I have technically been learning German now for 14 years (woah).
But, I will never be able to master the German language. Punkt.
I can sometimes feel on cloud nine, breezing through a conversation, when BOOM I say the wrong gender for a word or a use the wrong type of word, mistaking verbs and adjectives and nouns… Or sometimes I get into so much detail, that I suddenly lose my trail of thought and forget which verbs I have to say at the end (for example, the word order of a long sentence may be something like: “Well, so far I know, would have he his homework for his English class already last week do should” (or, in English: “Well, as far as I know, he should have already done his homework for his English class last week.”) – I get entangled in the object of the sentence that I forget what is actually happening to that object. Worryingly, this also happens when I write emails, too. I just completely forget to write the verb at the end and carry on merrily with my email, thus having to add about 3 verbs when checking through again.
There are some certain things, however, that I say wrong quite often. As a kind of small list of “Bloody hell, Dan, will you FINALLY get this stuff right?” and also to show you all, I thought I’d compile a list of things I say wrong often. Or, at least, the things that I’m aware I do wrong. I will add to this list or write a similar new post when I come across more stupid stuff I say in German!
Trousers are a singular noun in German
Starting off with such a simple thing that I constantly forget – in English, we say: “The trousers are blue” – ‘trousers’ is plural. In German, as trousers are technically one item, they refer to it in the singular (i.e. “the trousers is blue”). This also applies to words like ‘scissors’. If you asked me how you say it correctly in German, I’d tell you. But if it’s thrown midway into one of my sentences, 9 times out of 10 I will refer to ‘die Hose’ as “sie sind”. But somehow I’ve managed to get over the fact that ‘scissors’ has the same rule. Not sure why, but at least it’s better than getting it all wrong.
The difference between ‘verheiratet’ and ‘geheiratet’ (both meaning ‘married’)
Another thing I constantly get wrong (and I’m genuinely going to have to look this one up to check I get it right here) is the fact that Germans have a word for ‘married’ as a state (‘They are married’, ‘They have been married for 10 years’), but they have a different word for ‘married’ as a verb (‘They got married last year’). The state is ‘verheiratet’ and the verb is ‘geheiratet’. And I always, always, always get them mixed up!
The phrase ‘she fainted’ in German
OK, this was a one-off, but I got completely laughed at by Tim for this. I wanted to tell him a story about how somebody fainted. Now, I knew it had something to do with the word ‘black’, as in ‘blackout’. The actual way of saying it is: “Ihr ist schwarz vor den Augen geworden” (which kind of means: “For her, it became black in front of her eyes”). Did I say that? No, of course I didn’t. I wasn’t sure about it, so as to not break the flow of the conversation, I said to Tim: “Sie ist schwarz geworden”. In other words, I told him she turned black, which could be (and was by Tim) understood in terms of her skin colour. Whoops.
Verbs with prepositions and their damn cases
This is one of my pet hates in German and something that really annoys me when I can’t remember which case a preposition takes. The thing is, in German, there are some prepositions that always take a certain case (such as ‘mit’ (with) also taking the dative case, and ‘für’ (for) always taking the accusative case). Simple. However, there are some evil prepositions that like to be case-fluid. Prepositions like ‘an’ and ‘über’. Phrases like:”I am working on the book” (Ich arbeite an d?? Buch) always get me, as I’m never sure if I’m working on das Buch or dem Buch (I just looked it up – it’s dem Buch because it takes the dative. Must try to remember that). So, in my head I think – OK, in this case, ‘an’ takes the dative. Awesome. But, lo and behold, the phrase “I am thinking about the book” (which also uses ‘an’) translates to “Ich denke an das Buch”, because, of course, it takes the accusative. There’s no wonder I keep getting that stuff wrong!
