German Lessons


Halten and Other Related Verbs

This week, let's have a look at the German verb halten and consider how it is combined with prefixes to make other verbs. Even by itself, the verb halten has a number of meanings. First of all, it translates as "to stop": 


Nein, Peter! Du darfst ihnen nichts geben. -Halt!

No, Peter! You mustn't give them anything. -Stop!

Caption 9, Heidi: Die Mutprobe

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Halten may also mean "to hold" or "to hold onto" (also in the variation festhalten) in either a literal or figurative sense.


Und zwar dürfen Sie sich jetzt mal hier kurz festhalten. Genau.

And, that is, you may now hold onto this here for a moment. Exactly.

Caption 44, TEDx: Lebenslange Fitness

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...und dann halt die Finger so über deinen Ohren.

...and then hold your fingers over your ears like this.

Caption 112, Coronavirus: Schutzmasken zum Selbermachen

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It can also mean "to keep" or "to last." Here you can see an example with the reflexive verb sich halten:


Die Rohmilch hält sich natürlich nicht ganz so lange wie die Supermarkt-Milch.

The raw milk, of course, doesn't keep quite as long as supermarket milk.

Caption 47, Rhein-Main-TV Moderne Milchtankstelle

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The first phrase below is heard constantly these days, and is one instance in which halten means "to keep" as in "to maintain." The phrase aufrecht halten would normally be translated as "to uphold," but in this case is also better translated as "to maintain."


Wir müssen Abstand halten.

We have to maintain distance.

Caption 24, Bundesamt für Gesundheit: Coronavirus und Schulen

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Und ich leite den Einsatz und halte die Kommunikation mit den Gastronomen und Hoteliers aufrecht.

And I lead the operation and maintain the communication with the restaurants and hotels.

Captions 23-24, Schweizer Felsenputzer: suchen Nachwuchs

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"To sustain" and "to abide by" are other possible translations of halten. The structure in this example is sich an etwas halten:


Alle Einwohner und Einwohnerinnen und der Staat müssen sich an die Gesetze halten.

All inhabitants and the federal state have to abide by the law.

Captions 36-37, Bundesrepublik: Deutschland Einbürgerungstest

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Then, as is the case with many other common German verbs, there are verbs that consist of halten combined with a prefix and may have either a related or an entirely different meaning. Here are two examples:


So, was könnte Olaf Scholz noch aufhalten auf seinem Weg ins Kanzleramt?

So, what could still stop Olaf Scholz on his way to the chancellorship?

Caption 20, heute-show: Die männliche Merkel hat Erinnerungslücken

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Wie sollte sie es nur ohne ihn aushalten?

Just how was she supposed to bear it without him?

Caption 70, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Die Weiber von Weinsberg

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Further Learning

Many examples with halten and related verbs can be found on Yabla German in both reflexive and non-reflexive forms. Can you find examples with enthalten sich enthalten, erhalten, behalten, and verhalten sich verhalten?

German Preposition Cases, Part I

This week we're going to go through the cases used with German prepositions. If you are an advanced German speaker, this will be nothing new for you, but will hopefully be helpful for beginners as a learning tool and for intermediate German speakers as a refresher. Nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that come after prepositions take either the accusative, dative, or genitive case, but to make things slightly confusing, some prepositions require either the accusative or dative case, depending upon the context. Let's take a look in Part I today at the prepositions that require only the accusative case for the nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. 


For a basic start, let's look at the accusative case for nouns as follows for the definite article "the," with the nominative case followed by the accusative case: 


der => den
die => die
das => das


And for the indefinite article

ein (masculine) => einen
eine => eine
ein (neuter) => ein


And for the personal pronouns "you," "him," "her," and "they":


du => dich
Sie (formal "you") 
=> Sie
=> ihn
=> sie
uns => uns


Remember too, that if there is no definite or indefinite article, the adjective must still take the case appropriate for its gender with the preposition.


The common German prepositions that require the accusative case of nouns and pronouns are für, um, durch, gegen, entlang, bis, ohne, and wider. The BBC website Bitesize cleverly suggests a good way of remembering them: in that order, the first letter of each word combined makes the phrase "fudge bow." If you can remember that phrase, with very few overlaps into dative and genitive prepositions, you'll be able to know if the preposition you are about to use requires the accusative case!


