Posted on by Peter Rettig

Inflation Worries - German Hyperinflation and 50 Milliarden Mark Stamps

1-5 Millions stamps during German HyperinflationSince 2021, the word "inflation" has become a topic of conversations, opinions and forecasts in the US, Europe and other countries.
And so, questions by my sons and grandchildren about the German hyperinflation made me look for our German stamp collection from that time.
My grandfather, and my father as a young boy, had put it together in the early 1920s. Some of the numbers on those stamps truly boggle your mind.

The US Experience

Let's first look at what's happening here. For the younger generation in the US, “inflation” is a term that they know. But they have started only recently to experience its effects themselves.

We've all now noticed that many goods have become more expensive over a short time. Indeed, only after 2020 did the US annual inflation rate move above the 5%, something we had seen in the seventies and eighties and then again, briefly, in 2008.
The chart below shows the spike around 1980, which was close to 14%, and then the more recent jump in 2020.

US Inflation rate  and Annual change 1960-2020

Source:https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/inflation-rate-cpi

The Chart below shows the 12 month Change of the Consumer Price index for selected categories for the last 20 years by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (Note also the spike and decline after the “Great Recession” 2007/8)

Consumer Price Index Chnage by US Bureau of Labor Statistics

(After spiking to 9.1% in June 2022, the annual inflation rate for the United States has leveled off to 6.5% for the 12 months ended December 2022, according to U.S. Labor Department data published Jan. 12, 2023.)

The fear of inflation had some worried last year that the US might follow other countries with double-digit inflation rates. Or that the US might even head towards a so-called “hyperinflation”, which Germany experienced during the early 1920s.

These fears were and still are clearly unwarranted, especially when one understands the specific reasons that caused the German hyperinflation.

German Hyperinflation

Germany's currency had already started to lose its value at the beginning of the war in 1914: In order to pay for its costs, the Reichsbank suspended the paper Mark's convertibility to gold.  After having lost the war in 1918, Germany was obligated to make substantial reparation payments in "Goldmark" or hard currency.

Therefore the Reichsbank attempted to buy foreign currency on the international market with German paper money. When the first reparation installment was due on June 1 1921, the value of the German Mark had fallen from 48 paper Marks per 1 US Dollar (late 2019) to 330 paper Marks per 1 US Dollar.

Germany failed to make another agreed-upon installment payment by the end of 1922. To ensure reparation payments, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr Valley, an area that was heavily industrialized, in January 1923.

A weak German government, more afraid of Communists and unemployment, but also cognizant of the public outrage about the occupation, encouraged its own workers to engage in “passive resistance” and, through the labor unions, called a general strike.

The only way for the Treasury to make good on the government's promise and pay the wages for the +/- 2 million workers and civil servants on the Ruhr Valley was to turn on the money printing presses.

As aValue of one gold Mark in paper Marks result, Germany was soon swamped with paper money, chasing a limited supply of goods.
Moreover, as money started to lose its value, people started to buy anything they could, especially, if they could barter with it. Speculation as well as hoarding of food and goods became rampant, initiating a vicious cycle: Germany's  economy slid from inflation to hyperinflation.
(Not coincidentally, Hitler's failed "Beer Hall Putsch" in Munich occurred November 8/9, 1923 at the peak of the inflation and national misery.)

The Wiki chart left shows how German's paper currency inflation started slowly after 1918, accelerated during 1921/22, then really took off after the occupation of the Ruhr Valley in January 1923.

(You can read more about the German Hyperinflation in this Wiki entry, and in this PBS essay, or specifically about the Ruhr Occupation.)

The US Inflation Experience since 2002

Back to the US: While much has been written about the Federal Reserve also turning on “the printing presses” especially after the 2008 Great Recession, the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart above shows that inflation in the US did not really become an issue again until the Covid Pandemic in 2020.

The stock market (even more than real estate prices) clearly benefited from the “easy money” after 2008. The chart below shows the changes in both the S&P 500 and the Case-Shiller Home Price Index over the last 50 years.
50 year changes of S&P 500 vs Case-Shiller Home Price index

Courtesy of Longtermtrends.net (https://www.longtermtrends.net/stocks-to-real-estate-ratio/)

There are many explanations why the US did not experience more of a currency inflation that many had predicted. But this would be the topic of another post.

Our Hyperinflation Stamp collection

Here are some images of our family “heirloom”, a stamp album titled:

“Eine Sammlung von Viererblocks aus der Zeit der Deutschen Inflation”
(A collection of blocks of four from the time of the German inflation)

Block of 4 stamps for 50 Milliard marksThe stamp album starts off with what is likely the highest denomination of any stamp in history:

A block of four (4) stamps, each with a 50 Milliarden Mark “value”.

It was issued in November 1923, shortly before the end of the German hyperinflation.

(Also note, as explained below: 1 German "Milliarde" = 1 US Billion!)

German Ruhrhilfe stamps


Even as stamp values started to increase they still showed German landmarks, or original designs, e.g. German workers, etc.


Overprinted stamps during German hyperinflation


But soon stamps lost any originality and their values were changed by simply overprinting.



Milliarden stamps during German hyperinflation


And the values started to increase ever more rapidly, until by the end of 1923 we had reached the Milliarden (billions) denomination.

 


Billions vs Milliarden

By November 1923, one US Dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German paper Marks. If you have trouble figuring what to call this number, you are not alone.
English speakers would call it “4 trillions and 210.5 billions”, while German speakers would say “4 Billion and 210.5 Milliarden”.
It is confusing that the English “billion” is the same as the German “Milliarde”, and that the English “trillion” is the same as the German “Billion”.
The English “billion” is:
                                     in French: “milliard”
                                     in Italian: “miliardo”
                                     in Spanish: “mil millones”.
                                 
So, talking about "inflation" with our young families has been interesting, both as a way of understanding the present economy, and looking at some family history using fascinating family documents.

How did the German Hyperinflation end?

The Wiki entry Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, mentioned above, describes the end quite well.
Key was the introduction of a new currency, the “Rentenmark”, whose value was backed by bonds that were indexed to the price of gold.
This monetary reform took place towards the end of 1923. By August 1924 the new monetary law allowed the exchange of a 1-trillion paper mark for one (1) Rentenmark, or one (1) “Reichsmark”.
More complicated were the laws and rules that determined how creditors were to be compensated for the catastrophic reduction in the value of debts. This included mortgages, bonds and other debt instruments that were reinstated at various rates.
It led to many corporate bankruptcies, court challenges, negotiations with many stake holders, etc., but in the end the government's actions proved successful.
The ills of hyperinflation are still part Germany's national memory. They also explain Germany's insistence on fiscal prudence and restraint.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

6 Easy German Language Games for Fun Learning

Gamesforlanguage Writing ClownsHave you started to learn some German?

Here are 6 Easy German Language Games for fun learning AND building your basic German vocabulary. (The image left shows our earlier Writing Clowns Game)

These German Language Games are set up as simple Quizzes.

Each one focuses on 4 to 8 vocabulary items and one related grammar point.

Recall and practice are part of each Quiz. As an added bonus, you'll sharpen your German pronunciation.

You'll hear the key words (nouns, verbs, etc) right at the beginning in the Car Race, without translation. Just focus on listening and repeating each word aloud.

Then you're asked to choose the correct translations.

Please note that you'll have to guess some words from context. Playing a game more than once will certainly help you remember any new vocabulary!

Gamesforlanguage: Car Chase Game8 Nouns

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #1 or on the left image.

