German Lessons

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Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!

For today's lesson topic, we'll discuss the different German ways of saying that you "have no idea" about something, or admitting you just don't know. The simplest way, of course, is to say ich weiß nicht, but let's look at some more interesting options, starting with one that you must already know:

 

Ich habe keine Ahnung, wie ich das der Person sage,

I have no idea how to tell the person

Caption 49, Deutsche Welle: Leben zwischen zwei Kulturen in Namibia

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Occasionally, you'll also hear ich habe keine blasse Ahnung, which translates as "I haven't the faintest idea."

 

...obwohl er keinen blassen Schimmer hatte, wer das sein sollte.

...although he ​​hadn't the faintest notion as to who that could be.

Caption 36, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der gestiefelte Kater

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The literal translation of blasser Schimmer would be "pale shimmer" or "pale gleam," but it's a German idiom similar to the English expression "the faintest notion" or "the faintest clue."

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Der hat voll die Peilung.

He completely understands.

Caption 21, Filmtrailer: Free Birds

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The noun die Peilung means "bearings" or "soundings," as in "keeping your bearings" and not getting lost, but here it is being used in a figurative sense. Thus, if you negate the sentence above and say ich habe keine Peilung, it means that you don't understand.

 

Ihr Name ist Hase. Ihre Kreditkarte wird Ihnen per Post zugestellt.

Your name is Bunny. Your credit card will be delivered by mail.

Caption 22, Kein Kredit: im Land der Klone

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The above is a play on words in the video: a customer calls a bank asking for a credit card for her pet bunny, and the automated response is "Your name is Bunny." This has a double meaning, since the idiom Mein Name ist Hase is slang for "I don't know" or "I have no idea."

 

Also, ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

Well, I don't understand anything.

Caption 27, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

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This phrase suggests a foreigner in Germany who only understands the German word for train station—which is one of the first words that a visitor to Germany learns. It is especially appropriate when you don't understand the details of a particular topic that somebody is discussing.

 

Further Learning
Go to German Yabla and find other examples of the phrases discussed above to get a better feel for the contexts in which they can be used. 

All about bestellen

Many of us are living in countries with shopping restrictions due to health measures taken during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning we may need to shop for many things we need on the internet. The word bestellen, most commonly translated in this context as "to order," has thus become an especially important term this year.

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Diesen Film können Sie als DVD unter folgender Adresse im Internet bestellen.

You can order this film on DVD at the following web address.

Caption 18, Bibliothek der Sachgeschichten^. Müllmännerlied

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We also use bestellen when ordering food in a restaurant, although these days that usually means ordering food for takeaway: 

 

Die Tochter hat Pizza bestellt...

My daughter ordered pizza...

Caption 82, Weihnachtsinterviews: Cettina in Linkenheim

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Möchten Sie denn schon was zu trinken bestellen?

Would you like to order something to drink now?

Caption 10, Abendessen: mit Marko

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Although bestellen is most commonly used to mean "to order" something, there are also a number of other contexts where the verb is used that require a different translation altogether. Quite differently from the English "to order," where something will be coming to you, the German bestellen can also be used to send out greetings (Grüße bestellen) or to ask someone to say thank-you for you: 

 

Bestellt dem Marquis meinen herzlichsten Dank!

Send the Marquis my most heartfelt thanks!

Caption 41, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Der gestiefelte Kater

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Bestellen Sie dem Feldmarschall von Kluge, ich danke für das in mich gesetzte Vertrauen.

Tell Field Marshall von Kluge I thank him for the trust he places in me.

Captions 55-56, Die Stunde der Offiziere: Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944

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In the context of biology, you can use bestellen with the preposition um to describe the condition of a species: 

 

Um die seltene Marmorata-Forelle ist es schlechter bestellt...

Regarding the rare marble trout, it looks worse...

Captions 29-31, Alpenseen: Kühle Schönheiten 

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Jetzt interessiert mich das aber doch, wie's um den Bestand bestellt ist.

Now, however, I'm interested indeed in how the population is doing.

Caption 5, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Further Learning
Take a look at all of the meanings of bestellen on the Duden website and search for bestellt and bestellen on Yabla German to see other ways the word is used in different contexts.

Von Kopf bis Fuß , Part II

This lesson is the second part of a series about the noun der Kopf used in idiomatic contexts. Be sure and read Part I if you missed it, but to reiterate the title topic:

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Er war von Kopf bis Fuß grün angezogen und klopfte gerade seine Schuhe aus.

He was dressed in green from head to foot [idiom: completely] and was just knocking out his shoes.

