German Word of the Day – “weder… noch…”

Hello everyone, high five smileys

and welcome to our German Word of the Day

Tag Team Special

This time we will have a look at the meaning and grammar of one hell of a team. Say hello tooooooooo:

weder… noch… (pron.: vaduh nough    for now)

Suppose you have a bad day and you are grumpy as hell. People might offer you things to make you feel better and yet this is just making you even grumpier. If you know what I mean, then you will find lots of joy with weder… noch…as they will make your rejections sound much more definite.

  • “Hey, wir gehen ins Kino, willst du mitkommen.”
  • “Neeeeeee, keine Lust.”
  • “Willst du lieber was trinken?”
  • “Neee… WEDER Kino NOCH Bar!”
  • “Ok, ok… schon gut.”

Weder… noch…. is the construction to reject two or more things and it is the German version of neither… nor… .

  • I want  neither coffee nor tea.
  • Ich will weder Kaffee noch Tee.
  • Neither have I any idea who drank your beer, nor is there anything in my room that could help you find this person.
  • Weder habe ich eine Idee, wer dein Bier getrunken hat, noch ist da irgendwas in meinem Zimmer, das dir helfen könnte, die Person zu finden.
  • There is neither rhyme nor reason in that.
  • Das hat weder Hand noch Fuß. (idiomatic translation!)

As you can see the mechanics of weder .. noch… and neither.. nor… are pretty much the same. This is similar to the pair entweder… oder… but for those two we already found out that there is big differences between German and English if you take the words separately. So let’s take a quick look at the words one by one.  Noch is mostly combined with another word to form a variation of expressions. I don’t want to get into this right now because it is too much. Weder however makes up for nochs diversity as it means… nothing. “But doesn’t it mean neither?”. No not really. It just means neither when it is teamed up with noch and this is the only time you will ever see or hear it anywhere. The English neither however is used without nor in a number of constructions that can be boiled down to 2 concepts. The first one is summarized by ‘me neither‘ so it is a negative ‘too‘. In German this works using auch nicht.

  • “I don’t like Rosé.” “Me neither.”
  • “Ich mag keinen Rosé.”  “Ich auch nicht.”
  • Maria didn’t do her homework. Neither did Tom.
  • Maria hat ihre Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht. Tom auch nicht.

To make it more clear, here the more literal translations:

  • “Ich mag auch keinen Rosé”
  • “I do not like Rosé too.”
  • Tom hat seine Hausaufgaben auch nicht gemacht.
  • Tom has not done his homeworks too.

The second neither, the one of ‘neither of us’, is going to be translated into some construction with keine/keiner/keinem/keinen ect. The exact translation depends on case, gender and of course situation so the 2 examples are just some possibilities:

  • I tried both types of beer in that bar and neither one was tasty.
  • Ich habe beide Biersorten in der Bar probiert, und keine war lecker.
  • Come on! Neither of us likes to do the dishes but one has to.
  • Komm schon! Keiner von uns wäscht gerne ab. Aber einer muss.

So just to recap weder… noch… means neither … nor… . Now we need to look at the grammar quickly. In German you usually put the words weder and noch right in front the two alternatives you want to reject. So it is:

  • Ich mag weder Schokolade noch Eis.
  • I  like neither chocolate nor ice cream.
  • Ich gehe weder zur Arbeit noch zur Uni.
  • I neither go to work nor to university.
  • Weder will ich Fussball gucken, noch habe ich Appetit auf Bier.
  • Neither do I want to watch Soccer nor do I feel like drinking beer.

In the last example the two alternatives are the main actions of the phrases – to want and to have. Weder and noch are in front of the verbs and the verb is just where it needs to be… in its precious second slot. So in that regard weder… noch … are a little different to entweder … oder…as these 2 don’t take up one slot all the time.

Now if you have to reject more than two things simply add nochs to your sentence:

  • Ich mag weder “Star Wars Episode 1″, noch “Der Weiße Hai 2″, noch “Matrix 2″, noch “Matrix 3″, noch….

And this is already it. This was our German Word of the Day Tag Team Special with weder… noch… . I hope you found it helpful and see you next time.