In English all nouns have the (definite) article "the". But German has different words for "the", depending on the noun, and how you use it (eg. as subject, object, etc.)

The reason: in German, there are 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

For example: masculine - der Apfel (the apple); feminine - die Schule (the school); neuter - das Haus (the house).

While the gender of persons, such as “die Mutter” (the mother) and “der Vater” (the father), etc. is obvious in German, the gender for most other nouns seems a little random.

However, don't despair, there are a few rules that can help. Check out 10 Easy Rules to Help Your German.

It's best to learn the article together with the noun, that's what native speakers do automatically when they learn their language.

Nouns that you hear, see or speak a lot, will become automatic for you too.

(You'll see the score when you click the “Continue” arrow.)

Gamesforlanguage Snap Clouds Game8 Regular Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #2 or on the left image.

For building sentences you need verbs, and in German, verbs have personal endings that you have to know.

In English you say: I do, you do, he does, we do, they do. Only the third person singular - he, she, it - deviates from the pattern.

In German you say: ich mache, du machst, er macht, wir machen, ihr macht, sie machen. That gives you four different verb endings. On top of that, you have three ways to say "you": du machst (familiar, singular), Sie machen (formal, singular and plural), ihr macht ("you-all"- familiar, plural).

Fortunately, many German verbs are regular in the present tense. The pattern is quite easy to learn.

Do you know the endings of present tense verbs?

Test yourself in this Quiz. If you miss a couple of answers the first time, play the game again until you get the hang of it. The verbs in Quiz #2 are all regular and the endings all follow the same pattern.

And while you're focusing on the endings, you'll probably learn a few new verbs as well.

Gamesforlanguage Shootout Game8 Easy Sentences with Direct Object Nouns

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #3 or on the left image.

Even as a beginner, it's not that hard to put together sentences to say what you want to express.

In a German sentences, it's important to put a noun into the right case.

The German language has 4 cases: Nominative (subject), Accusative (direct object), Dative (indirect object), Genitive (possessive).

For English speakers, this can sound complicated. But when you learn to use them step by step, they' don't seem quite as daunting.
This Quiz tests you on masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns as direct objects.

Starting out with 8 different Nouns and their articles, you'll put together simple sentences at the end of the Quiz.

Pay attention to the gender of the nouns when they come up. When you know the noun gender, the short sentences in the Word Invader game will be easy.

GamesforLanguage Word Invaders Games8 Verbs in Sentences

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #4 or on the left image.

Now it gets a little more challenging: Not only do you need to recall the correct gender of the nouns, but you have to apply the correct verb endings.

As in the previous games, you'll also have to pay attention to different verb endings with German “sie” or “Sie”, as in “sie begrüßt uns” (she greets us), “sie erklären” (they explain), and “Sie denken” (you [formal] think).

This Quiz tests you on 8 Verbs used in simple sentences with nouns and pronouns as directs objects.

Play it several times until you get a 90% score! (You'll see the score when you click the “Continue” arrow.)

Gamesforlanguage Deal-No Deal Game4 Separable Prefix Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #5 or on the left image.

Are you getting the hang of picking the correct regular verb endings? Now you can challenge yourself with separable prefix verbs, a typical feature of many German verbs.

What makes separable prefix verbs somewhat tricky, is that they require a very specific word order. In English, phrasal verbs are similar, but the word order there is more flexible.

For example: anrufen - to call, call up

You can say: I'm calling up my brother. Or: I'm calling my brother up.

In German, only one word order is possible for this sentence: “Ich rufe meinen Bruder an.” The separable prefix "an", goes to the end of the sentence.

This Quiz will test you on 4 different separable prefix verbs as part of short sentences.

And again, click the “Continue” arrow to see your correct answer percentage. Aim for at least 90%!

Gamesforlanguage Car Race Game4 Modal Verbs

Click on Vocabulary Quiz #6 or on left image.

Modal Verbs give you important tools for expressing yourself. You'll need them for almost any conversation, to express what you want, what you can or have to do, what you would like, etc.

Unfortunately, even in the present tense form German Modal Verbs follow a different pattern from regular verbs.

In this Quiz, you'll test yourself on the basic forms of 4 Modal Verbs: können (can), wollen (want), müssen (must), and the subjunctive form of "mögen", as in "ich möchte" (I would like).

As modal verbs come up frequently in everyday conversations, we recommend that you play this quiz several times, until you get the pattern down cold.

If you're learning German as an almost-beginner, these six Quizzes will test some basic German vocabulary and certain elementary points of grammar.

But they'll also encourage you to learn new words, try new sentences and to practice your pronunciation.

Learning a language does take effort and practice. If it's just a chore for you, you're not going to get very far.

Find ways to enjoy learning and practicing. These games will add a little fun and you'll feel good when you see the 100% after you finish the Shootout and Word Invader games!

More Than a German Language Game

Don't forget: You can practice German online for FREE with our 36-Scene German 1 Story: "Michael in Deutschland" and our 72-Scene German 2 Mystery Story Sequel: "Blüten in Berlin?".
(If you already know that "Blüten" means blossom in German - you'll learn that Blüten has still another meaning...).
Just login HERE.
And, if you have any language questions  - don't hesitate to contact us!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Dative and Accusative Pronouns With Easy Games

confused emoticonDo the German Accusative pronouns and Dative pronouns give you a little headache from time to time? Do you automatically know when to use use the dative or accusative form?

It not, you're not alone. But there's a way to tackle the dative and accusative forms step by step. Here you can start with the German dative pronouns.

The "dative" forms, also known as "indirect objects" are nouns or pronouns that tell you for whom or to whom an action is done.
For example:
You gave my number to him!?
Oh no, you gave her my book?
She showed me her apartment.

In English, the pronouns for the indirect object (dative) and the direct object (accusative) are the same: me, you, him, her, us, them.
However, German has different forms for the dative (indirect) and the accusative (direct) pronouns. The two exceptions are "uns" (us / to us) and "euch" (you-all / to you-all).

German Dative and Accusative Pronouns

Dat: mir - (to) me
Acc : mich - me

Dat: dir  - (to) you, familiar
Acc: dich - you, familiar

Dat: ihm - (to) him
Acc: ihn - him

Dat: ihr - (to) her
Acc: sie - her

Dat: Ihnen - (to) you, formal
Acc: Sie - you, formal

Dat: uns - (to) us
Acc: uns - us

Dat: euch - (to) you-all
Acc: euch - you-all

Dat: ihnen - (to) them
Acc: sie - them

So, how to navigate this grammatical jungle?
Start by becoming familiar with the forms. A good way to do that is by practicing some simple sentences that will help you to get the words and the sounds into your brain.

Geben, zeigen

The verbs "geben" (to give) and "zeigen" (to show) are very useful for learning dative pronoun forms.

It's pretty clear that one gives "something" (direct object /accusative case), "to someone" (indirect object /dative case).

And, that one shows "something" (direct object /accusative case), "to someone" (indirect object /dative case).

Sehen, kennen, suchen, anrufen

The verbs "sehen" (to see), "kennen" (to know, be acquainted with), "suchen" (to look for), and "anrufen" (to call, i.e. phone) clearly take a direct object (i.e. the accusative pronoun).

To help you make these forms intuitive, we've put together some games. One for Dative pronouns, one for Accusative pronouns, and a third one where you choose between Dative and Accusative.

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage Dative GameThe Dative Pronouns Game

In the Dative Pronouns Game, you'll first review the dative pronouns and some vocabulary. You'll then put basic sentences together. To ace the Dative Game, you may want to play it a couple of times.

