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German Verbs and their Prepositions, Part I

Just as you should generally memorize the article (der, die, or das) along with each German noun that you learn, it is a good idea to pay attention to which preposition follows any given verb. This may sometimes match the English preposition — for example, Danke für das Essen and "Thank you for the food." However, there are many examples in which the preposition will not be what you would expect based on your knowledge of English. Here are some common examples:

The verb warten ("to wait") is followed by the preposition auf rather than the preposition für. The verb vorbereiten ("to prepare") may be followed by für when it refers to preparing something for a person, such as a meal. However, it is followed by auf in the context of preparing for an event.

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Jetzt warte ich auf den nächsten Gang.

Now I am waiting for the next course.

Caption 28, Abendessen: mit Marko

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Ja, und bis dahin werde ich mich auf das Studium vorbereiten

Yes, and until then I'll be preparing myself for my studies

Caption 24, Konstantin: ein Freiwilliger in Israel

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In English, we say "I'm interested in politics." In German, the preposition für is used with the reflexive verb sich interessieren

 

Also, ich interessiere mich grade sehr für das Thema Bachelorarbeit.

Well, I'm very interested in the topic of my Bachelor's thesis at the moment.

Caption 49, Geoökologie Cettina interviewt Sarah

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While you congratulate someone on something in English, the German verb gratulieren requires the preposition zu and the dative case. 

 

Einer der Träume ist sicher Frauen und Herren bei Weltmeisterschaften zum WM-Titel zu gratulieren.

One of the dreams is certainly to congratulate the women and the men at the World Championships on the World Championship title.

Captions 51-52, Frauenfußball-WM: Der Bundespräsident am Ball

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In English we have sympathy for someone, whereas in German the preposition mit is used. 

 

Der Jäger hatte Mitleid mit ihr und Schneewittchen lief in den Wald hinein.

The Hunter had sympathy for her and Snow White ran into the forest.

Caption 32, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Schneewittchen

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In another instance where the preposition is not what you would necessarily expect, the German verb for "to participate in" is an etwas teilnehmen.

 

Ab welchem Alter darf man in Deutschland an der Wahl zum Deutschen Bundestag teilnehmen?

Starting at what age are you allowed to participate in parliamentary elections in Germany?

Caption 14, Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Einbürgerungstest

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Further Learning
We will be back with more verb/preposition false friends from time to time and point out common examples to be aware of. In the meantime, you can look at this previous newsletter, which also mentioned this tricky topic. However, the best way to get used to these inconsistencies is by watching videos on Yabla German! As you do, you will take note of phrases that employ a given verb with its correct preposition, which you can then implement when you speak.

Nuances of wohnen and leben

In German, two verbs can be translated as "to live." Generally, students of German are taught that wohnen relates to more temporary living situations, and leben to more permanent living situations. This may seem highly subjective, and it is! Although there are sentences where only one option is correct, there are certainly sentences in which the speaker chooses a verb dependent on their perspective on the situation.

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For example, if we look at the following two sentences from the video
Berlin: Judith und die „Brezel Bar“,  we see that Judith uses both words to describe her living situation. 

 

Ich selbst wohne auch in Kreuzberg, hier um die Ecke.

I myself also live in Kreuzberg, here around the corner.

Caption 12, Berlin - Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

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Mein eigentlicher Beruf ist Buchhändlerin, aber seit ich in Berlin lebe, arbeite ich als Kellnerin und Barista in Cafés.

My actual occupation is book dealer, but since I've lived in Berlin, I've worked as a waitress and barista in cafés.

Captions 15-16, Berlin - Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

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We notice here that Judith talks about her apartment being in Kreuzberg with the verb wohnen and her life in Berlin with the verb leben. Wohnen is often used to talk about domesticity, such as inhabiting an apartment or a house. German philosopher Martin Heidegger is well-known for his text Bauen, Wohnen, Denken, which is translated as "Building, dwelling, thinking" in English. Ikea in Germany has for many years had the slogan Wohnst du noch oder lebst du schon? which highlights that occupying or sleeping in a space does not necessarily mean that you are really at home there. In German, the phrase Hast du dich eingelebt? means "Have you settled in?" also reflecting that leben has a deeper sense of permanence than simply dwelling or residing. 

 

In this sentence, Brigitta uses wohnen to express that she is staying with friends, which is obviously a temporary situation:

 

Vielen, vielen Dank, dass ich hier bei euch wohnen kann.

Many, many thanks for allowing me to stay here with you.

Caption 13, Die Wohngemeinschaft - Besuch - Part 2

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In this next sentence, it would be possible to say Ich wohne allein, but this would highlight the domestic aspect of living by oneself in an apartment or house, rather than describing a way of life. A person might also say Ich lebe gesund, for example.

