Determined to determine determination: festlegen and feststellen

If you work in German, you’ve probably encountered these words before: festlegen and feststellen. While they both ostensibly translate to “to determine” in English, and they have a lot of other similarities, they definitely have distinct meanings.

Let’s start with what they have in common:

  1. First off, they’re both transitive and regular.1 Transitive means means the verb needs an object. Regular means you can count on them to follow conjugation rules — in this case, for all persons and tenses. So no need to memorize the quirks of these two verbs — es gibt keine!

  2. They are both separable-prefix verbs. You know, those ones whose prepositional component kind of breaks off from the rest of verb and waits patiently at the end of the clause2, preventing your conversational partner from jumping in and prematurely interjecting. German Wikipedia has some good examples of separable prefix verbs and their permutations if you need a refresher.

  3. You can nounify them both with -ung, which is great, because then you automatically know their gender. -ung is reknowned for its reliable femininity. 3

  4. And they both can be translated as “to determine.” Whoa, nellie. Hold up there minute.

To determine doesn’t always mean the same thing in English. Learning festlegen and feststellen has even helped me to see that some of its meanings are even contradictory.

feststellen

When you stell something fest, you are putting it firmly in its place, as if it were not a completely known quantity beforehand, but nach der Festellung, both its location and momentum are known. 4 So feststellen means “to determine” in the sense of “solve for x.”

festlegen

This is another beast completely — one we have bent to our will in the very moment of performing our Festlegung. Here we are not merely passive observers, trying to make sense of the universe. We are determining our own fate, by actively firming (fest) up our path through space and time.

With a little determination, it’s clear that determining festlegen and feststellen’s separate meanings are not rocket science. And it also sheds a little light on the complexities foreign speakers of English face.

  1. These are not unrelated attributes, but that’s another post. []
  2. That is, unless we’re talking about subordination, natch. Separable prefixes are afraid of subordinating conjunctions, and meekly reattach to the front of the main verb in subordinate clauses. []
  3. See what I did there? []
  4. Tip o’ the hat to Werner Heisenberg for the example. []

Doing the deed, indeed: tatsächlich in der Tat

Do you know how to express the English verb “to do” in German? Most often the word you want is machen, but there is another one you should get comfortable with, even if its derivations are more prevalent than usages in its pure form.

Learn tun. It’s very useful. Here’s enough to get you started; check out canoo.net‘s entry for the entire list of tenses and stuff. German Wiktionary lists some common — and less formal, which are hard to come by — usages for your perusal as well.

Verb Forms

Present Tense
Singulars Plurals
ich tue wir tun
du tust ihr tut
er/sie/es tut sie tun
Past Tenses
Preterite tat
Past Perfect haben getan

Ho-hum. Another stem-changing (and therefore irregular) verb. What’s the big deal? It’s that preterite form — tat — that’s so useful.

die Tat, and other nouns

  • Die Tat is a cognate here to the English “deed.” 1.
  • What do you call a person who does evil deeds? “Evil-doer,” natch. In German: der Übeltäter.
  • Accordingly, in the criminal justice system, perps are Täter. 2
  • Richard Marx’3 sophomore effort would have been called der Wiederholungstäter in German. Somehow, it’s just not quite as catchy.
  • Where does a crime happen? Zum Tatort.
  • If something truly happened, it’s a thing of fact — a Tatsache.

Other expressions

  • “Indeed!” translates quite literally to in der Tat!
  • Guests in infomercials proclaim tatsächlich! after a product demo to confirm the manufacturer’s claims. 4
  • Du tust mir weh!5
  • Wichtigtuer, Wichtigtuerei:The guy who thinks his stuff is more important than anyone else’s, or the act of being like that guy. Oddly, he is not a *Wichtigtäter.
  • wohltuend, wohltätig: I learned that Mother Teresa does good. Everyone else, at best, does well. But in German, you are wohltuend/wohltätig if you are doing good (i.e., being a Wohltäter.6)

It’s done

Perhaps this can be your rule of thumb: concrete, real-world accomplishments seem to need machen to describe the act. But getting comfortable with tun and its many abstract usages and derivations makes the foreign speaker sound polished. Und das tut gut.