Here are some examples from Yabla German


Ich wollte dir gerne ein paar Sachen für den Umzug mitbringen.

I wanted to bring you a few things for the move.

Caption 5, Nicos Weg - Freizeitstress

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Wenn es um mich geht, ist es reflexiv.

If it's about me, it is reflexive.

Caption 54, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Akkusativ - Action

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Der schwebt also durch den Raum.

So it floats through the space.

Caption 36, Das 1. Newtonsche Gesetz - erklärt am Beispiel des Dodomobils

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Ich habe echt nichts gegen dich gesagt.

I've really said nothing against you.

Caption 7, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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Streute sie die Krümel von ihrem einzigen Stück Brot den Weg entlang.

She scattered the crumbs from her single piece of bread along the way.

Caption 48, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Hänsel und Gretel

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Note that the preposition entlang usually appears after the noun when used in the dative case. There is also a genitive use of entlang, but more on that in a later lesson!


Das war's von Rhein-Main-Szene. Bis nächste Woche. Ciao, ciao.

That's it from Rhein-Main-Szene. Till next week. Ciao, ciao [Italian: Bye, bye].

Caption 64, Frida Gold - Interview - Part 2

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Don't forget that bis ("till" or "until") is more commonly seen as a conjunction than as a preposition. 


Wie sollte sie es nur ohne ihn aushalten?

Just how was she supposed to make it without him?

Caption 70, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Weiber von Weinsberg

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Wer wider besseres Wissen vortäuscht...

Whoever pretends despite better knowledge...

Caption 41, Großstadtrevier - Schatten der Vergangenheit

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Further Learning
Go to Yabla German to look for more examples of prepositions whose nouns, pronouns, and adjectives take only the accusative case. And don't forget the key phrase "fudge bow" for remembering them, as ridiculous as it sounds! A chocolate violin, anyone? Sounds sweet...

Idiomatic Uses of die Fahne

The usual German words for "flag" are die Fahne or die Flagge, and they're used in a number of idiomatic expressions, some of which parallel those in English. 


Wir mussten die Flagge streichen.
We had to strike the flag.


The phrase die Flagge streichen can be used in the literal sense of striking or taking down a flag, but is more often used figuratively to mean "to give up," as in "We had to give up." Note that the verb streichen also means "to paint," but that won't be the case here! 


Lass uns doch lieber von der Fahne gehen
But let's rather go from the flag. 


That is a literal translation, but von der Fahne gehen is usually used figuratively to mean "to give up" in the sense of leaving a project, or cause, or organization. 


Sie stemmten das eiserne Stadttor auf und schwenkten eine weiße Flagge.

They pried open the iron city gate and waved a white flag.

Caption 48, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Weiber von Weinsberg

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This too is a literal translation, as the story is about an army surrendering, but as in English, "to wave a white flag" is also often used figuratively to mean "to give up."


Wir haben unsere Fahnen nach dem Wind gedreht.
We have changed according to the circumstances.


Literally translated, this would read "We've turned our flags to the wind," but is used figuratively to mean that one has followed popular opinion or adapted according to the circumstances. It's similar to the English expression "whichever way the wind blows" or "to see which way the wind is blowing." As in English, the phrase can also be used as a negative critique of somebody being opportunistic.


One of the more common idiomatic uses of die Fahne can sound very strange to English speakers:


Buah, hat er 'ne Fahne [Umgangssprache]? -Und wie! Cognac? -Feine Thunfischstückchen.

Ew, does he have a flag [slang, bad breath]? -And how! Cognac? -Fine little pieces of tuna fish.

Captions 52-53, Küss mich, Frosch - Frosch oder Mensch?

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Du hast ja eine tierische Fahne [umgangssprachlich].

You have a beastly flag [slang, stench of alcohol].

Ich fress' doch schon die ganze Zeit Pfefferminz.

I've been devouring peppermints the whole time.

Captions 14-15, Pastewka - Cantz fährt betrunken Auto

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You've probably gathered that they aren't literally talking about "having a flag." The phrase eine Fahne haben means "to have bad breath" and is usually associated with the smell of alcohol. The question Hast du eine Fahne? is a way of asking somebody if they've been drinking alcohol.



Further Learning
Look up the words die Flagge and die Fahne on Yabla German to see them used both literally and figuratively in a real-world context. 

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