 

Ich lebe allein, ich bin unabhängig und ich liebe meine Arbeit.

I live alone, I am independent and I love my work.

Caption 48, Malerei - Impressionistinnen

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And of course, not to be forgotten, leben is also the verb for "to be alive" itself!

 

Schneewittchen lebt, bei den sieben Zwergen im Wald.

Snow White is alive, with the seven dwarfs in the forest.

Caption 54, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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Further Learning
There are many examples of leben and wohnen on Yabla German. Think about your own life and which verb you would use to describe various places you have lived, or your current life and lifestyle. 

Gelegenheit, Angelegenheit and gelegen

I still sometimes find it difficult, despite speaking German for decades, to distinguish between the two nouns die Gelegenheit and die Angelegenheit. In all fairness, though, the fact that prefixes like an-, be-, ver-, ent-, etc. radically alter the meanings of German words is part of what makes German difficult for English speakers.

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Let's start by stripping Gelegenheit of its -heit suffix, leaving us with the adverb/adjective gelegen:

 

...eine Kleinstadt für sich, gelegen entlang der schweiz-französischen Grenze.

...a small town on its own, located along the Swiss-French border.

Caption 2, Die Weltmaschine - Der LHC-Teilchenbeschleuniger

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Vor der abseits gelegenen Düne gelang ihm eine sensationelle Entdeckung:

In front of this remotely situated dune, he managed to make a sensational discovery:

Captions 22-23, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Thus gelegen is usually translated as "located" or situated," though it also can mean "desired" (erwünscht) or "opportune" (günstig). When we add the suffix -heit and make it a noun, it becomes: 

 

Die Gelegenheit lässt sich Florian nicht entgehen.

Florian doesn't let this opportunity slip by.

Caption 18, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Dann lernst du ihn auch gleich kennen bei der Gelegenheit.

Then you'll also get to know him right away on this occasion.

Caption 28, Fine - sucht einen Hammer

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Die Gelegenheit is almost always translated as "opportunity," except when preceded with the preposition bei, when it's usually translated as "occasion." On a more humorous note, just as "the facilities" are used in English as a polite euphemism for the toilet, so too is die Gelegenheit an old-fashioned euphemism in German for das WC. A perhaps overly polite way to ask where the toilet is would be Wo ist hier die Gelegenheit, bitte? 

 

Die Angelegenheit is, on the other hand, literally a different matter altogether: 

 

Die Königin war fuchsteufelswild und beschloss, die Angelegenheit jetzt selbst in die Hand zu nehmen.

The Queen was "fox devil wild" [slang: angry] and decided to take the matter into her own hands now.

Captions 55-56, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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Musste zufällig jemand den Kaiser in kaiserlichen Angelegenheiten sprechen, gaben seine Diener stets dieselbe Antwort.

Should someone need to speak to the emperor about imperial affairs, his servants always gave the same answer.

Captions 20-21, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Des Kaisers neue Kleider

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I use this mnemonic device to remember the difference between Gelegenheit and Angelegenheit:

 

–An "opportunity" should be easy and is thus the shorter of the two words, Gelegenheit. 

 

–A political affair or business matter tends to suggest difficult bureaucratic procedures and is thus the longer word Angelegenheit.

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Further Learning
Go to Yabla German to find other examples of gelegen, Gelegenheit and Angelegenheit as used in real-world context.

The word sei

The word sei is something that can be a bit confusing when it appears. Although it is rare and more often used in written German, sei does comes up on Yabla German every once in a while.

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It is, for one, the informal second person command form of the verb sein ("to be"). 

 

Wir haben Fieber, komm sei dabei

We have the fever, come be involved

Caption 11, Christina Stürmer - Fieber

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Sei ruhig, Findus, ich bin ja noch gar nicht aufgestanden.

Be quiet, Findus, I indeed haven't gotten up yet at all.

 

But sei appears in other contexts as well. The phrase es sei denn can be translated as "unless":

 

Man hat uns erzählt, sie läge bis zum heutigen Tag dort, es sei denn, es hat sie jemand gegessen.

Someone has told us [it is said] that it is there to this very day, unless someone has eaten it.

Captions 93-94, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse

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Sei is particularly used when something is or was reported or thought to be true, but isn't proven. However, it is used most often in written German, or narration and reporting. 
 

Also hat der Papst die Armbrust verboten und hat gesagt, es sei ein Werkzeug des Teufels.

So the Pope forbade [the use of] the crossbow and said it is a tool of the devil.

