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The Preposition Seit: "Since" or "For"?

One of the most common mistakes that native German speakers make when translating the preposition seit to English is to always render it as "since," but in contexts where the English word is meant to be used to indicate the passing of a period of time, it should usually be translated as "for." The mistake seems to be common with Europeans speaking English, as I hear it regularly on the streets and in cafés and restaurants in Berlin, where so many Europeans are speaking English as a lingua franca.

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Yes, I have been going there since (correct: for) many years.
We've been wanting to visit Paris since (correct: for) at least a decade.
I have lived in Berlin since (correct: for) 16 years. 

 

It's easy to see how this mistake is made, as the German sentence uses the word seit and as it's actually correct to use "since" if a specific year is used in the same sentences: 

 

Yes, I have been going there since 2018.
We've been wanting to visit Paris since at least 2012.
I have lived in Berlin since 2006. 

 

Here are some examples of seit used on Yabla German with the correct English translations "for" and "since." Note the way that the context of each sentence changes which English word is used.

 

„Mir ist so“, maulte Piggeldy, „als tue ich das schon seit Tagen!“

"For me it's like," muttered Piggeldy, "as if I have already been doing this for days!"

Caption 11, Piggeldy und Frederick - Wanderdüne

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Seit Montag wird das Lied im Radio gespielt.

The song has been playing on the radio since Monday.

Caption 33, Liza - Ein Lied für Opel

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Sie schreibt ihr Referat, an dem sie schon seit zwei Wochen arbeitet.

She is writing her paper that she has been working on for two weeks.

Caption 15, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren - Relativsätze mit Präpositionen

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Seit vergangener Woche hat die Kranich-Airline nun ihren ersten gebrandeten A dreihundertachtzig in Betrieb.

Since last week, the crane airline has now had its first branded A three hundred and eighty at work.

Caption 9, Rund um den Flughafen - Der neue Airbus A-380

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Na ja, ich krieg' ja seit Monaten keine Wochenendzeitungen mehr.

Oh well, I haven't been getting a weekend newspaper for months.

Caption 8, Großstadtrevier - Von Monstern und Mördern

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OK, ihr seid jetzt seit April in Deutschland, ja?

OK, you have been in Germany now since April, right?

Caption 1, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren - Relativsätze mit Präpositionen

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Ich spiel' jetzt schon seit zehn Jahren Handball.

I've been playing handball for ten years now.

Caption 7, Jenny und Alena - Handball

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Also, die Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie gibt es seit dem Jahr zweitausend-und-acht.

Well, the sustainability strategy has been there since the year two thousand eight.

Caption 37, Rheinmain im Blick - Nachhaltigkeit

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A general rule of thumb is to translate seit as "since" if it refers to a specific date such as a year, month, or day of the week. If it is referring to a length of time, such as "many years," then seit is usually translated as "for."

 

Further Learning
Compare other contexts in which seit is used on Yabla German and study some other uses of the word in which the preposition seit can also be translated as "because."

Adjectives with un- and -los

In English, the prefixes "in-" and "un-" and the suffix "-less" are used to suggest a lack or negation when they are added to an adjective. In German, you will see un- and -los for negative adjectives (and adverbs!). Sometimes the resulting adjective will look similar to its English equivalent:  

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Allein bin ich hilflos, ein Vogel im Wind.

Alone I am helpless, a bird in the wind.

Caption 19, Nicole - Ein bisschen Frieden

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Und keinen Schreck kriegen, das fühlt sich erst mal völlig unbequem an.

And don't be scared, at first it feels completely uncomfortable.

Caption 50, Die Schmerzspezialisten - Diese Schlafposition solltest du unbedingt vermeiden!

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Also ich finde Dramen wirklich unnötig und versuche ich auch zu vermeiden.

Well, I find drama really unnecessary and I also try to avoid it.

Caption 20, 2raumwohnung - Liebe mit Musik am Laufen halten

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Drei Lehrstellen blieben in diesem Jahr unbesetzt, es gab einfach zu wenig Bewerber.

Three apprenticeship positions were left unfilled this year, there were simply too few applicants.

Caption 13, Deutsche Welle - Lieber Ausbildung als Studium

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At the same time, you will need to be careful and learn the words individually, as there are plenty of adjectives that don't translate so clearly. Sometimes, a different suffix or prefix is used in the other language, and other times the real translation is a word that looks completely different. There are also plenty of false friends lurking about!

 

Es sind so wenig Menschen arbeitslos wie seit zwanzig Jahren nicht.

There haven't been so few unemployed people in twenty years.

