Odds and ends bzw.sprachliches Allerlei

Recommended work on this subject:
Paul Krieger / Hans-Juergen Hantschel, Versprechen Sie Deutsch? Fehlerverlernbuch fuer Auslaender Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1997. ISBN 3-499-60263-6 DM 14.90


ALS has three major uses, all of them radically different:

1) comparison: cf. "than" - du bist kleiner ALS ich.
2) description: cf. "as" - Er arbeitet ALS Zimmermann.
3) narration of single events in the past: cf. "when"
- Es hat uns viel Spass gemacht, ALS wir in Spanien waren.
WICHTIG: ALS with past events requires the PRAETERITUM!


and other countries

  • The country in which the University is located is called, in German, AMERIKA. If you need to indicate gender, it is DAS ("ein schoenes Amerika"). A resident of the country is called AMERIKANER(IN), DER(DIE). Plural? "die Amerikaner (die Amerikanerinnen)." The word AMERIKANISCH is an adjective, as in "amerikanische Gesetze" or "das amerikanische Klima" or "die amerikanische Verfassung" or "der amerikanische Bundesstaat Wisconsin." AMERIKANISCH cannot be used to identify a citizen of the USA ("Amerikaner" bzw. "Amerikanerin").

    When you want to say that you are going to America, you say: Ich fahre NACH AMERIKA.
    When you want to say that you are from America, you say: Ich komme AUS AMERIKA.
    When you want to say that you live in America, you say: Ich wohne IN AMERIKA.

  • What about the more formal designation of the USA? In German that is:
    die VEREINIGTEN STAATEN VON AMERIKA (plural) always abbreviated as "die USA."

    When you want to say that you are going to the United States, you must say:

    When you want to say that you are from the USA, you say:

    When you want to say that you live in the USA, you say:


    This preposition is sometimes translated as "at," sometimes as "on," sometimes as "to." Which is it, I hear you asking as you scratch your head? The bottom literal line on "an" is "location at/on/near a vertical surface." (see AUF) In other words, it the surface is upright, something will be "an" it.

    Wir sassen und tranken am Teetisch vs. auf dem Teetisch (at table vs. on the table)
    Many cities in the German-speaking world are located "an" rivers: Frankfurt am Main
    Prepositions are used with time, as well as space: am Montag, am 22. Juni


    This preposition is often translated as "on." However, not all "on's" mean "auf," and vice versa. The bottom line on "auf" is "location at/on/near a horizontal surface." (see AN) In other words, if it's a flat surface, something will be "auf" it.


  • This is the most misunderstood of the three (four? see GENITIV) noun/pronoun cases in German, misunderstood by English speakers, that is. It serves a very useful function: it generally (see DATIVVERBEN) indicates the benefactor of a particular action, as opposed to AKKUSATIV, which usually (see DATIVVERBEN) indicates the direct receiver of an action. As a result, you'll find DATIV wherever impressions or feelings or indirect activity is presented. For example:

    Ich gebe dir das Buch. [I give you the book/I give the book to you.]
    Das Buch gehoert mir. [The book belongs to me/The book is mine.]
    Mir ist kalt. [I feel cold/I am cold.]

    Ich nehme mir (fest) vor, morgen ins Geschaeft zu gehen.
    [I (firmly) intend, to go into the store tomorrow.]

    You will note that in translating the DATIV we often use the preposition "to." This is frequently the only way English can catch the flavor of the DATIV when used by itself.

    To complicate the matter further, the DATIV is used with a number of German prepositions, like "zu" and "nach" and "bei" and "aus" and "gegenueber" and "seit." "Zu" and "nach," need to be explained further.

  • ZU is used with institutions, buildings, companies, businesses, and, most important, people:
    Ich gehe zur Schule. [I go to school.] Wir fahren zu Oma. [We`re going to grandma's.]

  • NACH is used almost exclusively with named places, such as cities and countries.
    Wir fahren nach Milwaukee. [We're going to Milwaukee.]

    How do you say "To your health" as you raise your glass, styrofoam cup or beercan? The preposition used in this case is AUF + ACC, specifically, Auf die Gesundheit! or Auf Ihr/dein/euer Wohl!

  • DATIVVERBEN exist in German. Numerically there are not too many of them, but they are used so frequently that you might think that there are more. Console yourself: most verbs that require a direct object require the AKKUSATIV as a noun/pronoun complement. The following, however, require the DATIV as a direct object. Sorry, folks, DATIV does not always mean "indirect object," although this is one of the normal uses of the DATIV (see DATIV):

    helfen, danken, dienen, schaden, gefallen, gehoeren, gelingen, antworten [people only, otherwise "auf" +A], glauben [people only, otherwise AKKUSATIV or "an" +A]

    UEBRIGENS: If you do not know what a(n) "(in)direct object" is, ask your English teacher!


