German Lessons


The Good Old Days

When we describe events in the past, we often use temporal adverbs to give a more specific sense of what exact time period we are talking about. Are we talking about events of yesterday or something that happened thirty years ago? In the German language, both the present perfect and the preterite tenses indicate a finished action or state, but more information is often required for clarity's sake.


Generally, when we see in der Vergangenheit ("in the past") we know that it is not a matter of something that occurred in the recent past, but rather a long time ago.


Aus meiner Sicht: Ich fühle mich nicht schuldig für das, was in der Vergangenheit geschehen ist.

From my point of view, I don't feel guilty for that which happened in the past.

Caption 10, Konstantin - ein Freiwilliger in Israel

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We can also use damals and früher to indicate that something happened in the past. Both of these temporal adverbs indicate an action or state that has been concluded for a while. They can be translated as "back then" or "previously." 


Früher haben hier die amerikanischen Soldaten gewohnt.

Previously, the American soldiers lived here.

Caption 6, Berlin - der alte amerikanische Sektor

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Damals schwor ich mir, dass mir das nicht wieder passieren sollte.

Back then I swore that something like that wouldn't happen to me again.

Caption 49, TEDx - Der Supermarkt der Zukunft

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Internet? Was ist das? Das kannten wir damals gar nicht.

Internet? What is that? We didn't know that at all back then.

Caption 35, Mittelalterlicher Markt - Mäuseroulette

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Sometimes, we want to emphasize that a state was constant or an action was repeated multiple times in the past. For this, we often use the phrase "used to" in English. Below, you can see how the word früher can function in a similar way in various contexts:


Weißt du noch, wie's früher war?

Do you still remember how it used to be?

Caption 8, Christina Stürmer - Wir leben den Moment

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Und du tanzt nich' mehr wie früher

And you don't dance like you used to anymore

Caption 4, AnnenMayKantereit - 21, 22, 23

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Ich ging früher im Urlaub immer reiten.

I used to always go horseback riding during vacation.

Caption 16, Konjugation - Das Verb „gehen“

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Further Learning
You can search for more examples with früher and damals on Yabla German or take a look at this website for a more extensive list of different types of adverbs. 

Lightning-quick, crow-black and Co! Compound Adjectives

Compound Adjectives:

I invite you to take a journey with me back to the Middle Ages. At the Medieval Christmas Market, soul-snatcher Markus lures us to abandon ourselves to the vice of gambling. Of course, there is a reward involved!


Für jeden Mitspieler gibt es einen Edelstein des immerwährenden Glückes.

For every player there is a precious stone of everlasting happiness.

Caption 9, Mittelalterlicher Markt - Mäuseroulette

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What makes this precious stone so enticing? The aspect that it's immerwährend, right? Immerwährendes Glück is something everyone dreams of. When you use compound adjectives you can include additional information in a sentence and still keep it compact. They prevent you from having to write lengthy versions like ...einen Edelstein des Glückes, das immer währt. This clause is grammatically correct and has the same meaning. (There is another compound adjective hidden in the above clip. See if you can find it!)

Compare the sentence lengths of the German and English clauses below.


Diesmal mit systemkonformen Kunstwerken.

This time with artworks in conformity with the system.

Caption 6, Restituierung von Raubkunst - aus der Nazi-Zeit

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The words in bold emphasize clearly that compound adjectives can shorten a German sentence without having to omit any wanted information.

Have you seen and spoken this tongue-twister before? Kohlpechrabenschwarz (coal-pitch raven-black). If you haven't, try saying it just for fun! This compound adjective emphasizes the absolute blackness of something. So compound adjectives are also used to intensify and creatively underscore a noun's attributes in ways that one of the off-the-shelf variety cannot achieve.

Note: If you're searching for the definition of an adjective and aren't getting results, it may be a compound. In this case, break it into its component parts and search their meanings individually.



Learning Tip

Set small, achievable short-term goals. While watching the videos:

  • Write down and learn 10 words or useful phrases of your choice every day. Repeat them on Saturday. Take Sunday off.
  • Make a list of your typical German errors. Do an error analysis and consciously review the grammar.

Finally, if progress is slow, keep at it. Take the long view. Recall where you started and how far you've come. Always bear in mind that learning a second language is a life-long endeavor that will enrich your life for years to come!


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