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Homophones Part I: Heterographs

Don't be afraid of the difficult-looking words above! It's really quite simple: Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings. Heterographs are homophones that also have different spellings. This can be quite confusing in spoken language, because the only way to tell homophones and heterographs apart is by the context in which they are used. The word "homophone" literally means "sounds the same," whereas the word "heterograph" means "written differently." In German, both nouns are neuter: das Homofon (or das Homophon) and das Heterofon (or das Heterophon).


Note too that in German, regional differences in pronunciation can sometimes make a set of words homophones in one region, but not in another. Let's take a look at some German heterographs today.


Monika sehr viel gekochtes Getreide.

Monika ate a lot of cooked grains.

Caption 4, Deutsch mit Eylin - Ernährungsformen

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Wenn die Nahrung knapp wird, begnügt er sich mit Aas.

When food becomes scarce, it makes do with carrion.

Caption 26, Die letzten Paradiese - Schätze der Natur: Südtirol

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It's ironic (and a bit disgusting) that the past tense of "to eat" (, from essen) sounds the same as the word for cadaver (das Aas). There's a certain logic, however, in the fact that most animal cadavers in the wild tend to get eaten by scavenger animals. When a homophone pair consists of a verb and a noun, you can construct funny-sounding sentences from them, such as: Er das Aas. By the way, only humans are referred to with the verb essen ("to eat"), whereas animals always take the verb fressen ("to devour"). And indeed, fressen also has a heterograph.


Das Pferd frisst gerne Äpfel.

The horse likes eating apples.

Caption 38, Deutsch mit Eylin - Pronomen

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Diese Frist kann verlängert werden,

This deadline can be extended

und zwar wieder nur durch einen einstimmigen Beschluss.

and only—indeed once again—through a unanimous ruling.

Caption 19, Brexit-Votum - Merkel warnt vor Spaltung Europas

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The third-person present tense of "to devour" (fressen) is frisst, and die Frist is a deadline or time limit. Der Pferd frisst Äpfel lieber ohne Frist. Nobody likes to be hurried to eat, right?


Er bot den Frauen ein Abkommen an.

He offered the women a deal.

Caption 55, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Weiber von Weinsberg

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Oje, das Boot von Opa Wutz hat kein Benzin mehr.

Uh oh, Grandpa Wutz's boat is out of gas.

Caption 16, Peppa Wutz - Sport

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Thus the past tense of "to offer" (bot, from bieten) is a heterograph of das Boot. Using both words in the same sentence, you can say something like: Das Boot bot uns viele Reisemöglichkeiten.


Wenn diese Temperatur so anhält,

If this temperature continues,

frieren die ganzen Seen in der Umgebung, wie ihr auch hinter mir sehen könnt, komplett zu.

all the lakes in the area will completely freeze over, as you can see behind me.

Captions 6-7, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen

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In this case, the plural of "lake" (der See) is Seen, and the verb "to see" is sehen. In the above example, both words of this heterograph pair are already in a single sentence.


Further Learning
Take a look at these examples of German homophones on Wikipedia and find some examples of the words used in a real-world context on Yabla German. Then see if you can create some German sentences using both homophones in the same sentence. You are allowed to make silly sentences, of course!

Plastic, Metal, and Wood

f you haven't already seen Eva's video about materials, it's a great way to improve your vocabulary for describing objects. Although she covers the topic extensively, we'll augment her video this week with some more specific words related to plastic, metal, and wood. 



In German, plastic is either der Kunststoff or das Plastik, and rubber is der Gummi.


Diese können echt sein oder aus Holz oder Kunststoff.

These can be real or made of wood or plastic.

Caption 19, Ostern: mit Eva

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Es gibt natürlich auch Trinkbecher, die aus Plastik bestehen.

There are, of course, also drinking cups that are made out of plastic.

Caption 13, Eva zeigt uns: Materialien

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Ich nehme die Gummistiefel.

I'll take the rubber boots.

Caption 12, Felix und Franzi: Sonnenbrille oder Regenschirm?

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There are, of course, many types of metal, or das Metall


Die Krone enthält ein anderes Metall, ein leichteres.

The crown contains a different metal, a lighter one.

Caption 81, Es war einmal: Entdecker und Erfinder Archimedes

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Die Kufen der Schlittschuhe sind aus Stahl und haben eine sehr glatte Auflagefläche.

Ice skate runners are made of steel and have a very smooth contact area.

Caption 22, Unterwegs mit Cettina: Schlittschuhlaufen

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Und ich möchte so wenig wie möglich Eisen verwenden.

And I want to use iron as little as possible.

Caption 30, Heidi: Dunkle Vergangenheit

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Diese Fünf-Cent-Münze ist aus Kupfer gemacht.

