28 April, 2016

German Words That I Wish English Had

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Despite it's level of complication and the many frustrating aspects of the grammar, German is a fascinating and very useful language. After speaking German for almost three years, I sometimes think there are things that are just easier to say in German or that I can express so much better with the grammar and vocabulary that German offers. In some cases, there are words in German that just don't exist in English, and now that I've gotten used to having those words at my disposal it can be difficult to express certain ideas in English.

In no particular order, here are some of the top words in German that I wish English had:

1. egal

This is one of the most useful words I've ever come across (in any language), and I use it pretty much every day. It literally translates to "equal" but its meaning is so much more multifaceted than it's counterpart in English. You can use egal to mean something like "it's fine" or "it doesn't matter," but since it's one word it's so much more efficient and multi-purpose. Just the other day I was video chatting with my mom and sister and the word egal was so ingrained in me that I literally couldn't think of how to convey the same idea in English.

2. mit + verb

Technically this is a grammatical construction, but I'm including it here anyway. English obviously has the word "with," but, as with egal, it's so much more useful in German. You can combine mit with pretty much any verb to add the flavor of "along with" or "together." For example, machen means "do," and when you add mit to make mitmachen it means "participate" (literally "do with"). Genius, and so simple.

3. ihr 

Rather than being a single word, this pronoun represents an entire verb form that corresponds to "you guys" or "y'all." Although different regional dialects of English have found their own ways of getting around this problem, it's unavoidable that English does not have a formal way of expressing second person plural, something that has always bothered me about English. Here comes German to the rescue, with a ready-made second person plural form just waiting for me to use. (Many other languages have this, too, Spanish included.)

4. man

I realize it looks just like the English word meaning adult male, but this word doesn't mean what you think it does. This is another way of saying "you," but instead of referring to a specific person this handy little pronoun means a non-specific "you," which would be more accurately translated as "one," as in "How does one do this?" In everyday speech we are much more likely to say "How do you do this?" in English, but it can be incredibly unclear depending on the context if the "you" in question is some unspecified person/placeholder or if the other person in the conversation is being directly addressed. The ensuing confusion usually leads English speakers to insert some clunky explanation like, "no, I don't mean you, just people in general..." In my opinion, English would be much better off if we either reintroduced the non-specific "one" or came up with a new word for this concept.

5. bettfertig

This adjective is a combination of the words Bett ("bed") and fertig ("ready") and means, predictably, "ready for bed." I find it adorable that German puts this concept into a single word! Maxim and I have decided to adopt this word into English and have taken to saying "I'm getting bed-ready" instead of "I'm getting ready for bed."

6. Any word with three of the same letter in a row

German likes to build new words by adding a few existing words together, and when the words being added together start and end with the same letter you can end up with three of the same letter in a row. This is impossible in English, so when I first saw this in German I was thrilled! For example, you get words like Betttuch ("bed sheet," three T's), Schifffahrt ("boat trip," three F's) and Seeelefant ("elephant seal," three E's). Theoretically you could even have four of the same letter in a row if one word ended with two of the same letter and the next word started with the two of the same letter, but I've never seen that in real life.

If you speak a language other than English, are there words in that language that you wish English had? Let me know in the comments!

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