German Lessons


The Preposition "to" in German: Part 1 — nach

In German, there are a number of prepositions that can be translated as "to" to express movement from one place to another: nach, zu, in, an, and auf. Often it is difficult to know which one to use in what context and with what type of place, and you simply have to memorize certain patterns. This week, let's begin with the preposition nach


We use nach when the destination is a city, and also for most countries. However, there are some exceptions to this in which in is used with countries, for example, with die Türkei, die Schweiz, and die Vereinigten Staaten (As you may remember, some countries have genders in German). And keep in mind that the preposition in is used when the destination is die Stadt ("the city" or "the town") or das Dorf ("the village")


Ihre Nachkommen wanderten auch nach Italien und Österreich aus.

Their offspring also migrated  to Italy and Austria.

Caption 26, Alpenseen - Kühle Schönheiten

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Er will in die Schweiz reisen. Schön, was noch?

He wants to travel to Switzerland. Nice, what else?

Caption 37, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Über jemanden sprechen

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Hi, ich bin Marie. Ich bin gerade mit Julia nach Berlin gezogen.

Hi, I'm Marie. I just moved to Berlin with Julia.

Caption 3, Die Wohngemeinschaft - Besuch

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Eines Tages machte sich der Kaufmann auf den Weg in die Stadt, um Geld zu verdienen.

One day, the Merchant set out for town in order to earn some money.

Caption 9, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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Nach is also used for cardinal directions and with "left," "right," "up," and "down."


Es drehte sich nach links... -Und du? -und dann nach rechts.

He turned to the left... -And you? -and then to the right.

Caption 18, Meine Freundin Conni - Conni schläft im Kindergarten

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Der Russe dreht mit starken Kräften westlich der Düna nach Norden ein.

The Russians are turning west of the Daugava River towards the north with strong forces.

Caption 25, Die Stunde der Offiziere - Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944 

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Another rule: while we say "go/drive/come home" in English, the equivalent phrase in German has a preposition: nach Hause + verb.


Und als der Bär nach Hause kam, machten sie sich einen gemütlichen Abend.

And when the bear came home, they had a cozy evening.

Captions 37-38, Janoschs Traumstunde - Post für den Tiger

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Further Learning
We will cover the other prepositions used to express movement from one place to another in coming newsletters. Pay attention to how "to" is translated with various places and directions on Yabla German and stay tuned!

Entweder... oder... and weder... noch...

Today we'll look at a topic that is neither particularly difficult nor completely easy. This is because either you memorize it immediately or you constantly forget the necessary order. 


To create the "either... or..." construction in German, the words entweder and oder are employed, always in that particular order: 


Daniel Müller ist entweder nicht im Büro oder nicht erreichbar.

Daniel Müller is either not in the office or not available.

Caption 20, Berufsleben - Probleme mit Mitarbeitern - Part 1

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Das kann man entweder persönlich tun in einer Filiale oder online.

You can do that either in person at a branch or online.

Caption 14, Eva erklärt - Bankkonten

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Used to reject more than one possibility or eliminate two different parties, weder... noch... is the German equivalent of "neither... nor...":


Es war weder Mensch noch Tier.

It was neither man nor animal.

Caption 33, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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Keiner rechnet damit, dass ein Radfahrer auf dem Gehweg fährt, weder Fußgänger noch Autofahrer.

No one takes into account that a cyclist will be riding on the sidewalk, neither pedestrians nor auto drivers.

Captions 12-13, Einsatz für Christophorus - Gehwegradler

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Another construction which you might have seen and is worth mentioning here is sowohl als auch. This is a fancy way of saying "both... and..." or "as well as...", therefore serving the opposite function.


Sowohl Malerei als auch Bildhauerei.

Both paintings as well as sculptures.

Caption 15, Lokalhelden - Art House - Part 1

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Sowohl in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland als auch in der DDR wehen schwarz-rot-goldene Fahnen.

Black, red, and gold flags wave in the Federal Republic of Germany as well as in the GDR.

Caption 61, Terra X - Woher kommen die Farben Schwarz-Rot-Gold?

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Further Learning
Look for more examples of the entweder... oder... and weder... noch...  constructions on Yabla German to solidify your understanding. Also take a look at the different ways in which sowohl als auch can be translated.

Sie liebt dich, yeah, yeah, yeah

The classic rock band the Beatles played a lot in Hamburg at the start of their career and thus felt it was important to release some of their first recordings in German too. The song "She Loves You" was also released in 1964 as "Sie liebt dich," and you can listen to it here. The expression is also the climax of a classic fairy tale:



Oh, Biest! Ich liebe dich. Es ist mir egal, wie du aussiehst.

Oh, Beast! I love you. It doesn't matter to me how you look.

Caption 84, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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And another classic German expression for being in love:


Ich glaube, ich habe mich in dich verliebt.

I think I've fallen in love with you.

Caption 31, Filmtrailer - Keinohrhasen

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The phrase in sich verlieben is one of the times when the German preposition in has the noun following it in the accusative case. In the Berlin dialect, it is often in the dative case (ich liebe dir, ich bin in dir verliebt), but this is not good High German. Let's stick with ich liebe dich and ich bin in dich verliebt!


Gut' Nacht, mein Schatz. -Ich hab' dich vermisst.

Good night, my precious. -I've missed you.

Caption 3, Mama arbeitet wieder - Kapitel 4: Die Trennung

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Der Schatz is a classic German term of endearment, but it also means "treasure." When I lived in Germany as a teenager, I often heard male American soldiers using the dialect version of the word, Schatzi, to accost unfortunate female passers-by. The word "schatzi" is even included in a number of American dictionaries as an acceptable English word, evidence of a relatively recent addition of a German word into English. And of course, if you love someone, you miss them (vermissen) when they are gone.