8 responses to “German Word of the Day – “weder… noch…”

  1. Emanuel, what does “Willst du lieber was trinken?” mean?

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    • Depends on the context… literally it is “Would you rather drink something” but that rarely makes sense… maybe if someone offers you a snack and you turn it down and then they offer sth to drink instead.

      In context of making plans for a date or night out the sentence means the rather basic option of going to a bar and have a few drinks there as opposed to go see a movie or to a friends house party or to that vernissage.
      Usually this version is accompanied by a nur or einfach to underline the simplicity of it
      “Hmmm what could we do”
      “Wollen wir einfach was trinken (gehen)?”

      So… these are the 2 readings that I can think of but no garantuee :)

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  2. Your English is correct! You can also, and perhaps more logically, say “I go neither to work nor (to) University”. Both work for me. The “to” is optional at least in speech, but gives a nice emphasis and balance to the sentence.

    One correction though. As “neither” is already negative, you omit “don’t” and say “I like neither chocolate nor ice cream.” The Japanese, who are very literal with yes (agree to sentence content) and no (disagree) may otherwise think you do like both!

    Cheers.

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  3. Hi Emanuel! I keep coming back and re-reading these posts over and over – they’re so useful! Especially for the tricky words like noch and doch… I’m surprised there are only a couple of comments on this one – you usually get heaps, especially for funky words like noch. So even though the post is like over a year and a half old, I figured I’d comment, hope you don’t mind!

    One interesting difference between English and Deutsch I notice with your examples is that “neither” can only be used if there are only two possibilities. So we don’t say, “I tried three types of beer in that bar and neither one was tasty.” You could say “Can you believe that bar only had two kinds of beer?! I tried both types, and neither (one) was tasty.” If there’s more than two, you’d have to say something like “none of them were tasty”.* Likewise, the dishes example is fine, but just be aware that saying “neither of us” implies only two people involved, otherwise you’d say “none of us”.
    (*As an aside, here I would say “none of them were” rather than “none of them was”, but if you want to check out a big online argument, Google “none of them were none of them was”…)

    This applies equally when neither is in a neither-nor construction. So your last example with the form “weder-noch-noch-noch…” doesn’t translate directly. The following does not work: “I like neither “Star Wars Episode 1″, nor “Der Weiße Hai 2″, nor “Matrix 2″, nor “Matrix 3″, nor…”. In this case, we’d just say “I don’t like “Star Wars Episode 1″, or …” (Note that usually I’d use “or” if I wasn’t using “neither”. There’s nothing wrong with “nor”, as in “I don’t like A, nor B, nor C…” and it’s probably a regional thing as to whether “or” or “nor” is used. It sounds a bit quaint to me – I’d probably only use “nor” here if I wanted to sound kind of poetic or dramatic or literary.)

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    • Oh wow, I didn’t know that. That was really interesting. Danke :).
      It’s also interesting that you’d use “or” for these kinds of listings. To me that sounds quite strange. The only way I can make it work is to think of the “or”-parts as kindof afterthoughts. In German you’d need to make a clear pause after every movie. I think the German “oder” is a bit more like the exclusive logic-“or”….

      – Ich mag den Star Wars oder Star Trek nicht.

      Just by itself, this is a weird statement.. like.. speaking in riddles, kind of. Oh well… English once again proves that it is more flexible.

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      • Hum! Ok, I thought I’d better double-check my assertion online, and it seems to be one of those things that people argue about, and say that it’s just prescriptivism gone mad, so I guess don’t worry about it. (I heard that some English speakers suddenly decided around about the 19th century to go crazy with making up English grammar rules, but a lot of the rules are of dubious necessity or even authenticity. Things like not ending sentences with prepositions.) But if you’re ever in a situation where you need to use formal written English, maybe better off avoiding a structure with more than 2 options for either “neither-nor’ or “either-or”. (Recursion unintended!) That’s how I learnt to do it in school, so it does sound a little odd to me to add more options, but probably lots of people use it that way and it’s not a big deal – the meaning is clear anyway.

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