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How bitte and bitten differ from “please” and “to please”

The adverb bitte is probably used much more often in German than “please” is in English. This is because it has many different meanings, from “you’re welcome,” “pardon,” “may I help you” and “here you go” all the way back to simple “please.” On the other hand, the verb “to please” has a number of German equivalents, but the German verb bitten does not mean “to please,” but rather “to ask,” “to request,” “to beg” or “to plead.” So be aware that while these aren’t exactly false friends, they’re not completely equivalent.  

The adverb, please!

Let’s first check out the different ways bitte is used: Bitte is very commonly meant as “you’re welcome,” the standard response after somebody has thanked you for something: 

Also, vielen herzlichen Dank, dass ich heute mit dabei sein durfte! -Bitte, bitte!

So, many heartfelt thanks that I was allowed to be here today! -You're welcome, you're welcome!

Captions 56-57, Selbst versucht: Gepäckabfertigung bei Fraport

When you go into a restaurant or shop, often the first thing the waiter or salesperson will ask you is bitte schön or sometimes merely bitte, which in this case means “may I help you?” The second bitte is “please” again!

Ja, bitte schön. -Ich möchte zwei Brotchen und ein Dinkelbrot, bitte

Yes, may I help you? -I would like two rolls and a spelt bread, please.

Next up, a Yabla example of bitte in the sense of “here you are,” a commonplace usage when, for instance, a waiter hands you a menu in a restaurant. Note that the first use of bitte in this example is the standard meaning “please.”

Genau. -Speisekarten bitte! -So, bitte sehr.

Exactly. -Menus please! -So, here you are.

Captions 6-7, Melanie und Thomas: Im Restaurant

Lastly, the adverb bitte can also be used in the sense of “pardon”:

Ich heiße Angela Merkel. -Wie bitte? -Ich sagte, „Ich heiße Angela Merkel”.

My name is Angela Merkel. -Pardon me? -I said, “My name is Angela Merkel.”

Although at first it may seem a bit confusing with so many possible meanings for bitte, the contexts will give you a very good indication of meaning!

The verb “to please”

As we discussed, the German verb bitten means “to ask,” “to plead,” “to entreat,” or even “to beg.” So how do we “please” someone in German? The German sich freuen, zufrieden sein, and zufriedenstellen are all used in various ways “to please.” Here someone is pleased to greet another person:

Ich bedanke mich und würde mich freuen, Sie mal persönlich hier bei uns begrüßen.

I thank you and would be pleased to greet you personally here with us.

Captions 54-55, Melanie und Thomas: Im Restaurant

And here someone is pleased with the city:

Ich bin extrem zufrieden mit Offenburg, wirklich.

I am extremely pleased with Offenburg, really.

Caption 8, Barbara Schöneberger: Bambi-Verleihung Backstage

And here a person is pleased with a film:

Die abwechslungsreichen Kurzfilme werden an Orten gezeigt, die auch Besucher mit ästhetischem Anspruch äußerst zufriedenstellen

The varied short films are being shown at places that please visitors supremely with an aesthetic claim.

Captions 3-4, Kurzfilm-Festival: Shorts at moonlight

Learning suggestions:

Some other words meaning “to please,” which have varied shades of meaning such as “to make happy” and “to like,” are beglücken, behagen, and zu Gefallen sein. See if you can find a variety of these usages on Yabla and also check out Linguee, a great language resource site that takes published translations and posts them side by side with the original language so that you can see some real-world examples of words in different contexts. Ich denke, es wird euch gefallen!

Expressions

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