Word of the Day – “Je… desto…”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day and today it is once again time for a

TAG-TEAM-SPECIAL

This time we will look at the meaning and the grammar of:

“je … desto”  (pron.: yeh dasto)

Suppose you want to express how some certain ‘quantity’ depends on the ‘quantity’ of something else, in English there is one word that will do the job for you…  the .

  • The more I study, the wiser I become.
  • The longer I think about it, the less I want to see this movie.
  • The bigger the better.

In German one word is not enough to tackle this linguistic challenge and you need the combination je  desto . So does ‘the’ apart from meaning der, das, die and den also mean je and desto? Sure, they are translated that way in that situation but a single the cannot mean je or desto. There is a job to be done and in English its done by the, while in German it is done by someone else.

Je itself means either ‘a’ when used in sense of ‘per’ as in “It’s ten Euro a piece.”.

  • Die Äpfel kosten 10 Euro je Kilo.

Je can also mean ‘ever’. But one needs to be careful there as this only holds for  ‘ever’ in situations where it could be replaced by ‘once at all’.

  •  “Has grammar ever been fun” – “Hat Grammatik je/jemals Spaß gemacht?”

If ‘ever’ is used in sense of ‘always’ or ‘at any time’ the German immer is what you need. It is important not to confuse the two, there is a difference in meaning.

  • “Hat Grammatik je Spaß gemacht?” – “Nein!”
  • “Hat Grammatik immer Spaß gemacht?” – “Nein!”

The answer no in the first case indicates that there hasn’t been one single short moment at all when the speaker enjoyed grammar. The second no however means that it wasn’t ALWAYS fun, yet it might have been fun most of the time.

Desto as for itself does not have a meaning and you will only see it in combination with je to express the relation the something the something.
Je and desto each replace one ‘the’ . The rest of the structure is pretty much the same.

  • The more I study, the wiser I become.
  • Je mehr ich studiere, desto weiser werde ich.
  • The more I sleep the more tired I am.
  • Je mehr ich schlafe, desto müder bin ich.

The desto can be replaced by je itself but to my perception that is something you will rarely hear in spoken language. There is also the word umso (pron: oomzo) which is also used instead of desto and also instead of je at times.

  • Je früher ich aufstehe, umso länger ist mein Tag.
  • Umso mehr ich nachdenke umso weniger gefällt mir die Idee.

I would recommend you to stay away from umso though as you will very likely pronounce it quite similar to um zu (pron: oom tsoo), which means ‘in order to’. A mispronunciation there will totally change the meaning of your sentence and it will be hard to guess what you are going for. So stick with our tag-team je… desto. It is also the combination people use the most.

Hope you enjoyed it and see you next time.

15 responses to “Word of the Day – “Je… desto…”

  1. “The longer I think about the less I want to see this movie.”
    should be:
    The longer I think about [it], the less I want to see this movie.

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  2. But…you don’t seem to have covered the declension (?) of articles when used with nouns. Ie: the richer the man, the prettier the wife. Would both of these nouns take he nominative? Je reicher der Mann, desto schoener die Ehefrau. ?

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    • Very good question!

      So the declenison is NOT dependent on je and desto but on the function of the thing/person in the sentence. So it can be nominative but it doesn’t have to be.

      Pure nominative:

      Je schwerer die Aufgabe (ist), desto größer (ist ) der Spaß.

      mix Nominative – Akkusativ:

      Je billiger die Bar (ist), desto schlechteren Wein (acc) bekommt man (subj.).

      Mix acc – dat:

      Je mehr Geld (acc) ich (subj) habe, desto mehr schönen Frauen (dat) schenke ich (subj) Diamanten (acc).

      So you see… the declisnion depends on the function and is independent of je desto :)

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  3. Thanks , it`s easy the way you explain – Dilan aus CMB

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  4. Very good examples. Thanks for sharing it..

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  5. You have done a really good job here! The tipp with umso sound good and wise to me (a German native speaker), as pronunciation is not so easy for you English native speakers. Here is a little comment, though:
    The use of »Umso … umso« is daily language (or slang); it’s not right in written German (and should not be used if you want to speak good German). The possibilities are »Je … desto«, »Je ‌… umso« and (in archaic German) »Je … je«. (cf. http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/zwiebelfisch/zwiebelfisch-abc-je-je-desto-umso-a-435248.html – in German)

    Have fun with learning German! :)

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  6. Thanks dude. It was really helpful (y)

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  7. From my experience, “Je…umso” is preferred in everyday speech as “Je…desto” sounds stuffy, elitist, and old-fashioned. At the same time, “Je…desto” should always be used in serious written works as “Je…umso” sounds to informal.

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    • I have to disagree… I rarely ever use “je… umso” and it is similar for the people around me. Sure, there may be regions that prefer “je… umso…” but “je… desto…” is definitely more idiomatic both in written and in spoken… and there is NO WAY it sounds stuffy, elitist or old-fashioned… at least not to me. Don’t getme rong but that part of your comment was a bit baffling. What is your source? Are you a native speaker? What region are you from?

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  8. Also, I would advise NOT avoiding a common phrase in spoken language just because it is hard to pronounce or easily conflated with other words. If you are learning a language, you might as well learn it right.

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  9. Thank you!!! I missed a day of German class, but now I feel like I didn’t miss anything! Meow meow may more happiness come your way. :3

    Like

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