This five-cent coin is made out of copper.

Caption 7, Eva zeigt uns: Materialien

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Fun fact: Just like in English, the word das Blech ("tin") in German is also used to describe a baking tin (das Backblech). Additionally, it refers to a metal baking sheet or tray that you would slide into the oven.


Wie ihr seht, wird das Blech von der Tomatensauce nicht komplett bedeckt.

As you can see, the tray is not completely covered with the tomato sauce.

Caption 15, Cannelloni: mit Jenny

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As you saw in the very first example above, the word for "wood" is das Holz. But there are as many types of wood (die Hölzer) as there are types of trees. Here are just a few:


Denn die Kiefer ist einerseits ein Nadelbaum . . .

Because the pine is, on the one hand, a coniferous tree ...

Caption 17, Deutsch mit Eylin: Wörter mit 2 Bedeutungen

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Weinsberg war von Mauern umgeben, die waren so dick [sic] wie eine alte Eiche.

Weinsberg was surrounded by walls that were as thick as an old oak tree.

Captions 9-10, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Die Weiber von Weinsberg

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Der wird zwei Wochen lang geräuchert im Buchenholz.

It is smoked for two weeks in beech wood.

Caption 58, 48 h in Innsbruck: Sehenswürdigkeiten & Tipps

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You can additionally look up das Birkenholz, das Kirschholz, das Mahagoniholz, das Eschenholz, and many more. Based on the pattern you see, what is the name for the wood that comes from oak or pine trees?


Further Learning
Watch Eva's video on Yabla German and then look around the room you are in and try to describe what the furniture and objects are made of. 

Werden, Wurden & Würden

It's quite easy to get the similar-looking werdenwurden and würden confused, so we're taking a look today at the differences between them and the different contexts in which they are used. 


To start with, wurden and würden are different grammatical moods of the verb werden


Heute in unserer ersten Lektion werden wir die Buchstaben des deutschen Alphabets lernen.

Today in our first lesson, we will learn the letters of the German alphabet.

Caption 2, Deutsch mit Donna Blitz - Das Alphabet

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Es soll bis über zwanzig Grad warm werden.

It should get warm, up to more than twenty degrees.

Caption 16, München - 180. Oktoberfest eröffnet

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Schön, du musst mich nur küssen und dann werde ich eine wunderschöne Prinzessin.

Fine, you only have to kiss me and I will turn into a beautiful princess.

Caption 11, CHoE Rocker - Hunde-Prinzessin

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Die Tage werden immer kürzer und immer kälter.

The days steadily become shorter and colder.

Caption 9, Alpenseen - Kühle Schönheiten

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Oh, es wird sehr schwierig werden, meinen Titel zu verteidigen.

Oh, it is going to be very difficult to defend my title.

Caption 23, Wintersport - 7. Austrian Freeski Open

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As you can see, werden can be used in a wide variety of contexts and can be translated variously as "will," "get," "will turn into," and "become." The last example uses the future tense of the verb, wird werden, which is translated as "going to be." 


In contrast, wurden is the Indikativ mood (similar to the indicative or realis mood in English) of werden. This just means that the verb is used to express a known state of affairs.


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

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Here, wurden gesehen is the passive voice of the German Präteritum, as is common with the combination of werden and a past participle.


Wahrscheinlich wurden sie im hohen Norden auf dem Eis für die Jagd verwendet.

They were probably used for hunting on the ice in the far north.

Caption 17, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen

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Thus, wurden is usually translated as "were," but it is also sometimes used in the same sense that the present tense werden is sometimes translated as "become." The sentence Aus Bauern wurden Arbeiter could be translated as "Farmers became workers," which has a very different verb structure but a similar meaning in the end.


Ähm, was würden Sie denn als ihre Stärken und Schwächen, ähm, beschreiben?

Um, what would you then, um, describe as your strengths and weaknesses?

Caption 34, Eva erklärt - Bewerbungen

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Genau. -Würden Sie uns vielleicht 'n bisschen Ihren Stand vorstellen?

Exactly. -Would you maybe present your stand to us a little bit?

Caption 47, Unterwegs mit Cettina - auf dem Bruchsaler Weihnachtsmarkt

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Thus, würden is in most contexts translated to English as "would."


Further Learning
Watch the Yabla video about the verb werden, which goes into detail about the verb's conjugation, moods, and tenses, and go to Yabla German and see many other examples of werden, wurden, and würden used in a wide variety of contexts.

The Verb Schätzen

The verb schätzen has two different meanings, and the only way to know which you are looking at is to examine the context.


