Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Die Nummern

You may have seen that I also write a maths blog. I enjoy maths because I think it is easy. Maybe that sentence could also be written the other way round. I think maths is easy so I enjoy it. In one blog I wrote about the importance of neatness. With long numbers there should be commas or gaps separating three digits, e.g 234 562.35

There is a difference between English and German numbers as you may have guessed from this blog. In German a Komma is used instead of a decimal point. Once you get used to this it is fairly easy, but you also have to get used to full stops used to separate large numbers into three. So £2 000 becomes £2.000 and £2.50 becomes £2,50 It does take some getting used to and I deliberately left out a full stop at the end of the last sentence to avoid confusion. Once you can write the numbers numerically then you have to say them, but this is relatively easy because comma is Komma and the full stop is der Punkt. However if you want to say £2.000 you would just say zweitausend Pfunde.

Bis bald

Monday, 30 March 2009

Was spielst du gern?

Whether you are at school and learning German or whether you are too old for school there is a link for learning German because you will be talking about yourself. It may be for an exam or it may be for a social conversation. You will still need a vocabulary which relates to your interests. If you play sport you would say ich spiele and then name your sport Fußball Rugby usw.

Don’t be afraid to use simple verbs. You need to use them precisely because they are simple and then go for the more complicated words. Ich möchte gern schwimmen. You can replace schwimmen with Fahrrad fahren if you want to go for a bike ride. Similarly use a simple construction like ich schwimme gern or ich fahre gern Fahrrad.

Bis bald

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Die Familie 2

OK it does get harder (see yesterday's blog). Some words are more difficult to guess when you are talking about your family. I’m afraid that you just have to learn these words but it is a lot easier if you put them in a sentence that means something to you and then you pass on that information to someone else. If they understand you then you really will remember these words. Words like die Schwiegermutter. I don’t think that you can guess that this means mother-in-law. The wonderful thing is that once you have learned Schwieger once then you will know der Schwiegervater, die Schwiegertochter, and die Schwiegereltern. I think that you need to get learning again with the words der Schwager and die Schwägerin because they mean brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Do notice the umlaut for the sister-in-law.

The word for brothers and sisters is die Geschwister. Der Junge is not a word that you can guess but it is common and means the boy. You will also need to learn das Enkelkind which means the grandchild, and der Enkel and die Enkelin mean grandson and granddaughter. I’ll finish with Opa and Oma, grandpa and grandma, and you should now have the words that you need for most relations. Some need learning but a lot are easy.

Bis bald

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Die Familie

If you want to talk about your family then you will need to know some family vocabulary. You can guess a lot of the words. Der Vater is the father. Die Mutter is the mother. You can also work out the links between German and English by comparing the words. There is a link between v and f. You may be able to guess das Kind if you know that kindergarten is an English word taken directly from the German and means nursery.

Der Sohn is the son and die Tochter is daughter. Tochter is not difficult to learn if you know there is a link between t and d and at least daughter is feminine unlike das Mädchen which is German for the girl. Die Schwester is really easy as is der Bruder.

Der Onkel, yes you’ve guessed it is uncle and die Tante is also easy to guess as it is aunt. I don’t need to tell you der Cousin and it doesn’t take much imagination to work out die Cousine. Who said German was difficult.

Bis bald

Friday, 27 March 2009

Der Fernseher

The last blog was about compound words. This time I'll talk about one of the nation's favourite pastimes, watching television, and I will relate this to compound words.

To watch television in German is fernsehen. It is a seperable verb which means that if you want to translate 'I watch televion' it becomes ich sehe fern. The verb joins together again if you have an auxiliary like mögen or wollen or können. I would like to watch television is ich möchte fernsehen. May I watch television is darf ich fernsehen.

Now for those compound nouns, Der Fernseher or der Fernsehapparat is the television set, and the remote control is die Fernbedienung. Die Bedienung is the shop assistant or the waiter or simply means ‘service’. It doesn’t mean remote but you can see how the word is adapted to become a remote control. Have you also noticed that the gender of compound nouns is always the same as the gender of the last part of the compound noun?