What other Anwendungsfälle are there for tun? Share your wisdom in the comments please!

  1. Just as tun is to “to do.” Thanks, etymonline.com []
  2. But they are more likely böse rather than übel.. Mir ist übel! means I’m about to lose my lunch. Ich bin böse! can mean I’m angry, or evil. Or maybe both. Also: Wer hat meine Kartoffel gestohlen?
    Der Täter tat’s!
    []
  3. Any relation to Karl? []
  4. “That’s great bass!” []
  5. Humorously interpreted as “You do me double-u!” on the “Fränglisch mit Loddar” recurring sketch on Bayern 3. ‘W’ →weh Get it? []
  6. Why, in English, do we say “Evil-doer” but “do-gooder?” []

Umlauts are not that scary

I think umlauts must be a source of stress for a ton of native English speakers trying not to sound like one of those Ben & Jerry’s commercials at the movie theater.

Here’s what I mean, if you haven’t been in a while:

Actually, to my ears, the ‘r’ consonant is the most egregious offense1.

Part of it must be that it looks foreign. We don’t have (much) need for typographical accoutrement2 But considering the historical origin of those two dots above an a, o, or u vowel might help you wrap your mind — and mouth — around them.

History

That's a capital E and a lower-case e.  Weird, right?

That’s a capital E and a lower-case e in the Sütterlin style. Weird, right?

It’s just shorthand for the ‘plain’ vowel next to an ‘e’. The extra ‘e’ was displayed above the main vowel, and in Sütterlin3 a lower-case ‘e’ was mostly a couple of short, vertical, parallel lines — a lot like many natives’ handwritten umlauts. That evolved into a couple of dots, which mean something completely different in French, but not, allerdings, in Turkish.

Also as such, it’s pretty easy to substitute in a normal ‘e’ where convention dictates an umlaut but technology makes that tricky (like where only ASCII text is permissible or your mom hates it when you change her keyboard settings to allow foreign characters). Danke schoen fuer Ihr Verstaendnis.

How do they sound?

Ä

Depending on how many and what kind of consonants follow it, ä sounds just like the Fonz:

Or maybe Fiona Apple as a bad, bad girl:

And sometimes it’s just equivalent to a short ‘e’ sound: siehe aufwendig und aufwändig. Both spelling are acceptable and both are pronounced the same.

Ö

Get real posh-like. Received Pronunciation. Say the time on the half-hour:
Not quite hahhf pahhst six; it’s nearly six thöty.

Ü

Approximate the name of the author of Les Miserables: Victor Hugo. That’s for the longer variation. The shorter one is really, really close to the ‘i’ in the English word ‘sick’ — start with that sound and ever so slightly nudge the sound away from that ‘i’ towards an ‘u.’ That’s the shorter one.

What tricks do you use to approximate these sounds?

  1. but that’s another post []
  2. unless you’re the New Yorker magazine, trying to rëestablish a niche for the quirky printed word. []
  3. Read up on handwriting styles of yore, including Sütterlin, on these two posts of the Brummagemerin’s. []

Stellen Sie bitte die Einstellungseinstellung ein.

There’s a lot going on in the title here, but without some context, it’s not clear at all what.

Consider:

German English
einstellen to terminate
einstellen to hire
einstellen to adjust

And likewise:

German English
Einstellung cancellation, cessation, termination
Einstellung hiring, recruitment
Einstellung adjustment, attitude, setting

Conceivable translations:

  • Please cancel the attitude adjustment.
  • Please adjust the recruitment cancellation.
  • Please set the settings setting. 1
  • Please hire the cancellation attitude.

Okay, that last one is pretty much nonsense and the one before it seems überspitzt.

