German Lessons


Safe Fun in the Sun

Maybe you live in the Southern Hemisphere, where it's currently winter, but in Northern Germany spring has arrived. We're finally starting to get more sunshine! Der Sonnenschein  is a noun you probably know already, along with some other standards like die Sonnenbrille ("sunglasses," singular in German, by the way!) and die Sonnenblume  ("sunflower"). Let's take a look today at some less familiar compound nouns that use Sonnen- as the root word.


The sun comes up with der Sonnenaufgang:


Wir sind nie vor Sonnenaufgang nach Hause gegangen.

We never went home before sunrise.

Caption 9, Nicos Weg: So feiern wir!

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Hopefully it will be another sunny day (der Sonnentag)! Not be confused with the day of the week (Sonntag), as there are plenty of those with bad weather!


Steh gerade, kerzengerade, lache in den Sonnentag.

Stand up straight, straight as a candle, laughing on the sunny day.

Caption 19, DDR-Fernsehen: Die letzten Sendeminuten des DFF

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But with sunny days comes the danger of sunburn and long-term cancer risks from the rays of the sun: (der Sonnenstrahl, plural die Sonnenstrahlen):


...als die ersten Sonnenstrahlen durch die Wolken blitzten. the first rays of sunshine flashed through the clouds.

Caption 48, Märchen,Sagenhaft: Der standhafte Zinnsoldat

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It's best to protect your skin with die Sonnencreme and der Sonnenschutz and keep under der Sonnenschirm in order to avoid die Sonnenstrahlung:


Aber bitte... benutzen Sie Sonnencreme.

But please... use sun screen.

Caption 52, Unser Universum: Die Sonne

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Auf ausreichenden Sonnenschutz achten, denn durch das Wasser ist die Sonneneinstrahlung nochmal stärker als an Land.
Make sure to wear sufficient sun protection, because the water makes the solar radiation even stronger than it is on land.
Captions 78-79, Stand Up Paddling: 5 typische Anfängerfehler


Hier habe ich einen Sonnenschirm

Here I have a parasol.

Caption 21, Deutschkurs in Tübingen Präpositionen und Artikel

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And then you can go sunbathing—usually expressed in German as ein Sonnenbad nehmen, but here they are "enjoying" sunbathing:


Eine Kolonie kalifornischer Seelöwen hat sich auf ihrem Felsen versammelt, um ein entspanntes Sonnenbad zu genießen.

A colony of California sea lions has gathered on their rock to enjoy a relaxing sunbath.

Captions 18-19, Evolution: Die Küsten

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And at long last, after a nice day enjoying the sunshine, comes der Sonnenuntergang:


Bei mir muss der Held am Schluss in den Sonnenuntergang reiten.

For me, the hero has to ride off into the sunset at the end.

Caption 57, Rheinmain Szene Unheilig: „Der Graf“

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Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and search for other words using Sonnen- as the root word. You can also go to the DWDS Dictionary and find a long list of words starting with Sonnen-. See if you can guess their meanings before you look them up!

Letztens vs. Letztlich

In our last lesson, we talked about temporal adverbs for events that have occurred in the recent past or "just now." This week, let's take a look at one of those adverbs that might cause you problems. But first, a little background: the German adjective letzt is usually translated as the English adjective "last, " as in das letzte Mal ("the last time") or in letzter Minute ("at the last minute"). However, the adverb letztens, which might easily be mistaken for "lastly," in fact means "recently," — quite a different meaning indeed. Here are a some examples of letztens from Yabla:


Ich war letztens mal bei Rammstein.

I was recently at Rammstein.

Caption 32, rheinmain Szene - Unheilig - „Der Graf“

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Wir haben letztens auf einer Veranstaltung gespielt, wo jede Band einen Song covern musste.

We recently played at an event where every band had to cover a song.

Caption 15, Sons of Sounds - Interview

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You can see how some misunderstandings might arise if you misunderstand letztens to mean "last of all" or something similar. But what German words can you use if you actually want to say "lastly," "in the end," or "ultimately?" The easiest German word to remember for native English speakers is probably letztlich: 


Letztlich ist so ein Gepard also auch nur ein Mensch.

Lastly, such a cheetah is also just [like] a human.

Caption 14, Für Tierfreunde - Geparden

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Letztlich scheitert der Gastgeber schon im Viertelfinale.

In the end, the host team already lost in the quarter finals.

Caption 33, Frauenfußball - 11 Freundinnen

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Habe ich letztlich besser gemacht gesehen.

I have ultimately seen it done better.

Caption 99, Free Birds - Interview mit Nora Tschirner & Rick Kavanian

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The adverb schließlich can have a similar meaning: 


Schließlich kamen sie an ein großes Wasser.

Finally they came to a great [body of] water.

Caption 27, Piggeldy und Frederick - Der Himmel

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As can the adverb zuletzt:


Mein Wahlspruch heißt: „Die Dummheit stirbt zuletzt“.

My campaign slogan is: "Stupidity is last to die."

Caption 43, Tom Gerhardt - Die Superbullen

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Further Learning
It's important to remember that letztlich, which is structurally very close to "lastly," also means just that, whereas letztens means "recently." Go to Yabla German and find different examples of letztens, letztlich, schließlich, and zuletzt to learn the different ways in which these words are used by native German speakers in a real-world context.

Inseparable Prefixes

Inseparable Verbs: verbs with an unstressed prefix that are not separated when used in a sentence, e.g. beschreiben, erfinden, entspannen.

As Piggeldy and Frederick stroll down country roads in Das Fernweh (the yen for faraway places) Piggeldy gushes at the way his brother Frederick has aptly described this unknown concept.


So schön kann nur mein lieber Bruder Frederick 'Fernweh' beschreiben.

Only my dear brother Frederick could describe 'fernweh' so beautifully.

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick - Das Fernweh

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Beschreiben (to describe) is the inseparable verb in our example and if we subtract the prefix be- it becomes schreiben (to write).

Different prefixes alter or change the meaning of their respective unadorned infinitives or root words, which may even be other parts of speech. See this list:

Be-: often makes a transitive verb from an intransitive verb, e.g. siegen (to win) vs. besiegen (to defeat)

Er-: tends to relate to creative processes, e.g. erfinden (to invent), erörtern (to discuss)

Ent-: usually describes processes of removing, e.g. entfernen (to remove), entführen (to kidnap)

Zer-: is used for destructive actions, e.g. zerstören (to destroy), zerdrücken (to crush, to mash)

To put this rough rubric into practice, let's look at another inseparable verb in one of our clips. Reporter Raudy, from the trendy magazine RheinMain Szene, tells recording artist "Der Graf" (the Count) to relax, when the Count admits that at times he still experiences stage fright.


Echt? Entspann dich doch! Ich bitte dich!

Really? Hey, relax! I'm asking you!

Caption 7, rheinmain Szene - Unheilig - „Der Graf“

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As we can see from the list above, the inseparable prefix ent- reverses a process in place. In this last example, it "loosens the strings" of the Count’s tightly strung psyche, hence entspannen means “to relax.


Further practice

Review the lesson Separable or not separable... that is the question!, and then test yourself with this exercise on separable and inseparable verbs.



Learning Tip

Pick out a troublesome German phoneme, like the pesky R-sound. Create a word set by selecting only words that have this phoneme, whether in the initial or intermediate position. Then go back to the newly created word set and practice those words. Don’t be discouraged if you find progress slow in coming. It takes time, effort, continuous monitoring, and even trial and error, before you get it all right. When you meet a German who can no longer immediately peg your land of origin you’ll be glad you made the effort!


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