Der Fernsehfilm is a TV film, die Fernsehsendung is the TV is the TV programme. There are hundreds of compound nouns. The good news is that it makes translation a little easier because we may know part of the word and we may be half way to knowing what it means.

Bis bald

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cognates and compound words

Last time I wrote that you only had a few thousand more words to learn. It is not as difficult as it sounds because of the words in English that have been taken from German. If you have seen the film Poltergeist then that is one less word that you have to learn. If you have der Rucksack on your back you know another German word. Abseiling may have started in Chamonix France, but it is a German word and you will know that abseilen means to lower with a rope.

There is something else that makes the number of German words to learn less daunting, and that is compound nouns. If you know that die Straße then you might be able to guess that das Straßenschild is a street sign. I mentioned some compound nouns with weg last time. So learn weg and you can have a good guess at many other words. When I was at school in the 1970s I remember two compound words. You would know them if you know the word for black, forest, cherry and gateau. Even if you know one or two of these words there is a good chance that you would understand Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. You can hog the conversation if you know these words.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Weg or weg

I have written about capital letters for nouns. So you know that der Weg is a noun but weg isn't. Among other things der Weg is a path or a way, but weg means away. You often combine weg with a verb wegfliegen to fly away, wegkommen to get away or even to go missing, weggehen to leave or go out are three examples.

If you want to use weg the adverb then you can say geh weg, go away, or Finger weg meaning hands off! You can say weg da, get away from there. There really are a lot of translations for weg, and now you have a good chance of understanding weg if you come across it.

There is also a difference in pronunciation between Weg and weg. Der Weg rhymes with vague, but weg rhymes with leg. This is a simplification because you have to try to make it sound German as you do with all German words. So now you can understand and say a German word. Only a few thousand more words to learn.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Word order for questions

The word order for questions is also quite specific. You start with your question, wo, wer wann, wie, warum usw (usw means und so wieter - and so on) and you follow it with the verb and the rest of the sentence follows. So in simple sentences and with questions the verb is in second place. Wo möchten Sie wohnen? Wohin fährst du mit dem Auto?

With general questions you do the same in German as you do in English. Sie sehen fern. To make this a question you change the word order to verb, subject and the rest of the sentence. Sehen Sie fern? You will understand this word order. Will you understand this word order?

Bis bald

Monday, 23 March 2009

Word order for basic sentences

There is greater choice of word order in German than in English because you get clues from case or verb endings that you don't get in English. However there are rules about word order and today I will look at word order in basic sentences.

A basic sentence has a subject and a verb and something else. In the sentence der Junge liest ein Buch, the boy is the subject, the verb is reading, and the third part is an object, a book. In the sentence Der Junge gibt dem Mädchen das Buch the boy is still the subject, the verb has changed to give, and following this there is a direct and an indirect object. You can have prepositions with nouns but a basic sentence has a subject a verb and something else, and this is also the word order.

Bis bald

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Asking for directions

How do you ask for directions? The simplest way it to say wo ist...? and add the name of the place that you are looking for. I can just imagine the title of this blog is a question on 'Just a Minute' on Radio Four. Contestants have to speak for a minute without hesitiation repetition or deviation. I should say ohne Zögern, Wiederholung oder Abweichung. I can also imagine Clement Freud answering with a list. Man kann fragen ‘wo ist die Bank, Der Flughafen, der Hafen, die Post, der Park, das Theater'. Clement never quite manages to last a minute usually because he speaks zu langsam.

In English we ask how do I get there? In German the verb to use is kommen which means to come but also to get to, but you need a word for ‘to’. If you are talking about a city then ‘to’ is nach. Wie komme ich nach Manchester? If you want to get to a place in the city like der Bahnhof then you ask wie komme ich zum Bahnhof?

Bis bald

Saturday, 21 March 2009

What is occurring and what do you think about it?

From the last blog, if you are asked 'was ist dieses Wochenende los?'or 'was kann man abends unternehmen?' then you need to know some replies. What would you like to do? You could answer 'ich hätte Lust ins Kino zu gehen', that is if you want to go the cinema. You may want to replace ins Kino with ins Theater or in eine Kneipe. Die Kneipe is a word to learn if like me du trinkst Bier gern.

