Tag Archives: verbs

Until we meet (us) again

I’m working my way through »250 Grammatik-Übungen: Deutsch als Fremdsprache« which covers A1-B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre1_en.asp). With the exercises I’ve completed so far, I’ve discovered a few gaps, Wissenslücke, in my grasp of German. One of these, Konjunktiv I, or the special subjunctive, is not something over which I will be losing any sleep. The most common use appears to be to indicate that someone else has said something – indirect speech. With the exception of sein, all of the verbs in Konjunktiv I are regular, so if/when I decide to get to grips with this mood, knowing when to use it will be the only challenging piece.

The second gap involves (I was going to say “includes” but can a gap include something?!) the reflexive verbs. It is not that my vocabulary is devoid of reflexives, however, as many of them have to do with activities of daily living – taking a bath/shower, combing/brushing your hair, getting dressed – and I am a childless adult who can take care of these unassisted, they haven’t seemed vital or wissenwert. It is also true that the majority of the ones I have learned either take the dative case (Ich muss mir das überlegen – “I have to think it over”) or have to do with mental events or social actions (Ich will mich nur umsehen – “i just want to look around/I’m just looking” – in response to Kommen Sie zurecht? – “Are you doing okay?/Can I help you?” in a shop). In one case, sich vorstellen, the reflexive verb combines these two factors in that one must learn the difference between the accusative and the dative forms: ich stelle mich vor and ich stelle mir vor – “I introduce myself” vs. “I imagine.” My use of a reciprocal reflexives is also somewhat spotty. I know now to say Wir treffen uns for “We’ll meet” but I can easily forget to add the reflexive pronoun with unterhalten – “discuss” or “talk.”

Luckily, there are good online resources to help me become better acquainted with both the special subjunctive mood and the reflexive verbs. It will be interesting to see what new gaps emerge as I leave the verbs and move onto nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, sentence forms, etc.

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Say a little prayer for the language learner

I recently noticed the similarity between the German words beten – “to pray” –  and bitten – “to ask or beg someone [for something]” – a similarity that was highlighted when one looks at their past participle forms, the regular gebetet and the irregular gebeten. As I have learned however, these resemblances, however helpful they may feel to me as a learner, may not always signal a relationship between the two words. On checking the etymology via Duden online, I discovered that the two verbs do not appear to share an origin. Beten is said to arise from betōn in Old High German, while bitten appears to have been a Old High German word in its own right. Duden goes on to suggest that bitten originally had connections to “the promise” and “the contract.” Interestingly, the noun die Bitte –”the request” or “the plea” – is listed along with beten rather than with bitten. This brought to mind the English expressions “pray, continue” and “pray tell!” which are not entreaties to a higher power, but rather a friendly or ironic request for the speaker to say more.


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That’s just super

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This famous first line begins with the comparison “best and worst” and goes on to weigh up “wisdom and foolishness,” “belief and incredulity,” “Light and Darkness,” “the spring of hope and the winter of despair,” “everything and nothing,” “Heaven and the other way,” and “good and evil.” What struck me on reading this anew is the fact that the nearly all of polarities Dickens presents are the not the traditional adjectives and adverbs one sees in textbook lists of opposites – although those are represented through “best” and “worst” – but instead are abstract nouns. Yet, he ends the sentence by mentioning the notion of “superlative,” a notion, along with “comparative,” that applies only to adjectives and adverbs and in most cases, at least for one-syllable words, involves morphological changes, for example “early, earlier, earliest” or the irregular “good-better-best.”

We are fascinated by superlatives, the Wikipedia has 251 lists of the biggest, the longest, etc., particularly in the US where it is quite easy to find a diner advertising “The World’s Best Coffee,” a roadside attraction that is the largest you-name-it and where we watch two teams play in the “Superbowl.”

While the people in German speaking countries might not make as many superlative claims, German does offer you a prefix, aller-, to express that something is “the X-est of all” or “the single most X.” One might call it the “superlative of superlatives!” Thus the Allergrößte is “the mother of all…” or “the biggest/greatest/largest of all.” The Allerschönste is “the most beautiful of all.” The Allererster is “the very first [ever]” (typically describing the first person to do something). With allermeisten you can say “the vast majority” in just one word. In addition, aller– is the only prefix that can be used to form adverbs from adverbs; canoo.net lists six such words, three of which are allerbesten “the best of all,” allerfrühestens “at the very earliest” and allerwenigstens “at the very least.”

I also like this trio of words which give you a way to modify verbs: gernlieberam liebsten.

Ich höre gern Klassik – “I listen to classical music with pleasure”
Ich höre lieber Folk – “I prefer to listen to folk music” or “I get more pleasure when I listen to folk music”
Ich höre am liebsten Blues – “I get the most pleasure when I listen to Blues”

or, in other words, meine Lieblingsmusik ist Blues – “My favorite music is Blues!” I hope that one of your favorite things is reading about learning German on Earthquake Words.

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Dead satisfied

Yesterday I visited Ohlsdorfer Friedhof. If you weren’t looking carefully, you might miss that this is a cemetery. It is laid out much more like a park or arboretum and is so large that there are bus lines that run through it to take you between different chapels and different sections. It lives up the Frieden part of its name in that it is a place of “peace” and “tranquility” (note that Fried, a delightful false friend if there ever was one, is not word in German as far as I can tell; but when I type the letters F-R-I-E-D, I frequently add an N, which makes sense for English but not for German).  I doubt, however, that anyone ever imagined a “yard” or “courtyard” – two of the meanings for der Hof – anything like this size (it is apparently the largest parkland cemetery in the world).

And then, suddenly, into my head came one of the possible translations of “happy” – zufrieden – that I shared in the post Happy-go-lucky. I had learned this as meaning something closer to “satisfied” or “content” than “happy” and the der Frieden connection suggest another possible rendering: “at peace.” Then, I got to wondering about that zu. I started scanning the zu section of the dictionary and before I tired of it discovered only a few adjectives with what looked like the zu– prefix (z.B., zudringlich – “pushy” (dringend – “urgent(ly)” or “strong(l)y” or “absolutely”)and rather a lot of verbs including zufriedenlassen – “to leave someone in peace” or “to stop bothering someone” and zufriedenstellen – “to satisfy, content or sate someone.”

Therefore, I got to wondering if perhaps there was a verb frieden that might have been the source for zufrieden. While I could not find a frieden (apologies to James Taylor for the very bad partial, cross language pun), canoo did offer some interesting insights on word formation via conversion! They explain two sorts of ways in which you can make an adjective from a verb.  The first is by suffixation (die Suffigierung). There are five types of suffixation options, I’ll only the simplest option for this post: drop the -en ending and add either -bar, –(e)rig, –haft, –ig, –isch, –lich and –sam. For example, ärgerlich – “annoyed” or “cross” from ärgern – “to annoy.” The second method is even more direct, conversion (die Konversion): you use the present or the past participle. For example, ein überwältigendes ‘Nein”  – “a resounding ‘No’ ” – or gefüllte Oliven – “stuffed olives.”

I hope that this leaves you both satisfied (or satt) and hungry for more Earthquake Words.

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