Tag Archives: endings

Sounds like

One of the challenging things with using a dictionary to help you understand another language is that you sometimes simply don’t get what you expected. For instance, when I was writing the post about unheimlich, I noticed that “sinister” was given as a meaning and figured that “sinisterly” (the adverbial form) was also one of its meanings. When I did a search for “sinisterly” on pons.eu the results were quite a surprise. It was happy to offer me the word “sinister” (and its German translation sinister), but the adverbs it returned were “sisterly,” “masterly,” “easterly,” “westerly,” “bitterly,” “painterly,” and “gingerly.” Presumably, membership in this set is based on all of them sharing “-(st)erly” and “sisterly” came first because it has even more sounds in common with “sinisterly.”

It is true that in both English and German there are many words where a relationship in terms of sound also indicates a relationship based on meaning. However, this clearly isn’t the case for the pseudo-ending “-(st)erly.” That is “sini,” “si,” “ma,” “ea,” “we” and “ging” are not English roots, and while both “bit” and “pain” are, they are not the roots from which the words in which they appear above were formed (rather these are “bitter” and “paint”).

Interestingly, given that all of the words are adverbs ending in “‘ly,” if one examines the German translations, the similarities are much less sharp. Schwesterlichöstlich and westlich (“sisterly,” “easterly” and “westerly”) share –lich, but meisterhaft (masterly),  malermäßig (painterly) and behutsam (“gingerly” – in the sense of “gently”) all end in different suffixes –haft, –ig and –sam, and bitter (“bitterly”) has no suffix at all.

If you do the exercise in the reverse direction, using the final portion of unheimlich, specifically mlich, you get another interesting set of words which don’t happen share meanings beyond being adjectives/adverbs just as their –lich endings would predict: förmlich (“officially” or “formally”),  dümmlich (“simple-minded”), räumlich (“spatially” or “three-dimensionally”), ziemlich (“rather,” “almost” or “nearly”) and abkömmlich (“available”).

All of this was a great reminder that although there is no sinister plot designed to make learning another language harder, overlap between sound or word form and meaning can’t be taken as a given.

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Double trouble

Riegel, Regal and Regel. “Lock,” “Shelf” and “Rule.”

Riegel, Regale and Regeln. “Locks,” “Shelves” and “Rules.”

Three words, three ways of forming the plural. Sadly, this is three of eleven ways of forming the plural (many books give only five, some give eight, and a few of them count foreign words which have a variety of plural forms). Luckily, given these many options, the definite article for all plurals is die. Equally luckily, while all the forms below are possible, the most common forms are (1) for masculine and neuter nouns to form their plurals with “e” or nothing (and nothing is likely when there is a non-final “e” in the final syllable, e.g., “el”) and (2) for masculine nouns that end in “e” to form their plurals with “n” (3) for feminine nouns to form their plurals with “en” or just an “n” if the final syllable contains a non-final “e.” However, since you will meet all eleven of them in your early experiences in learning German, here they are in all their glory!

Option 1: Do nothing
This is what happens with der Riegel, it becomes die Riegel. Recall that is one of the popular forms.

Option 2: Add an umlaut, but no ending
This is what happens with der Apfel (“the apple”), it becomes die Äpfel.

Option 3:  Add an “e”
This is what happens with das Regal, it becomes die Regale. This is another one of the popular forms.

Option 4: Add an umlaut and an “e”
This is what happens with der Baum (“the tree”), it becomes die Bäume.

Option 5: Add an “n”
This is what happens with die Regel, it becomes die Regeln. This is yet another popular option.

Option 6: Add an “en”
This is what happens with die Frau (“the woman”), it becomes die Frauen. Again quite popular, some consider this equivalent to Option 5.

Option 7: Add an “nen”
This is what happens with die Lehrerin (“the female teacher”), it becomes die Lehrerinnen.

Option 8: Add an “er”
This is what happens with das Kind (“the child”), it becomes die Kinder.

Option 9: Add an “er” and an umlaut
This is what happens with das Fahrrad (“the bike”), it becomes die Fahrräder.

Option 10: Add an “s”
This what happens with das Auto (“the car”), it becomes die Autos.

Option 11: Add an “se”
This is what happens with das Erlebnis (“the experience”), it becomes die Erlebnisse.

Possibly we could make an Option 12 for the renegades, most of which brought their style of plural formation with them when they came into German, for example: das Museum (“the museum”) and die Museen and das Lexikon (“the encyclopedia”) and die Lexika.

Not all foreign words have such distinctive plurals. Many use “s” and in some cases this can be downright confusing for the English speaker: das Baby becomes die Babys, das Party becomes die Partys  and our friend das Handy becomes die Handys, all of which violate the rules of English plural formation. We have “parties” for “babies” and snap photos with “handies” (if we had happened to use this word for “mobile/cellular phones” – see Does That Ring a Bell?).

In addition, the learner can run aground on words where there is a mismatch between German and English in terms of whether there is a plural. For example, in English when we use the word “information” without the definite article “the,” we have to qualify with a quantity term like “some” or “a piece” rather than saying “*an information.” And whatever quantity it comes in, unlike German which has die Informationen, it is never “*informations.”  Similarly, we don’t say “*a furniture” – ein Möbel – or “*the furnitures” – die Möbel.

Hopefully you now have a sense how having to always memorize a noun’s singular and plural forms can lead to informations overload!

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