Once you have been to the cinema you could have an opinion like der film hat mir gut gefallen. On the other hand you may wish to say der film hat mir nicht gut gefallen. The main thing is to say what you want to say and for that you need some vocabulary. Ausgezeichnet is excellent, and if you can say a word of four syllables then your German must be gut. Der film could be wunderschön oder phantastisch. On the other hand it could be langweilig oder enttäuschend. Perhaps boring and disappointing are not words you want to emphasise. If you don’t like something you can always describe it as interessant.

Bis bald

Friday, 20 March 2009

What's occurring?

Take the word unter. It can mean a few things. It can mean under or it can mean below or among. So if you think of unter just as under then there might be a better translation. Now take the verb nehmen. It can mean a few things as well but it usually means 'to take'. Now put these words together and you get unternehmen. You have two words joined together and both of them can mean a few different things. Unternehmen can mean to make an attempt or to take steps or it can mean what you expect it to mean, to undertake.

If you translate 'was kann man abends unternehmen?' you get 'what can one in the evenings undertake'. OK with English word order you get 'what can one undertake in the evenings' but we don't say that. A good translation would be 'what's there to do in the evening?' Another way of asking the same question is 'what's on (this weekend)?' which tranlates as 'was ist dieses Wochenende los?' If we are to believe Nessa from Gavin and Stacey then we can say 'what's occurring?' So now you have the questions and all you have to do is understand the answer.

Bis bald

Thursday, 19 March 2009

More comparatives

Last time I wrote about gut, besser und am besten. This time I am looking at more comparative adjectives. Do you know the word for cold? The word you are looking for is kalt and the comparative of kalt is kälter. It is saying that something is colder than something else. It is comparing two things, hence the name given to it is a comparative adjective. The coldest thing is being compared to everything else but this looses the title comparative and gets called the superlative. Am kältesten is how you would say the coldest, but you would also say der (die oder das) kälteste...

The German for warm is warm. There are so many perfect cognates which makes learning German relatively easy for English speakers. The comparative follows the same pattern as kalt, and is warmer, and the superlative is am wärmsten. You would say der (die oder das) wärmste...

If you like something in English we use the verb ‘to like’ and then the infinitive of another verb e.g. I like to play cards. In German you use the adverb gern which means willingly. Ich spiele gern would be translated as I like to play. If you prefer to play then Ich spiele lieber, and the superlative is am liebsten.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Comparative adjectives

If you want to say that something is good, then that is easy as you just say gut. You have to remember your adjectival endings if you want to say it was a good performance or a good achievement then you have to know the words die Leistung. It is feminine so you end up with eine gute Leistung. If however, you want to say the performance was good then endings don't matter. Die Leistung war gut.

If you want to compare one achievement with another then you can say one is better than another. When you use the word 'better' it is called a comparative adjective. Gut changes to besser. It is almost the same as in English. Diese Leistung war besser.

Am besten are the words for best. Who looks best? Wer sieht am besten aus? The words to remember for the comparative adjectives are gut besser und am besten.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wo tut es weh?

You have made it to Germany and you have been studying the language for some time. It just happens that none of the people that you are with speak English so now it is all down to you. Then you get cramp and you act like a lunatic unless you can communicate to the people around you that you aren’t a lunatic. They may understand that something is wrong and you may hear the words ‘was fehlt Ihnen?’ or ‘wo tut es weh?’ if they have guessed that something is causing you pain.

‘Ich habe einen Krampf in meinem Fuß’ may be the words that you are really looking for. They give a full explanation to the people around you and you are no longer seen as a lunatic. Now don’t you wish that you had spent longer learning the parts of the body and how to talk about health? If you are anything like me you need to be told three times, so getting reading that list again or you may be seen as a lunatic.

Bis bald

Monday, 16 March 2009

What do I say next?

