down or literally "take a place." And although das Plätzchen is indeed the diminutive of der Platz, in this case we're not talking about sitting down at all — we're talking about baked goods! 

Ich will ein Plätzchen nehmen. 
I want to take a cookie.
Caption 28, Weihnachtslieder Detlev Jöcker: Heute wird gebacken

Further Learning
Practice your German by singing a Christmas song or two for your family and friends, and find even more videos about Weihnachten on Yabla German.

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German: besonders, besonderes or Besonderes ... ?

German language beginners may easily get besonders, besonderes, and Besonderes confused, since they sound nearly the same and have only minor differences in spelling. Once you learn the grammar behind the different spellings, however, you should be able to easily distinguish the reasons for the spelling differences. 

The adverb besonders (and remember, adverbs modify adjectives as well as verbs), usually translated as "particularly" or "especially," is spelled in lower case (except at the beginning of a sentence) and without the third "e" before the "s."  It will only be used with this spelling as an adverb:

So was zum Beispiel läuft besonders gut.
Something like this, for instance, is going particularly well.
Caption 15, Auftrumpfen: Mit Kitsch und Protz

The adjective besondere (only written with "-s" in its nominative neuter form) is usually translated as "special" or "particular." It is always written in lower case except when it is the first word in a sentence. It will, like all German adjectives, have different endings depending on whether it's in the nominative, dative, accusative, or genitive case, and depending on whether the noun it modifies is feminine, masculine or neuter, and singular or plural.

Here's an example of the adjective besondere in the singular genitive (feminine) case:

Einen Wettlauf der besonderen Art liefern sich der britische Milliardär Richard Branson und Hollywood-Regisseur James Cameron.
A race of a special kind is being carried out by the British billionaire Richard Branson and Hollywood director James Cameron.
Caption 2, Expedition Marianengraben: Zum tiefsten Punkt der Erde

The word Besonderes, always written capitalized and with the extra "e" before the last "s," is a nominalized adjective, which is an adjective that has been turned into a noun. Note that nominalized adjectives in German are not necessarily so in English! In German, it is usually preceded by either etwas or was (meaning "something" in this context) or the word nichts (meaning "nothing"). 

In vielen Familien ist es an Weihnachten Tradition, dass es etwas Besonderes zum Essen gibt.
In many families, it is a tradition at Christmas that there is something special to eat.
Caption 3, Weihnachtsessen: mit Eva

Further Learning
To review: besonders is an adverb, besondere (with possible declensions ending with -r, -s, -n, -m) is an adjective, and Besonderes is a nominalized adjective. For more in-depth information on how German turns non-nouns into nouns, read this paper. Then visit Yabla German and search for examples of the above words as spoken in a real world context. 
 

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Weak Masculine Nouns Ending in -e

Most nouns that are masculine and end in -e in their nominative singular form are called weak nouns, or schwache Substantive. They are often nouns that refer to nationalities, animals, or professions, such as der Schwede, der Löwe or der Psychologe. Since most German nouns ending in -e are feminine, these exceptions are easy to recognize. What sets them apart from other nouns is the fact that in all cases except for nominative, they end in -en. It is obvious that nouns ending in -e will end in -en in plural cases, but this applies to the singular case too!

Here's examples of the weak noun der Junge with the -en ending in different singular cases, starting with dative:

Der Zauberer sah zu dem zitternden Jungen hinab.
The sorcerer looked down at the trembling boy.
Caption 80, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der Zauberlehrling

And again in the singular accusative case: 

Schiffsverkehr... für einen Jungen aus dem Pott klingt das nur bedingt naheliegend.    
Ship traffic... for a boy from the Pit that sounds only conditionally obvious.
Caption 9, Herbert Grönemeyer: stellt sein neues Album vor

And finally in the singular genitive case: 

Der Fisch wurde von der Mutter des kleinen Jungen gekauft.
The fish was bought by the mother of the little boy.
Caption 65, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der standhafte Zinnsoldat

There are also some weak nouns that end in letters other than -e, but more about them later! 

Further Learning
Go to this page to practice your weak noun endings, and visit Yabla German to find more examples of weak masculine nouns in practice.

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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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