Captions 30-31, Die Armbrust - im Mittelalter

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Nein, der unbekannte Verkehrsteilnehmer hatte nur irrtümlich angenommen, die Parkuhr sei beschädigt...

No, the unknown motorist had just mistakenly assumed the parking meter was damaged...

 

Die böse Königin glaubte, Schneewittchen sei tot...

The evil Queen believed Snow White to be dead...

Caption 51, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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Further Learning

 

Do you know all of the conjugations of sein in the imperative? If not, review them now with the table on this page. When you encounter sei in its other contexts, remember that it essentially communicates the subjunctive and what is being said may not be true at all!

Smack Dab in the Middle

In English, a person can be described as standing in the middle of the sidewalk in the middle of the day, and whether you are talking about place or time, the phrase "in the middle of" is correct. In German, however, there are two expressions: mitten im (or mitten in der for feminine nouns) and mitten am (mitten an der for feminine nouns). In most cases, whether discussing time or place, the phrase mitten im (in der) is used, whether for time of the year:

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Vor langer Zeit mitten im eisigsten Winter...

A long time ago in the middle of the iciest winter...

Caption 5, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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Or for place: 

 

Ich finde das eine, ja, auch wichtige Stelle, mitten in der Stadt.

I think it is also a, yes, important place, in the middle of the city.

Captions 25-26, Holocaust-Gedenktag - Gedenkstätte am Michelsberg

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The phrase mitten am (mitten an der) is used less frequently but in very specific contexts. For place, mitten am is used primarily when something is physically located on a place. In the following example, you can see why mitten im would sound wrong, as it would suggest that the kiosk is inside Friedberger Platz rather than on it: 

 

Neben mir steht der Turan,

Next to me stands Turan,

der Besitzer hier von dem schönen Kiosk mitten am Friedberger Platz.

the owner here of the nice kiosk in the middle of Friedberger Platz.

Captions 1-2, Frankfurt - Der Friedberger Platz

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Generally you wouldn't say mitten am Friedberger Platz anyway, you would simply say auf Friedberger Platz. If the kiosk were located on the edge of the square, you would say an Friedberger Platz.

 

When used with period of day terms, it is more common to use mitten am than mitten imMitten am Morgen (in the middle of the morning); Mitten am Nachmittag (in the middle of the afternoon); or Mitten am Tag (in the middle of the day, or "in broad daylight"). When discussing nighttime, however, the mitten in der phrase is standardly used: Mitten in der Nacht (in the middle of the night). In general, mitten does not have any influence on the above usage of the prepositions am or in der, as they are also am Morgen and in der Nacht etc. when used without the word mitten.

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Further Learning
Look for further examples of mitten im, mitten in der, mitten am, and mitten an der on Yabla German to see these phrases used in a real-world context.

Pluralis Majestatis or the "Royal We" in German

The "royal we" form is mostly found today in fairy tales, medieval fiction, and fantasy literature such as "The Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones." In centuries past, it was common for royalty and religious leaders to be referred to (and to refer to themselves) in the plural tense, based upon the conceit that, in referring to themselves, they were referring to "God and I." German uses the Latin term Pluralis Majestatis to denote the "royal we."

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This obsolete form of personal pronoun does not present any grammatical problems in English, since it is commonly either rendered in modern English as "we" or "you" (in the plural sense), or in archaic English as thee, thou, thine etc., although these forms are also merely archaic and not necessarily reflecting the "royal we" form.

 

In German, however, the use of "royal we" can be initially perplexing. For the nominative second person singular pronoun, instead of the modern Sie (you), the "royal we" form uses Ihr, with the Ihr always capitalized. Initially this may appear to be the same as the plural pronoun ihr, but is actually addressed to a single person:

 

Majestät, Ihr [Pluralis Majestatis] seid die Schönste hier.

Majesty, you are the most beautiful here.

Caption 86, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneewittchen

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In standard German, the above sentence would have been written: Sie sind die Schönste hier. The "royal we" case Ihr conjugates the verb the same as the plural nominative second person pronoun ihr.

 

The accusative second person singular pronoun Sie (you), in a similar fashion, uses for the "royal we" form of the capitalized version of the accusative second person plural Euch:

 

Ich befreie Euch [Pluralis Majestatis] von dem Versprechen, Prinzessin!

I free you from the promise, Princess!

Caption 58, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Hans mein Igel

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In standard German, the above sentence would have been written: Ich befreie Sie von dem Versprechen.

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Further Learning
To further familiarize yourself with the use of the "royal we," go through the videos (listed on the right hand side of this lesson) on Yabla German that include extensive examples of Pluralis Majestatis.

 

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