    After all that we have told you about countries (Amerika) and people (Amerikaner/in) and adjectives (amerikanisch), wouldn't you know that the one major exception to the rule is the word for the Germans themselves. It's quite easy really: the Germans are adjectives all the time! Note:

    der Deutsche, ein Deutscher, Deutscher (singular male), but Deutsche, die Deutschen (plural)

    die Deutsche, eine Deutsche, Deutsche (singular female); Deutsche, die Deutschen (plural)


    Nice word, but like LEUTE (see LEUTE) a fairly empty one. Go ahead and use it for any object you can see and touch, but be careful. You canNOT translate English "The most important thing in life is health" or "The thing I want to talk to you about ..." or "The beautiful thing about Wisconsin is the climate." In the first (and third) instance, you have to use an inflected neuter adjective. In the second instance, you have to use "das, was." For example:
    Das Wichtigste im Leben ist die Gesundheit.
    Das, was ich mit Ihnen besprechen will, ist ...
    Das Schoene an Wisconsin ist das Klima.


    You (univ. students) are adults and will be addressed as such. While you may use DU among yourselves, the teacher will address you as SIE and will expect you to address him/her likewise. There is nothing unfriendly about SIE, and you can get used to the homophones ("sie" meaning "them" and "sie" meaning "she"). German speakers your age consider it a sign of maturity to be addressed by adults with "SIE." Likewise, using DU with people who have not offered it to you is considered odd at best and insulting at worst.


    The Genitiv is the least used of the four German (pro)noun cases. It is not dead, but its use is restricted in colloquial German. It indicates possession, but is often replaced in conversation and in informal writing by a phrase with "von" and the Dative, or by some other expression.

    Das ist das Buch meines Vaters. vs.
    Das ist das Buch von meinem Vater.
    Das Buch gehoert meinem Vater.
    ["The book belongs to my father"]

    There is, of course, the possibility in German of ambiguity with expressions using "von," since they could mean "from" as well as "of." Thus,
    Das ist das Buch von Bruder.
    could mean "That is my brother's book" or "That is the book from my brother." The Genitiv clearly means the former.

    Be careful of replacing the English genitive, which is very much alive and well - thank you! - word for word exactly with the German Genitiv. The latter must be placed after the noun possessed, not before, as in English. Thus,
    Das ist der Wagen meines Bruders. but "That is my brother's car."
    Das ist das Buero meiner Schwester. but "That is my sister's office."

    There are genitive pronouns in German, but they are reserved for extremely formal language, such as ceremonial speeches and the language of the Bible. Where a genitive pronoun might be needed, such as after certain prepositions, the equivalent dative pronoun is used.
    statt meiner ---> statt mir
    wegen deiner ---> wegen dir
    trotz seiner ---> trotz ihm
    Herr, erbarme dich unser! ["Lord, have mercy on us!"]


    This is a very useful German adverb. It means "gladly" all by itself, as in
    "Kommst du mit? Ja, gern!" [Are you coming along? Yes, gladly (sure!)!]

    With any verb it means "to like to ..." as in "Ich schreibe gern Briefe." [I like to write letters.]

    However, do not overuse GERN. More specifically, do not use GERN with HABEN. The combination does not mean "to like" with objects. German speakers do not say things like
    "Ich habe Pizza und Bier gern." [I like pizza and beer.]

    They do, of course, use GERN with other verbs, as in
    "Ich esse Pizza gern." [I like to eat pizza.] "Ich trinke Bier gern." [I like to drink beer.]

    GERN means "to like" only with humans. How do you say "to like" with objects then?
    Use GEFALLEN! What else? "Die Stadt gefaellt mir." [I like the city.]

    The comparative of GERN is LIEBER.
    The superlative of GERN is AM LIEBSTEN.

    When comparing GEFALLEN, use BESSER.
    "Madison gefaellt mir besser als Minneapolis." [I prefer Madison to Minneapolis.]

    For the superlative, use AM BESTEN.
    "Milwaukee gefaellt mir am besten." [I like Milwaukee most of all.]


    HAUS means "house." Sometimes, maybe, perhaps! If you are talking about the building, then HAUS means "house." Fair enough. If you are thinking of "home," you have to know what kind of "home" you mean. Note the following uses of HAUS.