Ich gebe ihm den Schlüssel. (I'm giving him the key.)
Kann ich Ihnen meine Handynummer geben? (Can I give you my cell number? [formal])
Geben Sie uns doch Ihre Adresse. (Do give us your address.)
Warum gibst du mir das Buch? (Why are you giving me the book?)

Sie zeigt ihnen die Zeitung. (She shows them the newspaper.)
Er zeigt dir den Stadplan. (He shows you the city map.) [familiar]
Wir zeigen ihr das Foto. (We're showing her the photo.)
Sie wollen euch die Wohnung zeigen. (They want to show you-all the apartment.)

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage Accusative GameThe Accusative Pronouns Game

In the Accusative Pronouns Game, you first review the accusative pronouns. You'll then put together basic sentences using these pronouns and verbs that take a direct object.

Er sieht dich. (He sees you. [familiar])
Wir sehen Sie. (We see you. [formal])
Ihr seht ihn. (You-all see him.)

Du kennst ihn. (You know him.)
Ihr kennt sie. (You know her /them.)
Kenne ich Sie nicht? (Don't I know you? [formal])

Ich suche sie. (I'm looking for her /them.)
Er sucht euch. (He's looking for you-all.)
Wir suchen sie. (We're looking for her /them.)

Du rufst mich nie an. (You never call me.)
Ich rufe dich später an. (I'll call you later. [familiar])

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage German Pronoun GameThe Practice Pronouns Game

If you have navigated the previous two games successfully, the Practice Pronouns Game will be your next challenge.
Here we have Accusative and Dative forms mixed up and you'll also have to choose again between the familiar and formal  forms.

Dative Prepositions

Some German prepositions always take the dative case. Here are 5 common ones:
bei, mit, nach, von, zu

Examples:
bei (near, next, at, with)
Sie wohnt jetzt bei mir (She now lives with me /at my place.)

mit (with, together with)
Ich gehe gern mit dir ins Kino. (I like going to movies with you.)

nach (after, to [direction])
Bitte, nach Ihnen. (Please, after you. Go ahead.)

von (from)
Ich habe heute einen Brief von ihm bekommen. (I got a letter from him today.)

zu (to [direction])
Gehst du heute zu ihr? (Are you going to her place today?)

Dual Prepositions

You thought that you have figured out now whether to use the accusative or dative form of the pronouns?
But I have bad news: There are also a number of common German prepositions that take either the dative or the accusative case. Generally speaking, the difference is one of "static position" (with the dative), "change of position" (with the accusative).

an (on, at)
auf (on, on top of)
hinter (behind)
in (in, into)
neben (beside)
über (over, above)
unter (under, below)
vor (in front of, before)
zwischen. (between)

These prepositions are best explained with examples using a noun rather than a pronoun.
We'll do this in another blog post.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage Favorites During Covid-19 in 2020

Gamesforlanguage Games and Stories Ten years ago, GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: a language teacher and course editor, a retired engineer, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife collaborated on what has turned out to be a fun and rewarding enterprise.

Over the years, we've had a steady stream of users and have gotten valuable feedback. We've also found plenty of incentive for our own language learning by using our own courses, joining online language learning groups and trying out other language programs and apps.

Our site is free to all - without any Google advertisements - a fact that more and more teachers and parents seem to appreciate as well. You can play our Quick Games and Podcasts, and read our Blog Posts by just clicking on the links.

Only our language Courses require a simple registration. This way, players can pick-up the story and continue learning and practicing where they last logged off.

At the beginning of a new year, we usually look back to determine what has interested our users most. Over the last few months of 2020, we've noticed a substantial increase in groups playing our Quick Games and travel-story Courses.

Registrations increased by users with an institutional email address, in particular schools. Most of the students registered that way play Courses in addition to Quick Games.

Although we don't know the email addresses of users who just play Quick Games, Podcasts, or read our Blog Posts, we are able to identify which content receives the most traffic.

Travel Story Courses

Our original purpose for Gamesforlanguage was to combine the idea of learning a new language with a travel story and fun games. Being language learners ourselves, we've used (and are still using) many different language programs.

Like most people, we want to avoid getting bored while learning. One antidote seems to be using stories. You can read about that in our 5 Top Reasons for Learning a language with Stories.Gamesforlanguage.com Registration Page

Not surprisingly, it was our German courses that had the most players from registered users last year. This may also be due to the fact that we have two(2) 36-lesson German courses, as well as an active German Facebook page.

If German or any of our other languages - French, Italian, and Spanish - interest you, click on the registration page or the screenshot above, and register. (Our Course English for Spanish Speakers is still in development and has 3 levels at this time.)

Quick Games

We currently have over 300 Quick Language Games, and we are adding new games every few weeks. These can be played by just clicking on the Quick Games link on our website and selecting the language you want to practice.

Each fun game only takes a couple of minutes or so. It helps you practice a few words, a grammar point or some typical phrases.

We post one of tLearn German - A Game A Day Facebook Pagehe nearly 90 Quick German Games every weekday on our German Facebook page, Learn German -A Game A Day.

Guten Morgen is the most popular German Quick Game, while Numbers 1-20 is the favorite of learners of Italian, and Numbers 21 and beyond of those learning French.

Blog Posts

Since we started Gamesforlanguage in January 2011, we've added nearly 400 Blog Posts about language learning, travel experiences, and related topics. That's an average of over 3 posts per month.

It's always interesting to see which of the older posts have become perennials.Victoria des Los Angeles and La Paloma lyrics Our 2013 post about La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, was also a favorite in 2020. (And if you like that idea for learning Spanish, we can suggest one of our partner sites, Language-Zen.)

For those who have tried our travel-story based Courses, it's no surprise that we like stories for learning and practice. We are obviously not the only ones. Our 2016 post: Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning has been very popular.

And, as it's quite a short post, we're always surprised to see the 2013 entry - Quick French: “On y va”, “Allons-y!” - to be on our most read list year after year!

Podcasts

We have not yet promoted and expanded our Podcasts. (Something we're going to focus on in 2021.) Most of our podcasts are the MP3 audios and chapters of each of our courses.

Gamesforlanguage:German 2 Podcast screenshot We believe that listening to the story BEFORE or AFTER playing a course lesson, helps you to internalize the sound and rhythm of the language and to memorize the phrases.

In the Podcast section, the German 2 Story “Blüten in Berlin” was the favorite in 2020. No surprise there.

We are planning to add more Podcasts about Language Learning, Culture and Travel.

We're hopeful that in the fall of 2021, we can again travel to Europe. In any case, until travel is safe again, there' s plenty of time to practice languages online, to read books, to listen to podcasts and to watch foreign movies.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The German Separable Prefix “mit-”

Screenshot of of German prefix "mit" Quick Game German prefixes are hard for English speakers as they often seem capricious. When used in sentences, they are sometimes attached, and sometimes they're not.

And where to put them if they're not?

Mark Twain, who had a love/hate relationship with the German language, put it this way:

"The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German."  (Mark Twain's Speeches, "Disappearance of Literature" in twainquotes.)

Our German Quick Language Game with the separable prefix "mit-" is a popular one. That's not surprising. The separable prefix "mit-" (with, along with) connects to a lot of common verbs, adding the idea of "with [sb]", "along with [sb]", "together with [sb]" etc.