For all the purported logical, modular verbal Lego®-ness and derivability, there are several words in the typical German-language office that challenge the foreign pencil-pusher2. Likely everyone else around the water-cooler Teeküche will derive from context which meaning of einstellen is appropriate, and it’s clear that the example in the title is convoluted.

It may be important to note, however, that one meaning is “recruitment” (related to labor contracts) and the another is seemingly its direct opposite, “termination” (but not related to labor contracts — that would be kündigen, which is more like “to give notice”). Two contradictory concepts wrapped up in just one word like that is a deplorable state of affairs.

But we can’t sanction (them for) that, can we?

What other German words appear to speak with a split tongue?3

  1. Tip o’ the hat to the Andrew Couch for this one! []
  2. What’s the modern equivalent of that epithet? “Mouse-driver?” This has the particular charm of matching literally the German expression for “to mouse over” “mit der Maus rüberfahren.” []
  3. That’s the literal translation of the expression meaning to talk out of both sides of the mouth. []

Verbal Secrets

Shhhhhh. Keep this under your hat. Some German verbs are living a lie, hiding a terrible Geheimnis.

This is a lesson from the VHS. Some verbs objectify a little oddly for our tastes as native English speakers. Saying “*Ich helfe dich” would earn you an urgent stage-whisper from the instructor: “Psscht! Was ist das Geheimnis von helfen?!1

For some of these verbs, you can sort of see a reason for another object in the English translation’s use of a preposition. For others, there is just no discernible reason for these verbs to force their objects into case-drag.2

German English
helfen + Dativ to help
danken + Dativ to thank
entsprechen + Dativ to correspond to
folgen + Dativ to follow
bedürfen + Genitiv to require (have need of)
gedenken + Genitiv to commemorate (someone)

Entsprechen and bedürfen are two that come to mind as somewhat understandable, since they correspond to common English equivalent expressions having need of a preposition to get the meaning across properly.

See what I did there?

You couldn’t, in good conscience, say “*Your software solution corresponds exactly my expectations.” “To correspond” in English requires an extra preposition before its object. That’s your clue that its German equivalent might be one of those Dative-forcing verbs.

Bedürfen is even trickier, because

  1. it’s got a modal verb snuck in there, so you’ve got the atypical conjugation of dürfen to worry about, and
  2. it’s fancy. You probably could just use some form of brauchen, which is gloriously mundane in every possible way, including its treatment of objects, or in some contexts verlangen, which is very nearly equally boring.

When I thank you for having read this far, who is the subject? I am, of course. Who is the object? You are. There are no other parties involved — just you and me.3 What’s the action here? The thanking. The action is acting directly upon…[drumroll please]…you. So why the hell doesn’t “you” behave like a direct object (Accusative) here? That’s the Dativ-Geheimnis of danken. Kannst Du mir folgen?

  1. Oddly, the German subtle attention-getter is not “Pßt!” []
  2. It puts the Genitive on its skin OR ELSE IT GETS die Hose AGAIN. []
  3. Or are we you and I? That’s another post. []

CH

The CH combination gets heavy rotation in German. It might be why German has a reputation among foreign speakers for sounding “harsher” than other languages — though this foreign speaker does not share that impression.

Maybe a closer look will help smooth over the rough edges.

Like ‘k’ as in Cham or Chiemsee

  • Chlor
  • Cholera
  • Cholesterin
  • Chor
  • Christ
  • chronologisch

If you live in the regions near Cham or Chiemsee, you are likely to hear local natives also say Chemie and China (and all the derivations) as if they were spelled with an initial ‘k.’

Like ‘sch’ as in those eingedeutschten French imports

  • Chance
  • Chef

Like ‘tsch’ as in “Cheeceburger”1

Not to be confused with ‘j’ as in ‘Joyce.’ (a boss of mine once thought the word for Wahl was “joice,” which underscored his (and the typical) failure to voice the ‘j’ consonant in English.

All these appear to be import words.