Let's say that you have been learning German for some time. You have a basic understanding of grammar and you recognise quite a few German words. The next stage to learning German is getting to Germany and meeting some native speakers. So you have made it this far. What do you say? Well the answer is quite easy - exactly what you would say to anyone else. Just because you are speaking to a German doesn't mean that you have to change what you are going to say. It may be that there is a reason why you are speaking to them. Are you at das Oktoberfest in München? You could talk beer.

Wohnen Sie hier? Whatever the answer you could say ‘gefällt es Ihnen hier?’ You can add your specific words to phrases like ‘was denken Sie über..?’ If you are talking to a visitor you could always ask ‘für wie lange sind Sie hier?Sind Sie hier im Urlaub?’ If you are not sure about using any of these sentences the you could always do what the British do - talk about the weather. Schönes Wetter heute!

Bis bald

Sunday, 15 March 2009

I am not a doughnut

If you know any German then it is probably words like 'guten Tag' or ‘Ich heiße’ or even ‘wie geht’s’ There is also a good chance that you know the words ‘Ich bin...’ which means ‘I am...’ You can just add an adjective after this zB (zum Beispiel means for example) Ich bin traurig oder Ich bin glücklich. If you are busy you can say Ich bin beschäftigt. You could use any number of adjectives but if you are cold you have to say mir ist kalt. If you are hungry in German you have hunger. Ich habe Hunger.

If you want to say that I am from Berlin you would say Ich bin Berliner. In 1963 John F Kennedy told the Berlin crowd ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ which means that I am a doughnut. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. A doughnut wasn’t called a Berliner in Berlin, only in other parts of Germany, and secondly he wasn’t saying that he was from Berlin. He was speaking metaphorically so ein could be added.

Bis bald

Saturday, 14 March 2009

More transitive and intransitive

A foreign language helps your English. Take the example of tranisitive and intransitive verbs. You may never need to know these English words but there may be times when you say things incorrectly. You don't know you have done it but it shows a lack of understanding of language. If your faults a recognised it shows the listener that you are not completely sure of what you are saying, and it puts doubt in their mind that your opinion is the correct one. So we'd better learn about transitive and intransitive verbs.

We have already seen that a transitive verb needs a direct object. Well how do you talk about this in German? This is the easy bit because tranisitive is transitiv, and intransitive is intransitiv. It is much harder to understand than it is to translate. As adjectives they have to have adjectival agreements so their endings can change. You can say 'Ich denke, dass transitive Verben gut sind' even if you are using denken intransitively.

Bis bald

Friday, 13 March 2009

Transitive or intransitive?

There is a tendency for ‘dumbing down’. Don’t use the word adverb or even adjective because people switch off. Well I hope you are still with me and that you know that an adjective describes a noun and an adverb describes a verb. It seems fairly straightforward to me and we shouldn’t be hiding behind long expressions when one word will do.

If you have a transitive verb it needs a direct object to complete the sentence. I painted the fence, the fence is the object. Of course an intransitive verb doesn’t need a direct object to make sense. I stood up is an example unless you actually did stand up something. So verbs can be transitive or intransitive or both.

Last time I wrote about the verb passieren. Ich muss die Grenze passieren. In this example you are passing a border so it is transitive and in the past tense you would write Ich habe die Grenze passiert. The question last time was wann ist das passiert? No direct object and it is an intransitive verb that takes sein. I hope you managed to follow that and no dumbing down needed.

Bis bald

Thursday, 12 March 2009

More questions

Wann is a useful word. You can answer by saying jetzt, heute, Morgen or any other word that tells then when you are doing something. If you are asked wie oft, then if you do things on a regular basis you can answer with words like jeden Tag, dreimal pro Woche or einmal in der Woche.

Wann ist das passiert means when did it happen so answers could include am Morgen or am Abend. The answer could be gestern or vorgestern or even letztes Jahr. Wann passiert das means when is it going to happen. Notice that in the past tense the verb passieren takes sein if it means ‘happen’. Passieren can also mean to pass in which case it doesn’t take sein.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Nützliche Vokabeln

It is useful to understand what you are being asked if you are asked a question in german. The questions that need a yes or no answer are called interrogatives. So you need to know ja und nein. The next words that you need to know are interrogative adverbs as they are used to get more information.