When prefixes in German are added to a verb, they change the verb's meaning, sometimes a lot. But sometimes the new meaning is easy to guess, as in the examples below:

kommen (to come) - mitkommen (to come with, come along).
bringen (to bring) - mitbringen (to bring with, bring along)
nehmen (to take) - mitnehmen (to take with, take along)

What makes German prefixes often tricky is the fact that there are three types of them:

1. Inseparable Prefixes are the easiest ones.

They are never detached from the verb.
Common inseparable prefixes: be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, miss-, ver-, zer-
Examples are:

befreien (to liberate)
empfehlen (to recommend)
entschuldigen (to excuse, apologize)
erkennen (to recognize)
gefallen (to like)
missverstehen (to misunderstand)
versuchen (to try)
zerschneiden (to cut into pieces)

2. Separable Prefixes are the ones that can cause trouble

And there are a lot of them. They detach from the main-clause verb in the present tense and simple past.
Common separable prefixes: ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, ein-, hin-, her-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, zurück-

abholen (to call for [sb, sth], pick up)
anrufen (to call [sb])
aufmachen (to open)
ausbrechen (to break out, escape)beifügen (to add, enclose)
einladen (to invite)
hingehen (to go there)
herkommen (to come here, approach)
mitkommen (to come with, along)
nachschlagen (to look up [a word])
vorschlagen (to suggest, propose)
zumachen (to shut, close)
zurückgehen (to go back)

3. Prefixes that are Separable or Inseparable

Fortunately there are not that many of them, and we only mention them in case you encounter one of them.
Common examples: durch-, über-, unter-, um-, wider-
The stress on the verb gives you a clue, as in the one example below.

Separable Prefix: umschreiben - to write again, rewrite (literal meaning, "um" is stressed)
Inseparable Prefix: umschreiben - to paraphrase (meaning is not literal, "schreiben" is stressed)

Now, taking our three separable prefix verbs: "mitkommen, mitbringen, mitnehmen", let's look at what happens to "mit-" in the various types of common German sentences.

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Present-Tense Sentences

In sentences with one subject and one verb, the prefix "mit-" separates from the infinitive and goes the end of a sentence. It is now an independent word.

mitkommen - Kommst du mit? (Are you coming with me/with us?)
mitbringen - Ich bringe ein paar Freunde mit. (I'm bringing a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich nehme es gerne mit. (I'm happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Past-Tense Sentences

Note: The simple past of verbs is not used a lot in conversational German (except with the verbs "sein" and "haben", and for telling a story or a past event).

You'll see the simple past routinely in books and newspaper stories.It looks like this:Screenshot German "mit" Quick Game

mitkommen - Du kamst mit. (You came with me/us.)
mitbringen - Ich brachte ein paar Freunde mit. (I brought along a couple of friends.)
mitnehmen - Ich nahm es gerne mit. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" as a Past Participle:

Note: The prefix "mit-" attaches to the participle of the stem word, i.e. "gekommen", "gebracht", "genommen".
Here are the same sentences in conversational German.

mitkommen - Du bist mitgekommen. (You came along.)
mitbringen - Ich habe ein paar Freunde mitgebracht. (I brought a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich habe es gern mitgenommen. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" following a Modal Verb:

Not much to worry about here: just use the infinitive.

mitkommen - Du kannst nicht mitkommen. (You can't come along.)
mitbringen - Ich kann ein paar Freunde mitbringen. (I can bring a couple of friends along.)
mitnehmen - Ich kann es gerne mitnehmen. (I can take it with me, no problem.)

Other Verbs with the Prefix “mit-” 

The meaning of most of these is easy to guess.

mitreden - to join in or add to a conversation
Da kann ich nicht mitreden. (I can't add anything to this conversation.)

mitgehen - to go with [sb]
Ja, meine Kinder gehen auch mit. (Yes, my children are also going with me.)

mitgehen lassen - to steal, pinch, swipe
Ich glaube, er hat einen Silberlöffel mitgehen lassen. (I think he pinched a silver spoon.)

mitmachen - to join in, take part in [an activity]
Heute hat er beim Spiel nicht mitgemacht. (Today he did not join in the game.)

mitfahren - to ride along [as a passenger]
Kann ich mit dir mitfahren? (Can a get a ride with you?)

mitschreiben - to take notes
Ich mache heute blau. Kannst du für mich mitschreiben? (I'm cutting class today. Can you take notes for me?)

mitspielen - join in the game, be involved
Willst du mitspielen? (Do you want to join in the game?)

mitkriegen - catch, get [what's been said, or done]
Das habe ich nicht mitgekriegt. (I didn't catch that.)

mithalten - to keep up with somebody
Du rennst zu schnell. Da kann ich nicht mithalten. (You're running too fast. I can't keep up.)

The more you engage with a language - by reading, listening, speaking and writing - the more familiar you become with how it works. Prefix verbs are no exception.

Practice with short sentences until you can confidently push those prefixes around.
And by the time you are able to "shovel in German" between a prefix and the stem verb, you should feel pretty good about yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Numbers 0-13 Idioms: “Ach du grüne Neune” and others

Blumenstraße 9b, Berlin[Updated: 07-18-2022. One of our readers kindly suggested that we should add 13 to our 1-12 German Numbers Idioms: "Jetzt schlägt es 13 (dreizehn)! Diese Zahl habt ihr vergessen. Bitte möglichst noch dazufügen".
And, why not? Scroll down to find out what it means.]     

Idioms are a wonderful, expressive part of any language. But because you cannot guess the meaning from the words in them, they can be puzzling. And, some idioms are regional.

From time to time, even native speakers come across idioms in their own language that they haven't heard before.

I spent my childhood years in Austria (and the Netherlands) before immigrating with my parents to Canada. In our family, we continued to speak German among ourselves. So when I returned to Austria and Germany as a teenager and young adult, I understood and used most of the idioms I've listed below.

But there was one exception:
When my father-in-law once exclaimed: “Ach du grüne Neune!” I had no idea what he meant. It only was clear that he was surprised at something. But why the number nine?  And with an "e" added on: "Neune".

When I heard this expression again the other day, I consulted the Duden for more German idioms with numbers. The Duden is a German language dictionary published by the Bibliographisches Institut GmbH. It is updated regularly and can be searched online.

Below you'll find thirteen German Numbers Idioms:

0 - Null: Null Bock haben.

Ram goatIdiom: Not feeling like it
Literally: To have zero buck. (Photo by Paxson Woelber on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für Keine Lust zu, auf etwas haben. (Colloquial for having no inclination to do something or no desire for something.)
Origin: “Null Bock haben” became part of teen slang in the 1980's. A popular novel that came out in 1984 was called "Null Bock auf DDR", which described drop-out youth cultures in East Germany.

There's also some speculation that “Bock” (German for “buck” or “ram”) goes back to the Romani word “bokh”, meaning “hunger”. This would suggest that “null Bock haben” would mean "no hunger/desire for something".

1 - Eins: Jemandem eins auswischen.

Idiom: To pull a fast one on someone.
Literally: To give someone a swipe.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für “jemanden schaden”. (Colloquial for "harming someone".)
Origin: The quick sweeping movement of a sword is likely the origin of this idiom. First used by fraternities to describe a quick attack in a duel, it gradually entered everyday language.

Hot Dog2 - Zwei: Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.

Idiom: There's an end for everything.
Literally: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. (Photo by Charles Deluviu on Unsplash)
Duden: Scherzhaft für "alles muss einmal aufhören". (A humorous way to say that "everything has to end sometime".)
Origin: The saying has shown up in various places, including in Walter Scott's novel "Woodstock or the Cavalier" (1826).