  • Checkliste
  • Chile
  • Chili
  • Chipsatz

Like ‘ch’ as in your old dial-up modem


Does this exist word-initially in German? We don’t think so (prove us wrong in the comments, please!). Yiddish, on the other hand — now that is a language with some chutzpah. Remember that sound2; we’ll sneak it in the backdoor of other syllables.

Like ‘ch’ as in ‘this food is too hot to eat’3

This sound might be the hardest one for non-natives to emulate. We can’t think of a “real” occurrence of this sound in English — can you? But rest assured: you can make this sound. For example, when that pizza comes out of the oven and it smells so wonderful that you pop in a bite in, and burn the hell out of the inside of your mouth. If you don’t have a cool beverage to slow the melting of your hard palate, you suck air in over it. Do that in reverse, and you have mastered this form of the German ‘ch.’

  • Chemie
  • Chile
  • China
  • Chirurg

I’ve never heard a native pronunication of the South American country as anything but “tschi-le,” but dwds.de claims it’s so.4

What about when not word- or consonant-initial?

  • following ‘softening’ vowels
    • ä: Gespräch, Schwäche, Fläche, mächtig5
    • e: Blech, sechzehn, sechzig6, sprechen, Verbrechen
    • i: Kichererbsen
    • ö: Löcher
    • ü: Bücher, Gerüche
    • y: Psychologie, Strychnin
  • following ‘hardening’ vowels
    • a: ach!, Macht
    • o: Loch
    • u: Buch, Tagesanbruch, Geruch, Bucht
  • as a syllable-separator, the CHS combination is treated like an ‘X’ after both ‘hardening’ and ‘softening’ vowels:
    • die Achse, die Achsel
    • der Ochse
    • das Wachs, das Wachstum
    • wechseln
    • wichsen7

Note how the ‘ch’ pronunciation changes on some nouns along with their vowel shifts from singular to plural!

What CH-permutations stump you in German, and how have you risen to the challenge?

  1. Can you really blame them for being confused about when to vocalize those sibilants? Sure you can. []
  2. or a less moisture-laden version of it []
  3. a.k.a., “pissy kittycat” []
  4. Übrigens: their pronunciation audio quality is the best we’ve heard so far among online multimedia German language sites. Most others make it difficult to distinguish consonants — great job DWDS! []
  5. Ooh, twice in one word, in some pronunciations of -ig anyways. []
  6. Ibid. []
  7. It means ‘to polish.’ Filthy. []

Intransigent Intransitives

Do you feel like a Depp when you get your past tense verbs wrong? If you’re lucky, your colleagues will gently correct you.

ich: “Du hast mich aus den Gedanken *gereißt!”1

sie: (sheepishly, as if it were her fault) “Gerissen.”

I am thankful for those colleagues who have the courage to suggest a correction. I hate needing one, but I hate that less than finding out I needed one, but didn’t get it.

Often you can predict whether a verb is going to respect your linguistic norms and behave like a good little part of speech, or thumb its nose at the establishment and exhibit free-spirited irregularity. It’s the transitive verbs who go along to get along, reliably obeying the rules of weak preterite and past participle patterns. Intransitives are much more likely to form irregular past tense forms.

…was heißt das noch mal?

If the verb takes an object, it’s transitive. If you can formulate a sentence with a subject and a predicate without an object, then that verb is intransitive.2

Concretely:

Transitive Intransitive
Cookies bring joy. Cookies rock!

In English, at least, it can be pretty fast and loose. “Eat” can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on usage.3

Transitive Intransitive
Wanna eat this cookie? Well, I already ate, but…sure.

Schieß los!

Got it? Let’s apply it to German. The good news is that there are pairs of verbs that have related meanings, and similar sounds. If you can spot which one in each pair is transitive or intransitive, you will be able to remember which of them is irregular in the past tense. And maybe even formulate your sentence to use the easier of the two, if you need to.

