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Big Time, small time: Zeit vs. zeit

We should all know the meaning of the noun die Zeit by now, considering it is also the title of one of the most well-known newspapers in Germany. But how many of you are familiar with the preposition zeit, written in lower-case? German, more so than English, tends to have many words and expressions that appear in print but are rarely spoken, and zeit is one of these. Let's start with the one we already know: 

 

Ich wünschte, die Zeit würde stillstehen.
I wish that time could stand still.
Caption 40, Die Klasse: Berlin '61

 

Für die Verschwörer wird die Zeit immer knapper.
For the conspirators, time gets scarcer and scarcer.
Caption 30, Die Stunde der Offiziere: Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944

 

Das wird die Zeit meines Lebens
It will be the time of my life
Caption 18, Glasperlenspiel: Geiles Leben

 

Note that in most cases, the German uses the definite article die (the) when referring to time, whereas English, in most cases, drops the article altogether. The last example above is interesting in that "the time of my life" is a standard expression, as is Die glücklichste Zeit meines Lebens ("The happiest time of my life"). This construction, as you will note, is very similar to the most standard use of the preposition zeit and it could be easy to confuse the two:

 

Ich bin Architekt von Beruf und habe zeit meines Lebens als Architekt gearbeitet.
I am an architect by profession and have worked as an architect for all of my life.

 

Zeit seines Lebens war er nie in Rom
During his lifetime he has never been to Rome.

 

In a general sense, zeit can be translated as "during" or "for." The first example of zeit meines Lebens could have been translated as "during my lifetime" or simply "all my life." Note that zeit meines Lebens therefore has a very different meaning from Die Zeit meines Lebens. The former is referring to something you have done all of your life, enjoyable or not, and the latter to having one of the best times of your life.

 

Further Learning
In the unlikely event that you were to hear zeit spoken, you might easily think that it was the similar-sounding preposition seit. Remember, however, that seit is pronounced with an English sounding Z and takes the dative form, whereas zeit is pronounced with a Ts sound and takes the genitive form. See the full meaning of zeit on the German dictionary website Duden and see if you can find any other German expressions that use the preposition zeit.  

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