In 1987, the German pop singer Stephan Remmler of the music genre Neue Deutsche Welle composed and produced the song: "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei".

3 - Drei: Aller guten Dinge sind drei.

Idiom: Third time's the charm.
Literally: All good things are three.
Duden: Ausspruch zur Rechtfertigung von etwas, was jemand ein drittes Mal tut, oder zum dritten Mal probiert. (A way to justify doing or trying something for the third time.)
Origin: This saying probably goes back to the Middle Ages, when a council meeting took place three times a year. A defendant thus had three chances to face his judges. If he did not appear by the third time that the council met, he would be sentenced by default.

4 - Vier: Alle Viere von sich strecken.

Idiom: To unwind. (Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash)
Literally: To stretch out all fours (i.e. your arms and legs).
Duden: Sich behaglich ausgestreckt ausruhen. (Flop down into a comfortable position and relax.)
Origin: This idiom is based on the number four, the two arms and two legs of a human being.

Fünf - 5: Du musst auch mal fünf gerade sein lassen.

Idiom: Don't be a stickler.
Literally: Sometimes you have to let five be an even number.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "etwas nicht so genau nehmen". (Colloquial expression for stretching a point here and there, not insisting on perfection.)
Origin: Five is an uneven number. So, letting five be "even", means that you accept that something is not perfect or correct.

6 - Sechs. Eine Sechs schreiben.

Idiom: To flunk.
Literally: To write a six.
Duden: Eine Arbeit schreiben, die mit der Note 6 bewertet wird. (Write a test or exam that gets an F grade.)
Origin: This phrase refers to the grading system in German schools, which uses a 6 or 5 point scale. In that system, a "6" means a failing grade.

Well-worn Boots7 - Sieben: Mit Siebenmeilenstiefeln.

Idiom: At breakneck speed.
Literally: With seven-league boots. (Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash)
Duden: Mit sehr großen Schritten, sehr schnell voran gehen. (Getting ahead using very large steps, going very quickly.)
Origin: "Seven-league boots" appeared as "bottes de sept lieues" in the fairy tale "Le Petit Poucet" by the French poet and storyteller Charles Perrault.

The tale was published in 1697 as part of Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. The seven-league boots gave to the wearer the ability to travel far and at high speed, i.e. he could do seven leagues in a single stride.

8 - Acht: Eine Achterbahnfahrt.

Idiom: A roller coaster ride.
Literally: A figure-8 train ride.
Duden: Schwanken zwischen Extremen; Auf und Ab. (Fluctuating, wavering between two extremes; Having ups and downs).
Origin: "Eine Achterbahnfahrt" is a high-speed ride in an amusement park set on an elevated rail, which often has the shape of an eight. The ride takes you through tight curves and sudden ups and down.

In our times, you frequently hear people say that the stock market in Germany and elsewhere is "eine Achterbahnfahrt".

9 - Neun: Ach du grüne Neune!

Idiom: Good grief!
Literally: Oh, you green nine!
Duden: Umgangssprachlicher Ausruf der Verwunderung oder des Erschreckens; "Neune" eine Variante für "Neun". (A Colloquial expression of surprise or shock. "Neune" is a variation of "Neun", as in bowling when "all nine" pins fall - "alle Neune". )
Origin: Several stories around the origin of this expression exist. One tells of a theater on the Blumenstraße 9b in Berlin, which had its main entrance on the "Grünen Weg" (Green Road). The theater produced lively local plays. Behind the theater was a garden restaurant with chairs and tables said to have been painted green.

Another theory points to French fortune-telling cards where Pik Neun (English: Nine of Spade) is a green card and forebodes bad luck.

10 - Zehn: Da bringen mich keine zehn Pferde hin.

Idiom: Wild horses can't drag me there.
Literally: No ten horses will get me there. (Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "unter keinen Umständen irgendwohin gehen, oder etwas tun". (Colloquial for "absolutely refusing to go somewhere or do something".)
Origin: One explanation for this idiom apparently goes back to the Middle Ages when ten horses were not enough compensation for taking a bride.

Another, more obvious one, is that horses are strong animals, but the person's dislike for doing something happens to be even stronger.

11 - Elf : Elfmeter schießen.

Idiom: Kick from the 11 meter penalty spot (in soccer).
Literally: Shooting eleven meters.
Duden: Nach bestimmten schweren Regelverstößen innerhalb des Strafraums verhängte Strafe, bei der der Ball vom Elfmeterpunkt aus direkt auf das Tor geschossen werden darf; Strafstoß.
(A punishment given to a player after specific serious foul-play offenses within the penalty area. The ball can then be kicked from the eleven meter point directly onto the goal; penalty shot.)
Origin: "Elfmeter" signals that the spot is 11 meters away from the goal line. The penalty area (16 meter from the goal posts) and the 11 meter penalty spot were introduced in 1902.

The first "penalty" shoot-out (to decide a tied game score) in the World Cup was on January 9th, 1977, when Tunisia beat Morocco.

5 to 12 on clock12 - Zwölf: Es ist fünf vor zwölf.

Idiom: It's high time.
Literally: It's five to twelve.
Duden: Es ist höchste Zeit einzugreifen, etwas zu stoppen. (It's high time we intervened or stopped something.)
Origin: One story about this idiom goes back to earlier times when a master builder and his crew were working on the scaffolding of a church tower.

At "five to twelve" they would be warned to come down quickly, because the loud ring of the church bells would endanger the hearing of whoever was close by.

The expression "es ist fünf vor zwölf" was frequently used by health care officials in Germany to warn about the rapid increase of Covid-19 infections. You also hear it as a warning of the impending climate change crisis.

13 - Dreizehn: Jetzt schlägts (aber) dreizehn.

Idiom: Enough is enough.
Literally: (But) now the clock is striking thirteen.
Duden: Das geht aber zu weit, jetzt ist Schluss damit. (That's going too far, time to stop it.)
Origin: According to popular belief, thirteen is an unlucky number. (Die dreizehn gilt im Volksglauben als Unglückszahl.)

When you think about it, most of these expressions are quite apropos for many moments in our lives right now. How often have I thought to myself: "Darauf habe ich null Bock" (I really don't feel like doing this).

Or: "Ich will nichts als alle Viere von mir strecken" (What I really want is get comfortable and relax). I especially like the idea of "Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei".

More seriously for language learners: When you practice these idioms, you also get some insight into how spoken language is put together. And, you can wow your German friends, by dropping one or two of these idioms into a party conversation or in a Zoom chat.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Sausages, Fruits, Ships and More in German Idioms

Sausages on GrillIdioms - in any language - can lead to hilarious laughter or confused looks, when they are translated literally into another language.

I was reminded of that last year in French-speaking Switzerland when a German with obviously limited French skills, express his frustration to his partner like this: “C'est me absolument saucisse!” (Lit. That's absolutely sausage to me.)

From his partner's confused look, followed by a loud chuckle, I concluded that she also understood the German meaning.

The German idiom “Das ist mir völlig Wurst” means “Das ist mir völlig egal” and translates as “I couldn't care less.” (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)

Not surprisingly – Germans are fond of good sausages – and there are several other German, sausage-related idioms. While some idioms can be understood with a little imagination, others are impossible to guess.

And as no. 12 below shows, the meaning of some idioms can change over time. Here are 12 German idioms that you may not be familiar with.

1. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst!