Further Learning
Look for further examples of lieben and verlieben on Yabla German and see how they are used in a real world context. P.S. The Beatles also released a German version of  "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "Komm, gib mir deine Hand"...

Adjective Declensions: Definite Articles

It's sometimes not a bad idea to make sure some of that "old knowledge" is still accurate, so let's get back to basics: adjective declensions with definite articles. To make it as easy as possible, remember the following three rules for adjective endings:


1. All adjectives in the singular nominative case end in -e, regardless of noun gender. Here is an example with the singular masculine nominative:


Der alte Minister ging in den Saal.

The old minister went into the hall.

Caption 37, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Des Kaisers neue Kleider

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2. All adjectives in the dative or genitive cases, as well as all adjectives in plural form, end in -en regardless of the noun's gender. Here is an example with the plural genitive: 


Der Kaufmann ließ es sich schmecken und verbrachte die Nacht in einem der schönen Schlafräume.

The Merchant enjoyed the meal and spent the night in one of the beautiful bedrooms.

Captions 25-26, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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3. This is the hard one: Adjectives for masculine nouns in the singular accusative case end in -en, but adjectives for feminine and neuter nouns in the singular accusative case end in -e. Here is an example with the single masculine accusative:


So gibt es hier die elektrische Gitarre für den abgebrühten [Umgangssprache] Rockstar.

Thus there is the electric guitar here for the jaded rock star.

Caption 2, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell - Musikmesse in Frankfurt

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If the noun above had been feminine (or neuter), it would have dropped the -n: ...für die abgebrühte Musikerin.



Further Learning
There is a system for remembering adjective endings that many people find easy to remember called the Oklahoma — see if it works for you. (A special hat tip to Yabla subscriber Mike S. for that!) You can also search for some of your favorite adjectives on Yabla German and review the ways the adjectives end in the different cases with different noun genders.

"Was für" is not "what for"

Although the German words was für may translate directly as "what for" as separate words, when you put them together they have a different meaning. If somebody asks you to do something in German and you want to know "What for?", you would properly respond with "Warum?" ("why") or "Wofür?", which is another way of saying "why."


In English, the word combination was für usually means "what" or "what kind":


Was für ein Geschenk soll ich dir mitbringen?

What kind of present should I bring [back] with me for you?

Caption 14, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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Hach Gott, was für ein Tag!

Oh god, what a day!

Caption 8, Kein Kredit - im Land der Klone

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The phrase was für in other contexts can also mean "something for":


Also, wär' der Modeljob definitiv was für dich?

So, would the modelling job definitely be something for you?

Caption 10, RNZ Top Model - Casting 2010

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In the example above, the word was is functioning as a shortened version of etwas, which means "something."



Further Learning
Go to Yabla German and put in the search words "what kind" to see the different ways that was für is used in different contexts.


S, ss or ß?

The Swiss have it easy: they completely eliminated the ß (eszett or "sharp s") some years ago, but since we are teaching Standard German at Yabla, we should learn a few general rules about which words use s, ss, and ß.


1. Single s
There are no words in German that begin with ss or ß, so that rule is easy. A single s will usually come after the letters l, m, n and r when a vowel follows the s, with words such as: der Balsam (the balm), die Bremse (the brake), and sparsam (economical):


Das ist sehr sparsam!

This is very economical!

Caption 38, Der Trabi - Das Kultauto aus dem Osten

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A single s will usually come before the letter p, with words such as raspeln (to grate), lispeln (to lisp), and die Knospe (the bud):


Knospen, Blätter oder, Früchte von Platanen zum Beispiel...

Buds, leaves or, fruit from the plane trees, for example...

Caption 26, Freilebende Papageien - Überwintern in Wiesbaden

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In most cases, only a single s will come before the letter t, with words such as die Liste (the list), pusten (slang: to blow), and prusten (to puff):


Dann will ich husten und will prusten und euer Haus zusammenpusten!

Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!

Caption 50, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die drei kleinen Schweinchen

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2. Double s
The double s is usually written only after a short vowel, with words such as das Schloss (the castle), ein bisschen (a little bit), and passend (fitting):


Eigentlich hätte es gar keine passendere Rolle für sie geben können.

Actually, there couldn't at all have been a more fitting role for her.

Caption 16, Christina Aguilera und Cher - in Deutschland

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3. Eszett: ß
The ß is usually used after a long vowel or double-vowel combination (dipthong), in words such as die Straße (the street), der Meißel (the chisel), and stoßen (to bump, to repel):


Gut, und die stoßen sich ab.

Good and they repel one another.

Caption 35, Das 1. Newtonsche Gesetz - erklärt am Beispiel des Dodomobils

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4. Verbs that vary between ss and ß
Just to make it more complicated, there are some verbs that are written with ß in the infinitive, but switch to ss when conjugated — and vice versa too! For instance the verb vergessen (to forget) uses the letter ss in the infinitive and present tenses (ich vergesse, I forget), but switches to the ß in the past (preterite) tense:


Belle gewann das Biest so lieb, dass sie seine äußere Erscheinung darüber völlig vergaß.

Belle became so fond of the Beast that she fully forgot about his outward appearance.

Captions 61-62, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Schöne und das Biest

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Further Learning:

Do a search on Yabla German and see if you can find some more examples of verbs that vary between ß and ss in their infinitives and their conjugations.


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