Not knowing the genders of new brand names
This is also a weird one and of course something that I can’t work out myself as a non-native, but it occurred to me that I sometimes find it difficult to talk about something new as I don’t know the gender of it. An example being the Nintendo Switch (I now have one – it’s so good!). I wanted to talk about it and say: “I’m going to get a Nintendo Switch”. But, is it ein Nintendo Switch or eine Nintendo Switch? Of course, if you were to say either, every German would understand you. But I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I wanted to know the correct way. It turns out it’s die Nintendo Switch, probably because it’s die Spielkonsole (but let’s not get started with that again). And then, I wanted to talk about the amiibo (a Nintendo figurine thing that can unlock things in your game) that I’d just seen in the shops, and wanted to say: “I’m wondering whether to get the amiibo we saw over there”. And there I was completely stuck: der, die or das?! After considering it a bit himself, Tim said he would say die, because it’s die Figurine. Would other Germans agree?!
Yet, despite the suffering I go through, I still enjoy the German language!
13 thoughts on “Mistakes I still make in German”
I read your post and kept thinking to myself… I’m not the only one! I’ve even written reports in German, but then a simple conversation at the bakery will just mess me up. It’s specially frustrating when you’re trying to make a smart point and you get frustrated at your lack of linguistic proficiency.
One thing I always do, that I probably brought over from English, is that I used ‘es’ and ‘das’ for everything, even if I know the gender of what’s in question.
I also read somewhere years ago that a large majority of words in German are male, and so I tend to use the male article and hope for the best with an unknown word.
Ah, I remember when I was told about not using “es” for everything. It took people A YEAR to say “oh by the way did you realise you’re meant to use “er” and “sie” for objects of that gender?”… something I was never taught at a school, but even more reason to learn those damn genders!
And yes, I read somewhere that 60% of words are masculine, so best off sticking to that!
Thanks for reading! 🙂
You must have very patient friends, because mine don’t even bother correcting me anymore 😛
I just found your blog a few days ago and it’s like reading into my own life from someone else’s perspective. Thanks for sharing!
This is so entirely relatable for me… I’ve been learning German 10 years… I’m just about to move back to Frankfurt, yet every now and again i’ll say something *super* goofy and un-german and I feel like i’ve just unveiled myself as an ‘Auslääääaaandderrr’!
Hey! Haha, I’m glad you can relate. Genders are still my downfall in German – partly because I’m sometimes not corrected so I’ll get used to a word being a certain gender then BOOM you’ve been saying it wrong for years!
Frankfurt’s an awesome city. Though if you say you’re moving back here, then you obviously know that yourself 😄
Thanks for reading!
Yes… So many times i just hesitate and go with my gut… Often then, *wrongly* ‘correcting’ myself…! It’s all down to the inherent evil of cases… Just when you think you’re right… You move one word and it’s ALLL wrong.
Yes, i love Frankfurt 🙂 was properly charmed in the 8 weeks i lived there last summer! Back soon 🙂
Not sure if that’s much of a consolation, but my experience with English is weirdly similar. After 16 or so years of learning the language *and* completing a university course in English, there’s still a couple of mistakes that I can’t help myself making. Funnily, the first item on your list is among them, sort of: I can’t remember how often I’ve failed to refer to “trousers” as a plural. But it’s kind of good to see that other language learners are struggling too on occasions. I guess nobody is perfect. 😉
Übrigens: Nintendo selbst schreibt “ein amiibo”, also Neutrum. 🙂 https://www.nintendo.de/amiibo-/-ber-amiibo/-ber-amiibo-932316.html
You’re right there – nobody’s perfect! Thanks for the tip with amiibo, too! Just goes to show that even natives can get it wrong sometimes! 😂
You’re welcome! 🙂 And to be honest, it’s super-arbitrary and not at all clear most of the time which gender is the “right” one with new brand names. And not only with new ones, actually: People have been discussing for decades now whether it is der, die, or das Nutella. 😀
Ah, the wonderful Nutella debate! Though I’m not native, I see Nutella as a feminine word – “die Nutella” just rolls off the tongue easier than “das Nutella”! What do you use for it?
Always “das Nutella”, but I can’t give any real reason for it. Guess it’s just the way I learned it and the way most of the people around me used it when I grew up.
Haha you are not the only one 🙂 After several years learning German, i realize that we, as foreigners, will never be able to master this language. Period. There are too many “Ausnahme” in German that you won’t be able to remember all of them.