Idiom: Don't get bent out of shape, don't be a sorehead!
Literally: Don't play the offended liverwurst!
Explanation: Someone goes off in a huff and sulks because his feelings were hurt.
German: Jemand zieht sich zurück und schmollt, weil er glaubt, dass man ihn gekränkt hat.
Origin: Scholars in the Middle Ages supposedly assumed that a person's emotions - anger, sadness, love, etc. - were produced in the liver. So if someone got annoyed, it's his or her liver where the emotion came from.

Plus, there's another traditional story behind the "offended liverwurst". There, a butcher has all kinds of different sausages in a kettle. When the kettle boils, he takes out all the other sausages first, because they need a shorter cooking time. So, the liverwurst bursts in anger because it's the only one left in the kettle.

2. In den sauren Apfel beißenBiting in a sour apple

Idiom: to bite the bullet
Literally: to bite into the sour apple (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)
Explanation: To do something unpleasant, even though you find it hard to do.
German: Etwas Unangenehmes tun, obwohl es einem schwerfällt.
Origin: This expression is quite old. It comes up in one of Luther's letters where he writes: "Not lehrt in saure Äpfel beißen". (Hard times teach you to bite into sour apples.)

It means, that if you have no other choice, you'll just have to eat the sour apples. For example, if you want to pass your exam, you have to study for it.

3. Mit dem ist nicht gut Kirschen essen.

Plate of red cherriesIdiom: Best not to tangle with him.
Literally: Eating cherries with him is not pleasant. (Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash)
Explanation: He's hard to get along with.
German: Mit ihm kann man nicht gut auskommen.
Origin: For this expression there's an interesting origin. It dates back to the Middle Ages when cherry trees were not abundant and grew mostly just in monasteries or in gardens of the rich. Should you be passing a group of dignified gentlemen eating cherries, it could happen that they would chase you off and spit pits into your face to boot.

So, there are people that you wouldn't want to eat cherries with because they would treat you badly.
That could refer to people who think that they are better than you, and who are clearly contemptuous of who you are.

4. Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus.

Idiom: What goes around, comes around.Sunny forest
Literally: The way you call into the woods is the way it comes back. (Photo by Stepan Unar on Unsplash)
Explanation: The way you treat someone will determine their reaction.
German: So wie man jemanden behandelt, reagiert dieser auch darauf.
Origin: This expression probably goes back to the experience of hearing an echo in the woods - your voice bounces back after you've called to someone. The echo has a similar sound to what you called in the first place.

So more generally, if you shout at someone in anger, they often respond in anger too. If you don't treat others with respect, they may not respect you either.

5. Um den heißen Brei herum reden

Bowl of hot porridgeIdiom: to beat around the bush
Literally: to talk around the hot porridge (Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash)
Explanation: Avoid giving your honest and direct opinion.
German: Nicht ehrlich und direkt seine Meinung sagen.
Origin: Initially, the expression was: "Wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen". (To tiptoe like a cat around the hot porridge.) The cat was of course looking for a cooler part of the porridge to start eating.

If you talk with someone who in the conversation tiptoes like a cat around the hot porridge, it means that they are afraid or reluctant to broach a certain subject.

6. Auf dem falschen Dampfer sein

Idiom: to bark up the wrong treeOld steamboat
Literally: to be on the wrong steamboat (Photo by ZEKERIYA SEN on Unsplash)
Explanation: To misunderstand something, be totally mistaken.
German: Etwas falsch verstehen, sich irren.
Origin: In the early 19th century, steamboat travel became increasingly popular in Germany, especially on the Rhine.
By 1850, steamship travel up and down the Rhine reached a million passengers. It was considered safer than travel by land, where raids and holdups were still common. By 1900, transatlantic crossings by steamship were well established.

If you now found yourself on the "wrong steamship", it was a real problem since the next harbor was often far off. The image of being on the "wrong steamship" suggests a grave error, that someone was way off in their thinking.

7. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

pairs of legsIdiom: Your lies will catch up with you.
Literally: Lies have short legs. (Photo by Matheus Vinicius on Unsplash)
Explanation: It's not worth it to lie because the truth will come out.
German: Es lohnt sich nicht zu lügen, denn die Wahrheit kommt immer heraus.
Origin: The image of a Lie having short legs suggests that someone with short legs simply cannot run that fast. So, the Truth with its longer legs (as we assume) can easily catch up to the Lie and expose the untruth.

8. Das ist Schnee von gestern.

Idiom: That's old hat. Yesterday's snow
Literally: That is snow from yesterday.
Explanation: The matter is no longer important.
German: Die Sache ist nicht mehr von Bedeutung.
Origin: Possibly, this expression goes back to François Villon's "Ballade des dames du temps jadis", (Literally: Ballad of the Ladies of Long ago), which has the line "Mais où sont les neiges d’automne ?" (But where are the snows of autumn?)

When something is "snow from yesterday", it means that it's not new, not important, not interesting, not fresh.

9. Etwas mit in Kauf nehmen

Idiom: to put up with something
Literally: to accept something along with a purchase you've made
Explanation: To accept something because it's inevitable.
German: Etwas als unvermeidlich hinnehmen.
Origin: This expression comes from the traditional world of trade and commerce. It was often customary for merchants to offer the combination of a high quality product with one of lesser quality. Or, the combination of a product that was high in demand, with one not so in demand. If the buyer needed the former product, he would also accept to take the latter one.

In that sense, "etwas in Kauf nehmen", means that if you really want something, you would accept certain unavoidable disadvantages that come with it. Or, accept the risks of an action that you see as inevitable.

10. Wo gehobelt wird, da fallen Späne.

Wood shavingsIdiom: You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Literally: Where a (carpenter's) plane is used, shavings will fall. (Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Sawinery)
Explanation: A decision can also have disadvantages.
German: Eine Entscheidung kann auch Nachteile mit sich bringen.
Origin: This is a saying that originated in the world of trades, and points specifically to a carpenter's craft. When you "plane" ("hobeln"), you keep removing layers of wood until you smooth out the rough spots.

On the one hand, this expression can be used to justify ruthless or drastic behavior. On the other hand, it can also be a bit of wisdom: Something that has a lot of positives could also have disadvantages.

11. Aus dem Schneider sein

Idiom: to be out of the woodsTailor at work
Literally: to be no longer a tailor (Photo by Salvador Godoy on Unsplash)
Explanation: "To be out of the tailor" means that you have overcome a difficult situation, that the worst is behind you.
German: Aus dem Schneider sein, heißt eine schwierige Situation überwunden, das Schlimmste überstanden haben.
Origin: In the card game Skat, to be no longer a "tailor" (a profession of low standing in earlier times) means that you have more than half of the points needed to win (i.e. more than 30 points).

The expression "aus dem Schneider sein" is still commonly used in German. Actually, I've heard it multiple times used in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in German TV broadcasts. When will we all be "out of the tailor"?

12. Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge.

One eyeIdiom 1: They go together hand in glove.
Idiom 2: They go together like chalk and cheese.
Literally: That fits like the fist on the eye.
Explanation: Things go together very well or they don't go together at all.
German: Etwas passt sehr gut zusammen, oder gar nicht.
Origin: The German expression "Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge" seems to have a clear message: Having someone put their fist on your eye is not a good thing. However, curiously enough, this expression is mostly used to mean the opposite.

Initially, the idiom was "Das reimt sich wie die Faust aufs Auge" (That rhymes like the fist on the eye). For one, "Faust" and "Auge" do not rhyme. Plus, fist and eye don't go together, the fist is hard, the eye is soft and delicate.