    Ich bin zu Hause. [I am (at) home.]
    Ich gehe nach Hause. [I am going home.]
    Das ist mein Zuhause. [This is my home (not just house).]
    Er ist in einem (Alters)Heim/(Studenten)Heim.
    [He is in a home (for old people)/student dormitory.]

    If you have difficulty keeping "zu Hause" and "nach Hause" apart, keep working at it. They represent exceptions about the use of "zu" and "nach" (see NACH). Many of you who have spoken with Germans on their home turf have probably heard the following alternatives in SPOKEN usage:

    heim = nach Hause
    daheim = zu Hause


    This is such a simple verb to use. Why, then, do so many students of German have a difficult time using it? It means simply "to marry" as in"He marries her" [Er heiratet sie.] or "She marries him." [Sie heiratet ihn.] It also means "to get married" as in "We got married" [Wir haben geheiratet].

    However, HEIRATEN refers only to the process by which a man and a woman become husband and wife. It does not refer to what priests [PRIESTER] or ministers [PFARRER] or rabbis [RABBI] do to solemnize said process. That verb is TRAUEN.

    Once you have "geheiratet," you are VERHEIRATET. See below!


    This verb means "to hear," "to listen," and "to listen to." as in
    "Hoeren Sie?" [Are you listening?] and "Ich hoere Radio" [I'm listening to the radio.]

    There are two related verbs: sich ANHOEREN and ZUHOEREN. Sich ANHOEREN means "to listen carefully to something spoken" such as when a teacher asks you to listen to an exercise on tape with the idea of performing some task with it. ZUHOEREN means "to pay attention by listening" and is used a lot by most teachers! It is similar to AUFPASSEN, which means generally "to pay attention because something is about to happen."


    LEHRER(IN) is the all-purpose term for anyone who teaches something in a school setting. Unfortunately, what LEHRER(INNEN) do on a day-to-day basis is not - I repeat - not "lehren." They "lehren" in the abstract sense ("Lehrer lehren, Lerner lernen.") What they do in the classroom is UNTERRICHTEN (= "to instruct"). "Teaching" (= "instruction") is DER UNTERRICHT.

    Die Deutschlehrerin unterrichtet Deutsch. ["The German teacher teaches German language."]

    "How were things todays in German (class)?" [Wie war es heute im Deutsch(unterricht)?]

    Suppose you want to teach somebody something like how to pitch a baseball or how to cook an omelet or how to repair a lawnmower. The German word you want is BEI*BRINGEN, where what you "teach" is in the "Akkusativ" and the person you teach it to is in the "Dativ," as in
    "I taught my brother how to cook." [Ich habe meinem Bruder das Kochen beigebracht.]


    This is probably the most overworked noun in the German language used by American university students. It is a good word, but a fairly empty one. It simply means "people" in the broadest sense. Avoid using it with nationalities, religious, professional, or social groups, or when referring to people who have specific characteristics. Overuse of LEUTE will make people [oops, I mean "readers" or "listeners" or "friends"!] think you are disinterested or insincere. At the same time, if you really want to express yourself impersonally, use MAN, which see!


    MAN does not mean "man." Yes, I know, it looks like "(der) Mann" and is historically the same word. Many women in the German-speaking world do not like this fact, but read on before judging. The word refers to everybody and nobody at the same time. It is like English "you" or "they" or "one" or "people" in the broadest sense. Most important: it is a PRONOUN, not a noun. Since a pronoun replaces a noun, you cannot replace a pronoun with another pronoun. Thus, you cannot replace MAN with "er," as in "*Man muss sich entscheiden, was er will." You must say:

    "Man muss sich entscheiden, was man will."
    Remember the saying: "Man ist, was man [not "*er"!!] isst."


    NACH means "after" with expressions of time. NACH means "to" ONLY with places that are cited by name, without an article preceding it. Please note that you can say "nach Milwaukee" "nach Morokko" "nach Madison" "nach M nchen" or "nach Manitoba." You canNOT say "*nach der Schweiz" or "*nach den Vereinigten Staaten." Placenames that have an article in them, like "die Schweiz," "die Tschechoslowakei," "die T rkei," "die Vereinigten Staaten/die USA" must be used with IN: "IN DIE Schweiz" or "IN DIE USA" with verbs of direction, "IN DER Schweiz" or "IN DEN USA" with verbs of location.

    Meanwhile, back to time. NACH is used to indicate events that occur "after" other events. NACH is a preposition: "nach der Sitzung," "nach dem 30. Juni," "nach der Schule," "nach dem Studium," usw. If you want to say something like "What are you doing after you come home from work?" that is, you need a conjunction to link two clauses, you have to say WENN (yes!) if the two tenses are the same and refer to repetitive action, NACHDEM if the two tenses are not the same. "Afterwards" is NACHHER.