Wann is when. Don’t forget das Fragezeichen if you are using any of these adverbs. You have three chances of knowing that last word. You may know das Fragezeichen, you may know die Frage or you may know das Zeichen. If you do know die Frage then you know fragen is to ask, so a little bit of work on nützliche Vokabeln and you get to know a lot more words.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Der Wievielte ist heute?

If you are asked the date then you could be asked 'der Wievielte ist heute?' or you could be asked 'welches Datum haben wir heute?'

In English there are a few ways that we can write the date. We can say the 10th June or June 10th or 10 June or June 10. In German the only way to write it is der 10. Juni and you would say heute ist der zehnte Juni. Der Wievielte ist heute? Heute ist der zehnte 10. März 2009.

If you know your numbers then adding the year is no problem to you. I think that it is good to know your birthday because it is something that you can use. Ich wurde 1970 geboren. Notice that you don't say 'in 1970' in German.

Bis bald

Monday, 9 March 2009

Die Ruhe

Die Ruhe is the calm or the silence and by just saying Ruhe bitte you are asking for silence. You know that if you have an adjective there is no capital letter and Ruhe changes slightly to become ruhig. The adverb is the same as the adjective so hier geht es sehr ruhig zu can be translated as it is very peaceful here.

Up till now you can work out the meaning of sentences with die Ruhe or ruhig, but there is an idiom 'immer mit der Ruhe' which doesn't mean always with calmness but take it easy or don't panic. There is also a word in German die Panik, so for don't panic you could also say nur keine Panik.

Another expression that is difficult to translate is aus der Ruhe bringen, because it is not just about not having rest or silence but it is about making someone nervous. Jetzt hast du mich aus der Ruhe wieder gebracht. Now you have made me nervous again, but you can reply immer mit der Ruhe.

Bis bald

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Das Kabarett

One Sunday broadsheet today has decided to give away two DVDs. One is Michael Caine in The Fourth Protocol, which is a fine film. The other has a German connection as it is set in Berlin in 1931 and is called Cabaret. You probably know the film and the song in which you get to hear a few basic words of German. The first words in the song are Wilkommen . Following the German word you get to hear it in French and then English, so it is particularly good for those who are just starting to learn German.

You will hear all these phrases in the first song - Wilkommen im Cabaret, Meine Damen und Herren, Guten Abend, Wie geht's? You will also hear Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome, and bleibe, reste, stay. See if you can hear any other examples of the three languages together.

The German word das Kabarrett comes from the French and it is always useful to hear the German language on film even if it is Liza Minnelli. Don’t trust her too much but she can say bis später.

Wilkommen im Cabaret, Meine Damen und Herren, Guten Abend, Wie geht's? They are all useful phrases. All in all I think that I got my money’s worth today.

Bis bald

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Zu und Nach

Two commonly used prepositions are zu and nach, because they are used in common expressions. Ich bin zu Hause und Ich gehe nach Hause. Just as in English prepositions can be used in many ways.

The usual meaning of zu is to. If you give something to the child, you give it zu dem Kind oder zum Kind. If you give it to the lady it is zu der Frau oder zur Frau. However do notice the 'at home' translation.

Nach Heute means after today. Nach Manchester means to Manchester, nach dem Konzert means after the concert. Be aware of the differences in translation, but try to remember nach Hause.

Bis bald

Friday, 6 March 2009

Wie bitte?

I like German phrases that are easy to use and in particular I like the phrases that are easy to fit into ordinary sentences. If you are learning the language there will be limits to your vocabulary. You need to be able to ask. Was heißt das auf englisch? Of course English is an adjective so there is no capital letter in German, but we have a capital letter in English for English. Can all those people who complained about the capital letters on German nouns now hang their heads in shame? Grammatically English is just as complicated as German but German pronunciation is a lot simpler, so no more complaints.