But already early on, the idiom was used ironically to mean the opposite, that two things fit perfectly together. Though, the original meaning shows up too.

So, to clearly understand what someone is telling you, you have to pay attention to the context in which it is used, and/or the speaker's tone of voice. For example, what does it mean when your partner tells you that your shirt and scarf go together like "a fist on the eye"?!

Keeping a few idioms in your German language “quiver” will make your language more colorful and authentic. And maybe at the next post-coronavirus dinner party you'll contribute to some laughter and fun.

For the German idioms that are listed here, I consulted a number of different sites. You can find out more about these expressions, or find new ones in these: Redensarten.net, Redensartenindex.de, Geolino Wissen, Wortbedeutung Info.

(For French idioms see Apples, Butter, Rain and more in French Idioms.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Use the German Modal Verb "können"

Gamesfrolanguage.com: German Modal Shoot Quick GameNo better way to practice the German Modal Verb "können" than with one of Gamesforlanguage's most popular games: the German Modal Shoot.
It's a three-minute interactive online game that gives you a quick practice of the basic forms of the German modals.

What are Modal Verbs?

Modal Verbs are helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs. They add a chunk of meaning to the main verb of a sentence.
In conversations they show up all the time.

German has six modals. They express ability, necessity, obligation, permission, a wish, etc.
They are:
- können (be able, can),
- müssen (to have to, must),
- sollen (shall, ought to),
- dürfen (be permitted, may),
- wollen (to want) and
- mögen (to like).

So for example, take the sentence: Ich arbeite heute (Architect greeting foremanI'm working today) and add the modals:
- Ich kann heute arbeiten. (I can work today.)
- Ich muss heute arbeiten. (I have to work today.)
- Ich soll heute arbeiten. (I ought to work today.)
- Ich darf heute arbeiten. (I'm allowed to work today.)
- Ich will heute arbeiten. (I want to work today.)

But: Ich möchte heute arbeiten. (I would like to work today.)
Arggh, here you would use the (subjunctive) "would" form in German: "möchte", not "mag".
(The present forms of "mögen" can't be used with an infinitive verb.)

The modal "können" (can, to be able) is a very useful helping verb.

But its changing forms and conjugations often make it frustrating for the English-speaking learner, who is only used to “can” and “could”.

German Modal Verb "können" - Present Tense

In the Present singular form, "können" changes its stem vowel from "ö" to "a":
- ich kann (I can)
- du kannst (you[fam.] can)
- er, sie, es kann (he, she, it can)
- wir können (we can)
- ihr könnt (you-all can)
- sie, Sie können - they, you[form.] can

Below are examples of different ways you can use it.

"Können" - for a polite offer or request:
- Ich kann Ihnen helfen. (I can help you.)
- Können Sie/Kannst du mir helfen? (Can you help me?)
- Ja, das kann ich. (Yes, I can.)

"Können" to express know-how:
- Er kann Gitarre spielen. (He can play the guitar.)
- Kannst du Deutsch? (Do you know German? i.e. Are you able to speak German?)
- Ja, aber ich kann kein Englisch. (Yes, but I don't know any English.)

"Können" to express possibility:
- Das kann doch nicht wahr sein. (Surely that can't be true.)
- Kann das wirklich stimmen? (Is that really correct?)
- Ja ja, heute kann's regnen. (Yes yes, today it may rain.)

"Können" to ask or give permission:
- Kann ich jetzt gehen? (Can I go now?)
- Nein, das können Sie nicht. (No, you can't. [formal])
- Ja, du kannst. (Yes, go ahead. [familiar])

Did you get all this? If so try this Quiz #1 for "können" on our sister site Lingo-Late.
Or, if you are looking for a fun German Quick Game: Practice "Können"

Modal Verb "können" - Simple Past Tense

Unfortunately the Simple Past is not that simple for English speakers, who conveniently use "could" for all persons.
In German, the stem drops the umlaut, and is "konn-" for all persons. But you still need to add the so-called "weak" personal endings for the Simple Past:
- ich konnte (I could)
- du konntest (you could)
- er, sie, es konnte (he, she, it could)
- wir konnten (we could)
- ihr konntet (you-all could)
- sie, Sie konnten (they, you could)

Past situations:
- Sie konnte mich nicht verstehen. (She couldn't understand me.)
- Ich war in Deutschland aber ich konnte kein Deutsch. (I was in Germany but I didn't know German.)
- Warum konntest du mich nicht anrufen? (Why couldn't you call me?)

For making excuses:
The Simple Past of "können" is also perfect for making excuses, especially when you add "leider" (unfortunately)
- Ich konnte leider nicht anrufen. (Unfortunately, I couldn't call .)
- Leider konnten wir nicht früher kommen. (Unfortunately, we couldn't come earlier.)
- Mein Mann konnte leider seine Autoschlüssel nicht finden. (Unfortunately, my husband couln't find his car keys.)

Modal Verb "können" - Imperfect Subjunctive Tense

This unapproachable-sounding tense is actually easier, if you remember the Simple Past forms above. You just add an umlaut to every Simple Past form.
- ich könnte - I could, would be able
- du könntest - you could, would be able
- er, sie, es könnte - he, she it could, would be able
- wir könnten - we could, would be able
- ihr könntet - you-all could, would be able
- sie, Sie könnten - they, you could, would be able

Use this tense for polite requests (with or without "bitte"):
- Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen ... (Could you please tell me ...)
- Könntest du mir das Salz geben? (Could you pass me the salt?)
- Könnte ich etwas anderes bestellen? (Could I order something different?

Make a polite suggestion:
- Wir könnten jetzt gehen. (We could go now. Let's go now.)
- Ich könnte dich morgen anrufen. (I could call you tomorrow.)
- Du könntest auch später gehen. (You could also go later.)

Express a tentative possibility:
- Das könnte teuer werden. (That could get expensive.)
- Es könnte morgen schneien. (It could snow tomorrow.)
- Wir könnten den 8Uhr Zug nehmen. (We could take the 8 o'clock train.)

Related verbs: können and kennen

Hearing the difference between “können” and “kennen” is often a challenge for the beginning German learner.
We've seen that the auxiliary verb "können" means "to be able, to know how".
On the other hand, the verb "kennen", means "to know, be acquainted with", referring to a person, a place, a song, a book, etc.
You say:
- Peter und ich, wir kennen uns. (Peter and I, we know each other.)
- Ich kenne Helsinki noch nicht. (I don't know Helsinki yet.)
- Kennen Sie London gut? (Do you know London well?)
- Kennst du dieses Buch? (Do you know this book?)

One clue to know whether you hear a form of “können” or one of “kennen” is to listen for another verb: In most cases, the auxiliary verb “können” needs another verb. (But as you've seen above there are exceptions.)

So, go ahead and use "können" as much as you can.
Ich kenne dich nicht, aber ich weiß, du kannst es. (I don't know you, but I know that you can do it.)

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“Offerieren" – “Offro io”: being surprised in Gstaad, Switzerland

Glasses with nose padsSometimes, your day can just become a little brighter after you have been pleasantly surprised. In this case it concerned my glasses. And here is the little story:

During our recent skiing vacation, Ulrike and I decided to walk down to Gstaad. We had skied the day before, and in the evening I discovered that one of the little nose pads on my glasses was missing.

It's about an hour's walk through fields and past chalets to get to Gstaad from Schoenried, where we usually stay. On this day, the weather felt like spring and there was no snow. (Snow was to arrive the next day.)