Caption 23, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Ein Topf voll Gold

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Sah er stattlich und wohlhabend aus und von Kopf bis Fuß wie ein echter Marquis.

Then he appeared stately and wealthy and from head to foot [idiom: head to toe] like a real Marquis.

Captions 62-63, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Der gestiefelte Kater

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Es schüttet [Umgangssprache, regnet] wie aus Eimern Klitschnass von Kopf bis Fuß

It's raining buckets Drenched from head to foot [head to toe]

Captions 16-17, Die Toten Hosen - Unter den Wolken

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The standard translation of von Kopf bis Fuß is thus the English idiom "from head to toe," meaning "completely." But what does it mean if somebody is said to have some kind of substance in their head other than brains? 

 

Also, man muss auch einen Pfeil im Kopf haben, um so was zu essen.

Well, you must also have an arrow [rocks] in your head to eat something like that.

Captions 52-54, Currywurst - Berlins schärfstes Stück

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Einen Pfeil im Kopf haben is similar to the English expression "to have rocks in your head," meaning you are either stupid or there is something seriously wrong with you. Similar meaning is found in the expressions Sägemehl im Kopf habenStroh im Kopf haben, and Sülze im Kopf haben, meaning respectively to have sawdust, straw, or jellied meat in your head.

 

However, the phrase Motten im Kopf haben ("to have moths in your head") means to have crazy or unconventional (but not necessarily just stupid) ideas, and Rosinen im Kopf haben ("to have raisins in your head") means to be thinking overly idealistically, something like "seeing the world through rose-colored glasses."

 

Ich hab einen dicken Kopf, ich muss einen Saft haben

I have a thick head, I have to drink some juice

Caption 32, Peter Fox - Schwarz zu Blau

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Einen dicken Kopf haben means to be congested, or to have a headache or a hangover. Either way it's not very nice, so let's go out today with an easy one!

 

„Stadtgeflüster“ trifft den Nagel auf den Kopf.

"City Whisperings" hits the nail on the head.

Caption 26, Frankfurt - Der Friedberger Platz

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Nice to know that some idioms are the same in English and German!

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Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and see many other examples of der Kopf used in a wide variety of contexts.

Winter Clothing

This year, it has been an unusually warm fall in Germany. Even in early October, there were some days in the high 60s (Fahrenheit, between 17 and 21 degrees celsius). However, there have been some very chilly, windy days recently, and Germans have finally had to get out their winter clothing to be prepared for lower temperatures.

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Let’s go from head to toe and take a look at what items you need to brave the German winter.

 

There are two words for “the hat” in German, but only one of them is associated with the wool knit caps that are worn in the cold months.

 

Und im Winter braucht man unbedingt eine Mütze.

And in the winter you absolutely need a cap.

Caption 24, Eva - zeigt uns Kleidungsstücke

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Although some may prefer a daintier version (das Tuch, which is usually a thinner scarf or kerchief) even in the summer, a warm scarf or shawl (der Schal) is a must for the winter. 

 

Was ist denn los? -Mir ist so kalt. Schenk mir doch deinen Schal!

What then is the matter? -I am so cold. Give me your shawl!

Caption 23, Märchenstunde - Die Sterntaler

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Of course, a warm coat (der Mantel) or a jacket (die Jacke) is essential to any winter outfit. There are many options depending on the weather conditions. You can likely recognize the words der Wollmantelder Daunenmanteldie Daunenjacke, or die Regenjacke without our help!

 

Es ist kalt. Ich trage einen Mantel.

It is cold. I'm wearing a coat.

Caption 14, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Fragen

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Der Handschuh is the singular form, but unless you've lost one, generally the plural for of "the gloves" is what you will use.  Here, compound nouns also abound: such as die Strickhandschuhedie Fleece-Handschuhedie Lederhandschuhe, among others. 

 

Giada, ist dir kalt? -Ja. -Möchtest du Handschuhe haben?

Giada, are you cold? -Yes. -Would you like to have some gloves?

Caption 82, Unterwegs mit Cettina - auf dem Bruchsaler Weihnachtsmarkt - Part 1

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And for rain and snow, you will want a good pair of boots for those slippery cobblestone streets. 

 

Und er trägt wirklich Stiefel? Das muss ich sehen!

And is he really wearing boots? This I have to see!

Caption 29, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Der gestiefelte Kater

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Further Learning
Watch the video Eva: zeigt uns Kleidungsstücke in its entirety on Yabla German. To
to immerse yourself even more, take a look at a website that sells outerwear and do some window shopping. You will learn a lot of new words and compound nouns as you scroll through the various items.