Transitive Intransitive
senken sinken
Der Kapitän hat das Schiff ins Meer gesenkt.
Der Kapitän senkte das Schiff ins Meer.
Das Schiff ist ins Meer gesunken.
Das Schiff sank ins Meer.
setzen sitzen
Ich habe mich auf die Couch gesetzt.
Ich setzte mich auf die Couch.
Ich bin auf der Couch gesessen.
Ich saß auf der Couch.
hängen hängen
Das Mädchen hat seine Jacke aufgehängt.
Das Mädchen hängte seine Jacke auf.
Das Bild hat an der Wand gehangen.
Das Bild hing an der Wand.

How about super-subversive hängen up there!? One could argue its mild-mannered transitive version has an evil intransitive twin. Picture a goatee on it when you’re using it without an object.

The transitive half of each of these pairs very submissively follows the rules for weak verbs:

Preterite Past Perfect
stem + te haben (prefix) + ge + stem + t
senkte
setzte
hängte auf
hat gesenkt
habe gesetzt
hat aufgehängt

Super easy, just like you remember from your first semester at the VHS.

But those rabble-rousing intransitives, who think they can do it all on their own without needing to objectify anything to get their point across, are flaunting their irregularities.

Preterite Past Perfect
stem-change + ? (haben|sein) ge + yet-another-stem-change + en
sank
saß
hing
ist gesunken
bin gesessen
hat gehangen

Noch was…

Notice anything else going on here? In two examples above, the auxiliary verb for the intransitive verb in the past perfect tense is sein. Of course, that’s optional or maybe contextual for sitzen. Does the meaning change between “Ich habe auf der Couch gesessen.” and “Ich bin auf der Couch gesessen.”?

Maybe. I get the impression the “haben” version conveys more of the feeling like I’ve been on the couch at some point in the past, and maybe, by doing so, voided die Garantie. However, the sein variant seems to imply more of a duration of the sitting, like “first I got out of bed, then I fixed a bowl of Weetabix, and then I sat on the couch for a while, waiting for the rest of me to wake up.”4 This could be a clue into the mysteries of verbs and their fickle choices of past perfect auxiliaries. But that’s another post.

Don’t assume from these few examples that all intransitive verbs prefer sein, or those preferring sein as their auxiliary must be irregular in the past tense. While true for some, even many, it’s certainly not for all. Consider reisen. It’s an intransitive sein-verb, but it’s perfectly regular in the past tenses: ich reise — ich reiste — ich bin gereist

Nevertheless, all transitive verbs are haben- verbs in the past perfect tense. This seems to hold true even for those intransitive sein verbs you can sort of force to grudgingly accept a direct object and therefore become transitive, like fahren. Ich habe das Auto zur Werkstatt gefahren feels wrong after you spend hours beating fahren and sein into your brain. But it’s like those ultra-fashiony people who can pull off a black turtleneck and brown corduroy pants.5 It’s not wrong if you know what you’re doing.

Some more of those transitive/intransitive pairs:

Transitive Intransitive
Infinitive Preterite Perfect Infinitive Preterite Perfect
stellen stellte gestellt stehen stand gestanden

Stellen6 can mean “to stand,” as in Bitte stellen Sie die Lampe in die Ecke auf. The verb transfers its standing action from the 2nd person to the lamp. Ergo, transitive usage. By contrast, in Wo steht Dein Fahrrad? the bike is keeping all the standing action for itself, and is one of those annoying drastically irregular past-tense stem changers — a vowel change is not enough for this rebel; it even messes with the consonants in the stem.

Transitive Intransitive
Infinitive Preterite Perfect Infinitive Preterite Perfect
erschrecken erschreckte erschreckt erschrecken erschrak erschrocken

Another evil twin type! The transitive version is the complacent regular verb, letting itself be conjugated quietly according to custom. The intransitive one breaks the rules. Extra trickiness here include a present tense stem-changing (but only for the intransitive version!), and that the reflexive pronoun doesn’t serve to make the verb transitive, as in Ich habe mich über die Temperaturen im Winter erschrocken, but Die Temperaturen im Winter haben mich erschreckt.