Mirage – Gstaad, SwitzerlandGstaad Mirage inside

On our way down, we visited Mirage Gstaad, a house made of mirrors that stands in the middle of an open field. It's another installation of such a  house by the well-known American artist Doug Aitken.

The outside walls mirror the beautiful natural scenery that surrounds the house. Inside, as you go through the rooms, you see yourself move reflected in dozens of images.

Gstaad Mirage has become quite a destination for many visitors in the Gstaad area and is an interesting idea. As one of the Italian visitors called out: Che bella idea!

"Offerieren" @ Optik Gstaad

But on to my quest for those little nose pads. Normally, in the US I find pads like that in a drugstore, but I knew it was unlikely that a Gstaad pharmacy or a “Drogerie” (i.e. drugstore) would have them.

In Switzerland, shops are more specialized than in the US. When we asked at a Drogerie, the clerk pointed us to “Optik Gstaad”, the only optician in town.

There I showed my glasses with the missing nose pad to a friendly saleswoman, and she understood immediately. I also asked her for a couple of extra pads in case I should lose another one. She nodded, suggested that we take a seat and disappeared to the back of the store. I had expected that she would just sell me a bag with a few pads.

About 15 minutes later – I was already wondering what could take so long – a young man appeared holding a silver tray: on it were my spotlessly clean glasses, with one new and one replaced nose pad, as well as two additional pads and a little bag on the side.

As I moved over to the payment counter – already trying to calculate what this little repair might cost – the young man wouldn't have any of it and said in Swiss German: “... mi möchtn's offerieren!”. I didn't really catch the first part of his explanation. But it took me only a moment to understand what he meant, i.e. that there was not going to be any charge, neither for the Peter leaving Optik Gstaadreplacement nor for the extra pads.

In fact, in this context “offerieren” did not just mean “to offer” - the usual translation, but to offer the provided service (and product) for free.

I thanked him in my best Swiss German and put on my glasses. As I left the store, the world looked indeed very bright and clear through them.

And where do you think, I will buy my next sun glasses? This Swiss business clearly understood how good will is created. Rather than selling me a few Silicon pads for a Swiss Frank or two, the folks at Optik Gstaad understood that they are also in the service business. (And if you should be traveling to Switzerland in the near future you'll find travel tips in All about Swiss.)

“Offro io” – It's on me, my treat ...Gamesforlanguage.com: In an Italian café

Why did I understand, after only a moment's surprise, what the young man was telling me? Maybe it was because I had recently played our Italian Quick Game: “In an Italian Café”. The game  starts with the expression “Offro io”, which means, I offer it, it's on me.

In English, "to offer something" generally means to provide something, free or with a condition attached. The other person can accept or reject the offer.

by Nader Arman on Unsplash“Darf ich Ihnen einen Cognac offerieren?” - May I offer you a Cognac? If you hear this question asked at a dinner party, you don't expect to have to pay for it. On the other hand, if a waiter asks you that in a restaurant at the end of your dinner, and you accept, you'd better expect to see the charge for it on your check.

So the meaning of “offerieren” and “to offer” without any condition, will very much depend on the context and situation in which it is used.

As a noun, “die Offerte”, just translates as “the proposal” for a service and/or product and  typically includes conditions such as price, delivery schedule, etc. It's used quite frequently in business German.

Well, that's the true fun of learning a language: It gets you out of your monolingual corner and opens you up to surprising moments of discovery and pleasant personal encounters. That way, life becomes so much brighter and more interesting.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

10 Easy Rules to Help Your German:

Know the rules - for German (Updated 3/2021)

Learning German? A few easy rules will give your grasp of German grammar a boost. These rules are a kind of "back-ground language work" that you do, like setting up the frame of a building.

Grammar rules, even easy ones, are not what you think about when you’re engaged in speaking a language. In the flow of speaking, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. In a conversation, there's too much else going on.

However, when reading, listening to a podcast, doing some online practice, easy grammar rules are good to keep in mind. You'll keep seeing or hearing certain examples over and over again. With time, you’ll start to apply them automatically also for speaking.

1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:

Note: in some cases, the stem vowel becomes an umlaut.
• das Mädchen (the girl)
• das Schwesterlein (the little sister) [but: die Schwester]
• das Tischlein (the little table) [but: der Tisch]
• das Gläschen (the little glass) [das Glas]
• der Vögelchen (the little bird) [but: der Vogel]
• das Brötchen (the roll) [das Brot]

2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine

• die Freiheit (freedom)
• die Gesundheit (health)

• die Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
• die Tätigkeit (activity)

• die Rechnung (bill/check)
• die Bewegung (movement)

3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)

• das Kind - die Kinder (child - children)
• die Frau - die Frauen (woman - women)
• der Mann - die Männer (man - men)

4. All seasons are masculine:

• der Frühling (the spring)
• der Sommer (the summer)
• der Herbst (the fall)
• der Winter (the )winter

5. All says of the week are masculine:weekdays in German

• der Montag (Monday)
• der Dienstag (Tuesday)
• der Mittwoch (Wednesday)
• der Donnerstag (Thursday)
• der Freitag (Friday)
• der Samstag (Saturday)
• der Sonntag (Sunday)

6. Seven common prepositions contract with “das."  

Note: these all imply a “change  of place” or “direction to”:
• an + das:  ans Meer gehen (to go to the sea)
• auf + das:  aufs Land fahren (to go to the countryside)
• in + das:  ins Haus gehen (to go into the house)
• hinter + das:  hinters Auto gehen (to go over behind the car)
• über + das:  übers Meer fliegen (to fly across the ocean)
• unter + das:  unters Buch legen (to place under the book)
• vor + das:  vors Fenster legen (to place in front of the window)

7. A predicate adjective takes no ending

A predicate adjective follows a noun and a form of “sein” (to be).
• Die Straße ist breit. (The street is wide.)
Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Die breite Straße. (The wide street.)

• Der Kaffee ist stark. (The coffee is strong.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Der starke Straße. (The strong coffee.)

• Das Haus ist groß. (The house is big.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Das große Haus. (The big house.)

8. Numbers: 

• 1-12 you have to memorize. Eins - one (1); zwei - two (2); drei - three (3); vier - four (4); fünf - five (5); sechs - six (6); sieben - seven (7); acht - eight (8); neun - nine (9); zehn - ten (10); elf - eleven (11); zwölf - twelve (12).

• 13-19 have the same format as English. For example: dreizehn - thirteen (13); fünfzehn - fifteen (15); neunzehn - nineteen (19)

• But 21-29, 31-39 etc. are “reversed” in German and are linked with "und" (and). For example: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.

You can also learn the numbers and practice your pronunciation with our Quick Games: German Numbers 1-20 and 21 and Beyond.

9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.

• Gehen Sie heute ins Kino? (Are you going to the movies today?)
 
• Gehen sie heute ins Kino? (Are they going to the movies today?)
 

Note:
• Formal "you" (Sie) is always capitalized
• The pronoun "they" (sie) begins with a lower-case letter (except at the beginning of a sentence).

10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.

• Ich gehe heute ins Kino. (I'm going to the movies today.)
• Heute gehe ich ins Kino. (Today, I'm going to the movies.)

Note:
• In the sentence "Heute Abend gehe ich ins Kino.", the verb is the third word, but still in second position, as the (adverb) phrase "Heute abend" is in first position.

• Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.

You Want to Practice Your German?

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German.

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German! And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page.

If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

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