    To be or not to be, that is the question (zu deutsch: Sein oder nicht sein, das ist hier die Frage). When you want to pass along a yes/no question in German, you need the conjunction OB. Do not confuse OB with WENN. Both translate as "if" in English, although when you analyze the matter closely, you realize that "if" does not always mean the same thing in English every time it is used. If "if" means "conditions being right" then you have a situation quite different from one in which "if" means "is it or isn't it?" doesn't it? Got you confused? Let's back up and try again. Look at these two sentences:

    I do not know if he is coming (or not). AND If he can come, we'll start on time.
    In German the first would be rendered as Ich weiss nicht, OB er kommt (oder nicht).

    The second is WENN er kommen kann, koennen wir rechtzeitig anfangen. The first one answers the underlying question, "is he coming or not?" The second one answers the underlying question "under what conditions is he coming, and what are we going to do about it if he does come?" Put another way, OB recreates an indirect "yes/no" question; WENN recreates an indirect "what's going on?" question.

    Do not confuse WENN with WANN. See below!


    SEHEN means "to see" while SCHAUEN means "to look (at)."
    SEHEN can take an object, SCHAUEN by itself usually cannot.

    "Ich sehe dich, du siehst mich" [I see you, you see me] "Schauen Sie mal!" [Just look!]

    In order to say "to look at" in the sense of "to examine" or "to look over" something, you must say "sich anschauen" or "sich ansehen" or "sich angucken". The "sich" in either case is in the DATIV, since you will be looking at something other than yourself!

    "Schau dir dieses Buch an!" [Look at this book!]
    "Sehen Sie sich den Anzug in Ruhe an!" [Take a look at the suit in peace and quiet]

    In order to say "to look at" somebody, use "ansehen/anschauen" without the reflexive.
    "Ich schaue dich an und mir wird krank." [I look at you and get sick.]

    AUSSEHEN means "to look" in the sense of "to appear" a certain way.
    "Das Buch sieht alt aus." [The book looks old]

    EINSEHEN means "to see" in the sense of "to understand" or "to accept the fact that ..."
    "Ich sehe nicht ein, warum du solange aufbleiben sollst."
    [I don't see why you should stay up so long.]


    Be careful! Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, etc. are not "Staaten" in German; they are BUNDESSTAATEN. The term STAAT (DER, plural STAATEN) refers to the abstraction that English usually calls simply "the state." It also refers to what Americans frequently call "the government," that is, the civil service, the governor and his/her cabinet, the federal and state bureaucracy, the powers that be, etc. When you want to say that you or a member of your family work for "the government," you must say that he or she works BEIM STAAT

    UEBRIGENS: Note the colloquial expression "beim Bund" which literally means "at/for the Federation," but which is used by young men to mean that they are serving in the army ("Ich bin beim Bund / ich bin so ein armer Hund!").

    What then, you might ask, is DIE REGIERUNG? In German this word refers only to the head of state and his/her cabinet, such as the governor or the president plus entourage. The term in American English most closely translating REGIERUNG is "administration." For example, you can say

    Er arbeitet bei der Regierung des Gouverneurs X. ("He works for the administration of Gov. X.")


    If you are at the university, you are a STUDENT(IN).
    If you are in high school, you are a SCH LER(IN).
    If you are at the university, you are AN (or AUF) DER UNIVERSITAET.
    If you are in high school, you are IN DER SCHULE.

    You may use the term "(DIE) HIGH SCHOOL" in German when referring to an American high school. The equivalent generic term in German is DIE SEKUNDARSCHULE. There are, of course, different kinds of SEKUNDARSCHULEN in the German-speaking world, such as DAS GYMNASIUM, DIE HAUPTSCHULE, DIE REALSCHULE and DIE GESAMTSCHULE. None is quite like the American high school.

    What do STUDENTEN do? They STUDIEREN. However, STUDIEREN means "to major in a subject," or "to study something seriously," not simply "to take courses." It is not correct to say something like "Ich studiere dieses Semester Mathematik, Deutsch, Geschichte, Wirtschaft und Chemie." That would be an invitation to burnout! What you might be doing is
    "Ich lerne Mathematik, Deutsch, Geschichte, ..." or
    "Ich belege Kurse in Mathematik, Deutsch, ..." or
    "Ich habe Mathematik, Deutsch, ..." or
    "Ich bereite mich auf eine Klausur in Mathe, ... vor"

    VORSICHT! Learners at the high school level DO NOT "studieren." They "lernen."