In the lyrics of the first example below, the verb schätzen means "to value," or "to treasure." As you can see, in some cases the translation "to appreciate" is more appropriate. The noun der Schatz refers to a treasured object, and it can also be used as a term of endearment, similar to "dear," "darling," or "treasure" in English.


Ich schätze Wegbegleiter, auch wenn alles seine Zeit hat.

I treasure companions, even if everything happens in its own time.

Caption 22, Mark Forster - Sowieso

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Das wird vor allem von den jüngeren Gästen geschätzt.

This is especially appreciated by the younger guests.

Caption 41, Reiseland Deutschland - Vielfalt im Herzen Europas

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Als es Frühling wurde, erklärte der Bär, er müsse jetzt gehen, um seine Schätze zu hüten.

When it was spring, the Bear explained that he had to go now to tend to his treasures.

Caption 29, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot

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Nacht, Papa. -Nacht, mein Schatz.

Night, Papa. -Night, my treasure.

Caption 43, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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However, the other meaning of schätzen, which is equally common, is "to guess" or "to estimate."


Ich schätze mal, dass wir dann nächstes Jahr irgendwann ernsthaft anfangen.

I estimate then that we'll seriously start sometime next year.

Caption 67, Madsen - auf dem Hessentag

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Was schätzt du denn? -Ich schätze neununddreißig.

What do you guess then? -I guess thirty-nine.

Captions 10-11, rheinmain Szene - Unheilig - „Der Graf“

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Man schätzt, dass Schlittschuhe schon seit dreitausend Jahren verwendet werden.

It is estimated that ice skates have been used for over three thousand years.

Caption 15, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen

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Further Learning
There are many examples of this verb used in both contexts on Yabla German. See if you can use it one way or another (or both!) in the next conversation you have in German, or at your next German class. 

Nichts , nix , and nüscht

The alternate title to this week's lesson could be taken from Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing, in that we'll be kept busy discussing the ways that Germans pronounce the word nichts, which means—well there you have it—"nothing":


„Frederick, was ist eine Wiese?“ „Nichts leichter als das“, antwortete Frederick.

"Frederick, what is a meadow ?" "Nothing's easier than that," Frederick answered.

Captions 4-5, Piggeldy und Frederick - Wiese

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Aber du hast hier einfach nichts zu suchen, versteh das doch endlich.

But you have nothing to look for [expression, there is nothing for you] here, you have to finally understand that.

Caption 4, Lilly unter den Linden - Kapitel 7: Vergangenheit und Zukunft - Part 1

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The word nichts is sometimes mispronounced by non-native German speakers as "nix," whereas the proper pronunciation requires that difficult soft back-of-the-mouth "ch" sound that lies somewhere between "k" and "sh." Click here (courtesy of Duden) to hear nichts pronounced correctly. 


But while some non-Germans may not get the proper register for the word, you'll find many native Germans regularly pronouncing nichts as nix! That's because nix is common as a slang pronunciation of nichts. Unlike the soft -ch sound in nichts, this is pronounced as it is written with the X, and rhymes with the English words "ticks" and "bricks":


Man sagt: „Nix hält für immer“, doch ey, warum denn nicht?

People say, "Nothing lasts forever," but hey, why not actually?

Caption 6, Mark Forster - Wir sind groß

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Aber heute ist's total sicher, kann nix passieren.

But today it's totally safe here, nothing can happen.

Caption 70, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen - Part 1

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This leaves us, of course, with nüscht, which also means "nothing," but does so with a distinctly Berliner accent. The Duden dictionary classifies nüscht as Berlin and Northeast German slang. 


A good example of nüscht—or in this case, the variant nüschts—is found in a German-overdubbed version of  the 1993 comedy film Loaded Weapon. Two cops, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Emilio Estevez, enter a hotel room occupied by a criminal, played by Jon Lovitz, who has just emptied a machine gun at them through the hotel door: 


Jon Lovitz: Hey.... ich weiß nüschts. Ich habe nüschts gesehen und ich sage auch nüschts

Samuel L. Jackson: Nichts. Das Wort heißt „nichts“ und nicht „nüschts“. Da ist kein Ü und kein -sch, es heißt „nichts“. 

Jon Lovitz: Na gut, OK. „Nichts, nichts, nichts“! OK? Jetzt zufrieden? 

Samuel L. Jackson: Schon besser. 


The German script was adapted from the American, which had Jon Lovitz saying "nothin'" and getting a grammar lecture from Samuel L. Jackson about the word "nothing" having a G on the end.


Further Learning
Read the Wikipedia article on Berlin dialect, it could prove useful the next time you visit Berlin to help get your head around some of the different pronunciations found here.  You can also read up more on the topic here. As an ending note, the German title of the Shakespeare play is Viel Lärm um nichts. How would you translate that directly?