You can say was heißt... auf englisch, and just add the word that you want to know. If you want to ask the meaning of a word then you say ‘was bedeutet...?’ ‘Wie bitte?’ is also very useful as it means pardon. Be careful if you use ‘können Sie das wiederholen bitte?’ because it might make just as much sense the second time that you hear it.

Bis bald

Thursday, 5 March 2009


One preposition that we don't have in English is bei. It means 'at the home of' or 'at the shop of' or more simply 'at'. It sounds like the English word 'by' as it follows the rule that the German letters 'ei' sound like eye and ie sound like ee. As there is no sense of movement bei only takes the dative case.

We would normally say 'he works with a big company' but in German you have to think 'bei'. Er arbeitet bei einer großen Firma. Er ist beim Fleischer oder beim Metzger. Ich kann bei mir fernsehen. Notice that if you say 'bei dem' you can shorten it to 'beim'.

Do you know the traditional Scottish song 'My bonnie lies over the ocean'? The Beatles recorded it partly in German. "Mein Herz ist bei dir nur". Obviously there is artistic and poetic licence to song lyrics, but you can see that there may not be an obvious translation for a prepostion. However you should know what "Mein Herz ist bei dir nur" means.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Die Präpositionen 2

Prepositions are words like at, for, on, over or during. They are words that tell you how a noun or a pronoun in a sentence relates to the rest of the sentence. He lives in Morecambe. The cat is on the mat. You will find prepositions in sentences. I will give some examples to you. Prepositions are everywhere so I will stop putting them in bold, but they are not always obvious when translating from English to German. You may find some falsche Freunde.

There is an added difficulty in German because the noun that follows the preposition has to be in a specific case, either accusative, dative or genitive, and some prepositons use more than one case. Take the preposition auf. This can take the accusative case and it can also take the dative. The difference is that if there is a sense of movement then you use the accusative. If a location is described then you use the dative. So the cat is on the mat - it's dative, die Katze ist auf der Matte. It doesn't quite have the same ring in German.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


If you are planning a trip to Cologne the first thing that you have to learn is that the Germans call it Köln. It is always good to know the name of where you are going as it helps to get there.If you arrive by train the first sight will be the cathedral so it is useful to know that it is der Dom.

Once you are there it is useful to have a few words of German vocabulary. The panorama is dominated by the Cathedral which you now know is der Dom. Auf der Domplatte gibt es viel zu sehen zum Beispiel die Pflaster-maler und die Jongleurs. Es gibt auch die Musiker. So there is a lot to see in Cologne, and I have only mentioned the area around the cathedral.

Bis bald

Monday, 2 March 2009


The infinitive is the basic form of the verb and is that part of the verb that tells you about the action without mentioning a personal pronoun. the obvious sign of an infinitive in English is the word 'to'. To stand, to sit. to speak to listen are all infinitives. In German the infinitive is one word that ends in -en. There are two exceptions and you should know them. I'll remind you in the last paragraph.

I like infinitives because this is what you see if you look in a dictionary. To drink is trinken. You don't need to change the verb if you say we are drinking or you (formal) are drinking or they are drinking. If you use a modal verb you keep the infinitive (as you do in English) I would like to drink, but in German the infinitive will go the end of the sentence. Ich möchte Bier trinken.

After adjectives you need to put the word zu before the infinitive. Es war leicht zu tun. Es ist schwierig gut zu sein. You also have to add the word zu after nouns. Ich habe keine Zeit deutsch zu lernen. Oh those two exceptions - you have just read them, to do and to be.

Bis bald

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Case system and word order

The subject of a verb is the person or thing doing the action. The object is the person or thing that is affected by the action. The indirect object answers question like 'to whom?' or 'for whom'. It may feel a little strange if you normally say 'to who' but we do have a case system in English and it should be 'to whom'.

In the main clause of a sentence the subject comes first and is followed by the verb, just like in English. I (the subject) drink (the verb) beer (the object). Ich trinke Bier. In German a direct object usually follows an indirect object unless the direct object is a personal pronoun. Ich gab meinem Freund das Bier, but the word order changes for Ich gab es ihm. I'm afraid that you just have to learn examples and keep practising.

Bis bald