Sprechen and Other Related Verbs

As we saw a few weeks ago in the newsletter about the verb kaufen and its related verbs, prefixes are very important and can drastically change the meaning of the verb to which they are attached. You likely know the verb sprechen ("to speak"), but there are several verbs you can learn along with it that will expand your vocabulary greatly.

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Besprechen means "to talk about" or "to discuss," whereas versprechen means "to promise." Widersprechen means "to contradict" or "to argue." These are all non-separable verbs

 

Ich glaub, das müsste man dann auch eher mit dem Management besprechen.

I think we would have to talk to the management about that.

Caption 56, Cassandra Steen Interview - Part 3

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Die Zutatenliste haben wir nun besprochen.

We have now discussed the list of ingredients.

Caption 16, Cannelloni - mit Jenny - Part 1

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Versprechen Sie mir bitte, diesen Fehler nicht noch einmal zu begehen.

Please promise me not to make this mistake again.

Caption 56, Berufsleben - Probleme mit Mitarbeitern - Part 1

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Zu verwirrt, um zu widersprechen, tat der junge Mann, was man ihm sagte.

Too confused to argue, the young man did as he was told.

Caption 50, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Der gestiefelte Kater

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Ansprechen means "to address" (or more colloquially "to bring up a matter" or "to appeal to a person") and is a separable verb. Take a look at the examples below:

 

Bevor ich die Sitzung unterbreche, muss ich noch folgenden Sachverhalt ansprechen.

Before I suspend this session, I have to address the following matter.

Captions 43-44, Bundesregierung Vereidigung der Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel

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Ganz hinten auch gern, Leute, ihr seid auch angesprochen.

Also in the very back, people, you are also being addressed.

Caption 2, Wincent Weiss - Feuerwerk

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Welche Leute sprecht ihr an, wer kommt hierher zum Lernen und was können die Menschen hier beigebracht bekommen?

Which people are you addressing, who comes here to learn and what can people be taught here?

Captions 23-24, Lokalhelden - Art House - Part 2

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Further Learning
Here you can find a list of verbs that involve sprechen and information about whether they are separable or inseparable. See if you can find these on Yabla German to get an English translation. 

The "weak masculine" or n-declination

If a German noun ends in an "e," it's usually feminine, but there are also masculine nouns that end with "e" that require special "n" or "-en" endings in all singular non-nominative cases. To complicate things further, there are also masculine nouns not ending in "e" that require the special endings too!

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Basically, the n-declination only occurs with masculine nouns, never with feminine or neuter nouns, and only a small percentage of masculine nouns are weak. Besides the rule of masculine nouns ending with -e, there is no hard and fast rule to classify them — they just have to be learned! It's helpful to know that many are professions, animals, and nationalities. Here are a few examples of weak masculine nouns to remember that you will commonly encounter in everyday usage.

Der Junge is a weak masculine noun, which you know because of the masculine der and the -e ending. Note that the -e ending changes to -en:

 

Der Zauberer sah zu dem zitternden Jungen hinab.

The Sorcerer looked down at the trembling Boy.

Caption 80, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Der Zauberlehrling

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However, der Nachbar is also a weak masculine noun, despite the -r ending. Note that the -r ending changes to -rn:

 

Du könntest einfach zum Nachbarn gehen.

You could simply go to the neighbor.

Caption 25, Fine - sucht einen Hammer

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Der Student is a very common weak masculine noun that takes the -en ending in non-nominative singular

 

Ich hab' 'nen spanischen Studenten eingestellt.

I've hired a Spanish student.

Caption 22, Barbara Schöneberger - Bambi-Verleihung backstage

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Der Herr is a weak masculine noun when it's translated as "lord"

 

Sofort rannte er zu seinem Herrn.

Immediately, he ran to his lord.

Caption 47, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Der gestiefelte Kater

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and in its more common form as the honorific "Mr." or "Mister"

 

Das war eine Idee von Herrn Singer.

That was an idea of Mister Singer's.

Caption 35, Modedesignerin Nina Hollein - Floria Prinzessin von Hessen

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Further Learning
Here are some examples of weak masculine nouns requiring the -n or -en endings in non-nominative singular (all of them have the masculine article der): Architekt, Astronaut, Bär, Bauer, Diplomat, Elefant, Emigrant, Held, Idiot, Kamerad, Kandidat, Kapitalist, Kommunist, Kunde, Löwe, Mensch, Neffe, Pilot, Präsident, Rabe, Russe, Schimpanse, Schwede, and Soziologe. See if you can find some examples of them in context with -n or -en endings on Yabla German. For more reading about this topic, check out the article Tricky Masculine Nouns in German.

Grammar

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