Think of it perhaps this way: being scared is intransitive — you can do that by yourself — but scaring definitely requires a scarer and a scaree.

Aber wen interessiert’s?

Obviously you care, since you’ve read this far. Only Sacha Baron Cohen tries to sound like BORДT, which is what happens when you use transitive verbs but forget their direct objects. (“Yes, I like.”) Knowing that there are such pairs, and that you can count on the transitive one to follow the rules, might help you sound a little less like a caricature and more like a native.

  1. I got reisen and reißen confused. []
  2. Obviously there are exceptions, especially for poetic license and colloquialisms. It’s just a rule of thumb. []
  3. The big kids on the grammar school playground call such verbs “ambitransitive.“ []
  4. That’s how I roll in the a.m. []
  5. Germans do this effortlessly. []
  6. hinstellen, abstellen, auffstellen, etc. []

E I E I…Oh.

When I started at the local U.S. subsidiary HQ of a big German electronics conglomerate, I was amazed at how many local native English speakers could say the name of our company without flinching (hint: rhymes with “Beemans”), but were always unsure how to pronounce transplanted-from-Germany names if they contained an EI or IE vowel combination.

It’s really not hard in German. But given the

I before E, except under plenty of totally arbitrary circumstances

maxim many of us learned while trying to master the English spelling of achieve and receive and believe and onomatopoeia, perhaps you can’t blame the native anglophones for being a little wackelig about the sounds E and I make when used together in other languages, too.

It breaks down like this: for any EI or IE or AI combination, as in

    EI

  • Ei
  • Reis
  • Gleis
  • Preis
  • Maisel’s Weiße
    IE

  • Diebstahl
  • Miete
  • Prien am Chiemsee
  • wieder
  • zufrieden
    AI

  • Kaiser
  • Main
  • Maisel’s Weiße
  • Waisenkind

All you have to do is say the English name of the second vowel.

Wait… What?

It’s true. For any German word, this rule holds true. All bets are off on imported words, or words like Familie, where the I and the E are forming different syllables.

OK, but what about the Y combinations, smart guy?

Please recall that in many languages (at least two come to mind), a Y is nothing but a Greek I (por ejemplo, “i griega” en el español). So that’s why all the many ways to write the name

  • Maier
  • Mayer
  • Meier
  • Meyer

result in the same pronunciation. Treat those Y’s like I’s, and the rule holds true again — as well as the caveats. Pronounce the AY in Haarspray like the English word spray (but not the Haar, natch!). Oddly enough, we have heard “okay” pronounced in German by Germans in informal situations as “okai” (rhymes with “eye”) when indicating a resolution to an open question or acknowledging that a process has reached its logical conclusion (at least for the present). Not sure what that’s about.

What’s the big deal if you get IE and EI mixed up in practice? Probably nothing. But if you don’t know the difference between Spieß and Speis, schießen und scheißen, then you’ll sound pretty silly. Especially if you goof up scheißen.

Z

The letter ‘z’ seems to freak out native English speaking learners of German. Many develop an impression that it’s different and foreign and hard and therefore give up on it quickly. But mispronunciation of a common consonant is one of those clues a native speaker will pick up on immediately that you perhaps need them to switch to English on your behalf. Even if that’s not true.

Giving up early on the ‘z’ is a shame. The sound itself is one that we native English speakers use frequently — just not word-initially, like it can occur in German.

  • zart
  • Zaun
  • Zeitung
  • Zentrum
  • ziemlich
  • Zigaretten
  • Zopf
  • Zug

Here’s where you use it in English:

  • Betsy
  • CATS
  • Datsun
  • Fujitsu
  • Gatsby
  • Huntsville
  • Massachusetts
  • Pittsburgh
  • Potsdam
  • Scotsmen
  • Trotsky
  • Watson
  • Yeltsin

…just to name a few proper nouns. A few of those seem Russian in origin (Trotsky, Yeltsin) — maybe the acceptable pronunciation of Czar (though we prefer Tsar) has wrought havoc on Americans’ confidence in pronunciation of German word-initial Z sounds.

