Monthly Archives: January 2015

Stake your claim with verbal building blocks

Many learners of German appreciate it for its stackable properties. You can link otherwise unrelated concepts together into one word, and if you recognize the individual pieces, very often the sum total meaning of the word is a snap. Let’s take Inanspruchnahme as an example. You may have seen it in the fine print of various types of service contracts: insurance, telecommunications, and the like.

in Anspruch nehmen

Inanspruchnahme is a nounified verb1. In Anspruch nehmen means “to make use of,” “lay claim upon,” or in the legal sense, “to exercise (a right).” Let’s divide and conquer, starting off verkehrt with nehmen.

“Hey, do you need help moving to your new apartment this weekend?”

“Nein, danke, im ersten Schritt nicht, aber vielleicht nächstes Wochenende nehme ich das tolle Angebot gerne in Anspruch.”

The construction in Anspruch, even though it’s always written separately from nehmen, works just like a separable-prefix: the main part of the verb (nehmen) goes where you’d expect in the sentence structure.2


Nehmen means “to take” and is an i→ie stem-changer in the present tense, so you know it’s going to have a checkered past, as well.

ich nehme wir nehmen
du nimmst ihr nehmt
er/sie/es nimmt sie/Sie nehmen
ich nahm wir nahmen
du nahmst ihr nahmt
er/sie/es nahm sie/Sie nahmen

And for good measure:

Partizip Perfekt
haben genommen

But it’s really the preterite stem that’s useful to us here: nahm. Throw an -e on it and consider it the nounified form of “to take,” or perhaps “taking.” You find that it in other useful contexts, as well:

German Denglisch English
die Abnahme take down weight loss, decrease, acceptance
die Aufnahme take up recording, admission (to a hospital)
die Ausnahme take out exception
die Einnahme take in ingestion
die Kenntnisnahme take notice attention
die Stellungnahme take a stand taking of a position (in a debate)
die Teilnahme take part participation
die Übernahme takeover
die Zunahme take toward weight gain, increase

der Anspruch

Likewise Anspruch is another verb hiding in noun’s clothing. You may recognize the verb ansprechen as “to address” as in “to speak to someone,” but did you know it also means “to address (a problem or topic)”? If we tromp through the conjugation patterns of sprechen, (it is also an i→ie stem-changer) we won’t find a mention of Spruch.3 But you find sprechen in one of its nounified forms all over the courtroom:

  • der Ausspruch4
  • der Einspruch
  • der Freispruch
  • der Urteilsspruch
  • der Widerspruch

der Anspruch is a claim, entitlement, or demand, and something that is anspruchsvoll is demanding. Surely you know someone with an inflated sense of entitlement: das ist ein anspruchsvoller Mensch.


What’s the point of the in here then? We’ve established nahme, Spruch, and Anspruch.

Well, in is the activator. Your option, resource, alternative, can of Whoop-Ass, etc. exists, theoretically, whether you make use of it or not. You need to take it off the shelf and get it ready for deployment. You do that when you take it in Anspruch.


ansprechen + nehmen

Anspruch + nahme5

Then fire it up with in as the catalyst.

in + anspruch + nahme = Inanspruchnahme

Thus Inanspruchnahme is the act of availing one’s self of something.

In the spirit of putting it all together, and equipping one’s self for future glory, here’s a familiar usage of Sprach.

Now go make use of your new tools.

  1. So is ‘nounification.’ They’re real words if we say they are. []
  2. that is to say, in the second position in main clauses, or reattached at the end of a Nebensatz. Except that it’s not even fully reattached by writing convention. []
  3. The stem changes in the preterite forms to a and o in the past participle. Keep reading for a subtle shout-out to sprach. []
  4. Not to be confused with die Aussprache! []
  5. nahme is not a noun on its own; it needs a preposition or other noun when it goes out in noun drag. []

Bad Gender and Backwards Traffic

das Geschlecht

Is there anything inherently bad about gender?

No, of course not!

says the modern, well-educated thinker.1

And yet, one can’t help but shake the impression that gender, or at least the physiological aspects, have a negative tinge to them. If one is a foreign observer of German, that is.

How’s that? Because Geschlecht.

“Bad!” leaps out at you from the German word for “gender.” Or “sex,” in some contexts.2 Schlecht is one of those words you taught yourself to stumble through upon arrival ins Vaterland while explaining your lack of language prowess to the nice border control people at the airport.

Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht.

And when you spray them with that combo of CH and T at the end, you’ll have convinced them.3 See here for help with that CH-precipitation.

But I digress. Let’s come back to gender: what can we conclude about it? Is it truly linked to bad, evil, sub-par-ness or other negativity, somewhere deep in the psyche of the typical native speaker?

“No, of course not — not anymore, at least.” We’d like to think that. But consider that the last bastion of defense of your Geschlechtsteile, unless you’ve taken measures to the contrary, are nearby, both physiologically and emotionally: your Schamhaare — “shame hairs.”

Reluctance to Drop Trou

Have you ever caught a German colleague in a mistake he’s made and was hoping no one would notice? If he acknowledges his misfortune at all, you may hear him dejectedly admit:

Mei, da muss ich wohl die Hose runterlassen…

This would imply that he’s not really looking forward to exposing his bits. It’s an expression about facing up to your shame, which is normally kept properly stowed in your pants.4

der Verkehr

It means “traffic,” as a noun. But watch out — when it’s a past participle serving as an adverb or adjective, as in verkehrt, it means “backwards,” and usually denotes something did not go as planned. Kind of like how “backwards” as an adjective in English implies developmental difficulty.

der Geschlechtsverkehr

Literally, “gender traffic,” it’s a cold, clinical way of describing…yeah, just what you thought. Though one of the translations for Verkehr I found was “communion,” which at first sounds kind of nice, until I was reminded of a certain sacrament from my Catholic upbringing.

  1. “Except perhaps that our widely-accepted Western notion of ‘Two Sizes Fit All’ seems increasingly outdated, disenfranchising, and less fun,” s/he pondered internally. []
  2. Whether those are really the same thing is certainly not something I’m prepared to dive into in this blog, let alone this post. []
  3. This is the real reason for the plexiglass divder at the passport booths. []
  4. Here we mean the British kind. []