Caption 43, Angela Merkel - Neujahrsansprache - Part 1

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Fast lautlos schwebt das größte Passagierflugzeug der Welt über den Rhein-Main-Airport.

The largest passenger plane in the world hovers almost silently above the Rhein-Main-Airport.

Caption 5, Rund um den Flughafen - Der neue Airbus A-380

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Also, ich bin komplett fassungslos, weil ich hab nie gedacht [sic], dass ich ge'... gewinnen werde und, ja...

Well, I am completely stunned because I never thought that I would wi'... win and, yes...

Caption 4, Wintersport - 7. Austrian Freeski Open - Part 3

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Further Learning
Do you know what the following adjectives/adverbs mean? Take a guess, and then see if you are right using a German to English dictionary. Mackellos, zeitlos, gehörlos, hoffnungslosgnadenloserfolglos, beispiellos, drahtlos, unverschämt, unfähig, unabhängig, unabsehbar, unerträglichunfassbar, unflexibel, unverbindlich.

German: What for?

The German combination of wo with a preposition is good for asking questions to clarify specific situations when warum (why) is too general. Since wo is generally translated as "where" in English, the wo + preposition combination can cause confusion among German beginners, since in this case wo is usually translated as "what." If the man is waiting (Er wartet), you may be tempted to ask what he is waiting for. Für was wartet er? would be wrong and a typical beginner's mistake — correct is Worauf wartet er? This translates as "What is he waiting for?", thus worauf is "what for."

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Wo can be combined with the following prepositions: an, auf, aus, bei, durch, für, gegen, in, mit, nach, über, unter, von, vor, and zu. Note that when combining wo with a preposition that starts with a vowel, the letter r is added between wo and the preposition: woran, worauf, woraus, worin, worüber, worunter. This may seem complicated at first, but in context you will find it much easier than expected! Here are some examples from Yabla:

 

Der Höhepunkt des Abends, worauf alle gewartet haben...

The highlight of the evening, which everybody had been waiting for...

Caption 35, Rund um den Flughafen - Der neue Airbus A-380

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Es macht viel Spaß, wobei die Füße jetzt langsam anfangen doch etwas zu schmerzen.

It's a lot of fun, although the feet now are indeed slowly starting to ache somewhat.

Captions 10-11, IAA - Traumland für Autobegeisterte

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Ich weiß nicht, wovon Sie sprechen!

I don't know what you're talking about!

Caption 10, Kein Kredit - im Land der Klone

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Further Learning:

Go the the main Yabla German page and search for some of the following wo + preposition combinations: woran = on what, of which; worauf = at which, whereupon; woraus = from what, whence; wobei = whereby, although; wodurch = by which means, whereby; wofür = for what; wogegen = against what; worin = in what, wherein; womit = whereby, wherewith; wonach = after what, whereupon; worüber = about what, whereat; worunter = under which, from what; wovon = from what, whereof; wovor = of what, in front of what; wozu = what for, why.

Vocabulary

Dating in German

Expressing dates or the passage of time in German sometimes parallels English, and sometimes doesn't. Let’s take a closer look to get our dates straight.



The standard expression “on the [day] of [month]” is similar in form to English:





Am dreizehnten April zweitausendneunundzwanzig...

On the thirteenth of April, two thousand twenty-nine...

Caption 48, Unser Universum - Asteroiden - Gefahr aus dem All?

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The expression of passing time “from the [day] of [month] to the [day] of [month]" goes like this: 


 

Vom achtzehnten Juni bis zum zwölften Juli...

From the eighteenth of June till the twelfth of July...

Caption 4, Das Tollwood-Festival - BAP und Clueso in der Musik-Arena

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Instead of vom, the preposition ab can be used to express the start of an event: 







Ab Juni wird der Riesenvogel dann in Linienbetrieb gehen.

From June, the giant bird will be starting route service.

Caption 49, Rund um den Flughafen - Der neue Airbus A-380

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One German date-related expression that differs from English is "Wir haben gerade": 



 

Wir haben gerade Oktober.

Just now, we have October.

Caption 5, Herbst - mit Eva

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Yabla has translated this very literally in order to show the language parallels, but another way of translating Wir haben gerade Oktober could be: “It is now October.”



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Further Learning:

If you state the day of the week with the date, you use the form: Am Freitag, dem 21. Februar. Note the dative article dem used for the month. On the other hand, if you are writing a formal letter, you write the city name and the accusative article: Berlin, den 21. Februar. There has been a creeping tendency recently in German to express the year (in German) as in 2014, which is an Anglicism and considered poor style in formal German. Historically, German uses either just 2014 or im Jahr 2014, but not in 2014. Natives speakers of English learning German often get confused about this; luckily now you know better!

Vocabulary

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