And, if you’ve ever beatboxed the intro to the very awesome Take The Money and Run by the Steve Miller Band, you’re rocking the German Z as an initial consonant without even thinking about it on those two punctuating cymbal hits (it happens at 3 seconds and 6 seconds in this clip, if GEMA will let you watch it). Bop around the house or on your way to the bus a few days and you’ll be ready to apply that sound to the front of all those German words starting with Z.

By the way, that German Z is sometimes supplanted by a C in old-timey writings: Centrum instead of Zentrumfor the Innenstadt. The sound is the same in those cases, but not in the hundredth part of the Euro currency: that is a Cent, pronounced the same as in English.

Just because it’s alphabetically the last letter doesn’t mean you can slack off on that sound. It’s relegated the ‘y’ on the German keyboard down to Left Pinkyville for good reason. Give it the respect it deserves, and you’ll get more, too.

Neuter is Cuter

German, for whatever weird reason, thinks anything is cuter, nicer, hinreißender if its gender has been removed. (Let’s not get all Freudian about this, okay? Keep in mind that the words have gender, not the objects they represent. 1 Well, sometimes. Argh.)

If you’re going to get cutesy on something in German, you do that by adding a suffix and an umlaut where possible (or not, just to be trotzig, particularly in southern dialects), and, um, neutering it. Exactly which suffix you’ll use might depend on the region.

-lein, -la, -le, -erl
Meh. Aww!
das Paket das Päckchen, Packerl
der Kuchen das Küchlein, Küchle
der Mann das Männchen
das Weib2 das Weibchen
die Frau das Fräulein2
die(?) Mad3 das Mädchen
die Katze, der Kater das Kätzchen
der Kanin das Kaninchen4
das Buch das Büchlein
der Hahn das Hähnchen
der Moment das Momentchen
die Kanne das Kännchen
das Stück das Stückchen, Stückerl

So what about the word for “boy”? One might rightfully expect a diminutive das word for boy, following the same pattern. There is one, but it doesn’t seem contemporary: Bübchen. If there is a more commonly-used neuter, diminutive word for male children, please let us know about it in the comments.

Getting the gender wrong on stuff is frustrating, but it happens, and it’s pretty much never fatal. But on diminutives, you don’t have to. The rule is very reliable: Neuter is cuter.

  1. Thanks, Geekmadel. []
  2. Tread carefully here, gents. It’s perfectly OK to describe a female animal as a Weibchen (or a male one as a Männchen). But don’t use Weib without considering its implications, into which we shall not delve. You pretty much don’t hear Fräulein anymore, either. The only two times I’ve ever heard the natives use it:
    1. My host father used it against his ten-year-old daughter who was having a diabetic freak-out in the early 1990s.
    2. A senior citizen couple used it to attract the attention of the young waitress last year in a Biergarten, and they obviously meant nothing negative by it.

    [] []

  3. Nobody says Mad anymore. It’s archaic. But I have heard a colleague who leans on his Fränkish roots in times of emotion use the word Madele as an epithet against a female colleague who was annoying him. And thus we have arrived at why the German word for “girl” is neuter, and not feminine as you might think. As such, this is perfectly correct: Das Mädchen isst sein Müsli. Sein? Really? Yes, really. The possessive pronoun for any neuter word in German is sein. []
  4. Couple things:
    1. We are not aware of a commonly-used non-diminiutive word for bunny, other than Hase (and that’s arguably not the word for bunny). German Wikipedia reports Kanin as an archaic term still in use among furriers. There are more terms, like Kanickel, Karnickel, Künglein, and Chinigl, but they all appear to have a diminutive tacked onto them and may also be obsolete anyway.
    2. Apart from, say Watership Down, show me any bunny who is not worthy of a cutifier.

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