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

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. Continue reading

  1. Oddly, the German subtle attention-getter is not “Pßt!” []

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

  1. I got reisen and reißen confused. []

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: Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

  1. Thanks, Geekmadel. []

False Friends

Ich habe mich blamiert by thinking blamieren meant the same thing as the English verb “to blame.” It looks just like it! Who could blame me? Perhaps no one, except I myself. Continue reading

Genitives and Switch-Hitting Prepositions

These two groups of prepositions might be harder for the native English speaker to learn because there’s pretty much no analog to any structure in English, or there just seems to be no rhyme or reason for when a preposition takes an accusative or dative object, or when it might get funky and place itself behind its object for Schisse und Gekicher, and whether going post-position like that changes the specified case of the object or not!

Wait… what? Continue reading

DOGFU and the Datives

Learn these prepositions, and learn ’em good. Know that you can count on these two groups of prepositions. They stick to their guns. They are dependable. They won’t let you down. All their objects come out inflected as though they were being used as direct objects (for the DOGFU group) or indirect objects (the datives, further below). What’s all this Dative and Accusative mess? Continue reading