    Other useful words from STUDENTENSPRACHE:
    KURS [pl. KURSE]: course
    HAUPTFACH [pl. HAUPTF CHER]: major subject
    NEBENFACH [pl. NEBENF CHER]: minor subject
    PFLICHTFACH [pl. PFLICHTF CHER]: required subject
    PFLICHTKURS [pl. PFLICHTKURSE]: required course
    WAHLFACH [pl. WAHLF CHER]: elective subject
    ABSCHLUSS [pl. ABSCHL SSE]: academic degree
    PR FUNG [pl. PR FUNGEN]/EXAMEN [pl. =]: examination
    [ZWISCHEN]KLAUSUR [pl. KLAUSUREN]:[midterm] final

    What happens when you finish studying at a university? In English you graduate. In German you simply either finish your studies:

    Ich bin mit meinen Studien fertig. Or you do a degree:
    Ich mache/bekomme den Abschluss (Magister, Doktor, Diplom usw.) in Mathematik (Germanistik, Anglistik ...)


    Say the following sentence out loud and quickly:
    >> This thick thinker wants to bet and pat the battered pet.

    It contains sounds which are foreign and strange to German speakers, yet which are critical to speaking good English. After all, there is a world of difference between "cheer" and "jeer" or between "pan" and "pen" or "thy" and "thigh."

    Likewise, there is a world of difference in German between "hatte" and "haette," "schon" and "schoen," and "wurde" and "wuerde." These are not just spelling conventions, or variations in sound, but differences in meaning. Be on the lookout for these differences.


    This is the word describing one of the four (five?) major FAMILIENSTAENDE. The word is an adjective, not a verb. To say "to get married" you have to say, simply, HEIRATEN (see above). The other three (four) "conditions" are:

    LEDIG [= noch nie verheiratet],
    GESCHIEDEN [= schon verheiratet, aber jetzt nicht mehr, obwohl der ehemalige Ehemann/die ehemalige Ehefrau immer noch lebt],
    VERWITWET [= schon verheiratet, aber der Ehemann/die Ehefrau lebt nicht mehr]
    (GETRENNT [verheiratet, aber die Ehepartner wohnen nicht mehr zusammen, sind aber noch nicht geschieden])


    VOR is a preposition of time ("vor zwei Wochen," "vor dem 13. Januar," "vor dem Unterricht") or of place ("vor dem Gesetz," "vor dem Haus," "vor der Tuer").

    The conjunction meaning "before" is BEVOR. Be very careful: BEVOR is NOT a preposition!! You read in German and Austrian trains the following: "Tuer nicht oeffnen, bevor der Zug haelt" but NOT "... *vor der Zug halt."

    If you need an adverb of time (cf. "What did you do before[hand]?") the word you want is VORHER. There is also the adverb VORHIN, meaning "just a moment ago."


    WANN is a direct question: "Wann kommst du nach Hause?" It is also an indirect question: "Sag mir, wann du nach Hause kommst." Don't confuse it with WENN, which means "if" or "whenever," depending on the context.

    Wenn du bald nach Hause kommst, kannst du mit uns essen.
    (Jedesmal) Wenn du das machst, kriege ich eine Wut!

    WENN - see OB

    "whether" - see OB



    This is one of the most underrated verbs in the German language. At the same time, it is one of the most useful. What does it mean?

    "to become"

    So what?, I can hear you say. You know that already. If that is true, use "to become" in a sentence in English. You have five seconds! One, two, three, four, five. Time's up! If you could not come up with an English sentence using "become" quickly, don't feel dumb. The verb is not used very much in everyday English, except in cases like "What do you want to become when you graduate?" Instead, the idea of "becoming" is more often rendered in English by verbs like

    "to get" - "I'm getting sick of all this nonsense" or
    "to grow" - "Darling, I am growing older" or
    "to turn" - "The bread is turning green"

    All of these ideas are rendered in German by WERDEN:
    Ich werde krank/muede/gruen/alt/verruckt ...

    OK, so just what is the problem? Well, here is an idea to chew on: something that is not yet, is becoming. Something that is in the process of changing, is becoming.
    Auf deutsch: das, was noch nicht ist, wird!

    As a result, the PASSIV in German is formed with the appropriate form of WERDEN.

    What about the future? What about it? Forget about it! Learn WERDEN with the passive and WERDEN by itself. Let the future take care of itself.

    Charles J. James
    Department of German, Department of Curriculum & Instruction
    University of Wisconsin - Madison

    List of 474 German speech errors.

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