Word of the Day – “gehen um” – this time for real :)

umgehenHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day and today it’s time for another episode of:

Words – married and in love

In those specials we look at combinations of words that are used very frequently and that mean… well somewhat more than just the combination. Last time we looked at was für, a really potent couple… sem… uh.. sementically (oh god, that doesn’t sound right).
And here are our words for today:

  • gehen and  um (pron.: ghehuhn / oom)

Those 2 words can be combined in not 1, not 2 but 3 different ways and we’ll look at all of them today. That way, you’ll learn to thoroughly hate German while I get to procrastinate the god damn drag that is explaining the word mal… oh mal

In a daze for days,
mulling over the malice
oh malleable mal. 

(this Haiku was brought to you by: Dictionary ®, Helping people show off since 1876)

Anyway… let’s get back to our actual topic. As we learned in our little April’s fools post, little words like an, aus or um can be combined with a verb in different ways. I can honestly not imagine how confusing those combinations must be for someone who is just starting to learn German. Unfortunately, there is no way around that and many of those combinations are really important words or constructions. When you start learning German, you may very well ignore cases for months and it still make good progress… but those combinations are vital and we have to deal with them.
Um can be combined with gehen in 3 different ways … as a preposition, as a separable prefix and … as a non-separable prefix…. yap. Sooooo confusing. Let’s start with the preposition version.

The verb gehen alone basically means to go. As many other basic everyday verbs it has some more abstract side meanings but all can be understood with the premise that something is moving.

  • Morgen um 9? Das geht.
  • Tomorrow at 9? That works.

Gehen can be combined with a lot of prepositions… in, auf, unter, über and so on

  • Ich gehe in die Bar.
  • I go (in)to the bar (lit.)
  • Ich gehe auf den Balkon.
  • I go on the balcony.
  • Ich gehe über die Brücke.
  • I go over the bridge.

Um is just one of many options here.Now, in English um stands for no ideas… … … thank you… in German, it stands for 2: mostly around and sometimes over (in sense if to tip over). In fact those 2 ideas can be boiled down to one core but that would be maybe a topic for some blog that explains German prefixes one at the time ;). So… in combination with gehen, we have the around-um. Here is a pretty literal example.

  • Ich gehe um den See.
  • I go around the lake.

But this isn’t so fascinating. I mean, going around things can be fun but it is not what makes the combination really useful. It’s the abstract meaning that does, the combination of gehen um and it… you know… this weird it that does all kinds of things, like rain or look or go.

  • It looks like it‘s going to rain.

What is this it? Can you show me it? It is just like an omnipresent entity that does stuff when it is not clear who else does it… like…
“Hey everyone, who is going to be hot tomorrow? Any volunteers? No one? Scarlett Johanson, how about you?”
But she is not there, and everyone else is just like “It should do it, it has the most experience.” And it is like “Okaaaay fine, I’ll be hot.”… I think you get my point :).
So what does it mean when it goes around something? The best translation is probably to be about.

  • In dem Film geht es um große Roboter, die gegen Monster kämpfen.
  • In the movie, it goes around big robots fighting monsters. (lit.)
  • Lincoln is about big robots fighting monsters.
  • In diesem Artikel geht es um die Kombination gehen um.
  • This article is about the combination gehen um.

Es geht um is THE best if not the only way to say it is about in German. We don’t really say

  • Das Buch ist über…

That works if your book is about chemistry or science, but especially in context of stories it sounds clumsy. Gehen um is the way to go… and it is funny to picture that… you have this weird entity it (which I imagine to be a cat) and it is circling around a subject in the middle to look at it from all sides…
And this combination is not limited to books or films…. whenever there is a point or subject matter, gehen um works fine.

  • Es geht nicht darum, was man sagt sondern wie man es sagt.
  • It’s not about what you say but how you say it.

Oh… if you’re confused about the darum… check out this post… anyway, one situation where I often hear and use it is when I talk to a customer service person on the phone.

  • “Luxus-Yacht Kunden Service, mein Name ist Schmidt, was kann ich für Sie tun?”
    “Ja, hallo Emanuel hier. Es geht um die Yacht, die ich letzte Woche gekauft habe.”
  • “Luxury yacht customer service line, my name is Smith, what can I do for you?”
    “Yeah, hi, Emanuel speaking. I’m calling about the yacht I purchased last week.”

Or if someone wants to know what the topic or matter is, they might use gehen um

  • Worum geht’s (geht es)? = Um was geht’s?
  • What’s the problem? How can I help you/ what is it you want to talk to me about.

This could be a person on a customer service line or your professor or your boss… even your partner, but generally es geht um sounds a bit official.
So… gehen um really is pretty useful and… there is more. It is also used when people talk about what’s at stake…:

  • Bei der nächsten Frage geht es um 10.000 Euro.
  • The next question is for 12.840,26 Dollar.
  • Im Finale geht es um den Weltmeistertitel.
  • The final is about who will be world champion.
  • Die Firma hat viele Kunden gewonnen. Jetzt geht es darum, sie zu halten.
  • The company has gained a lot of costumers. What matters now is holding them.

And then finally, people sometimes add a mir to the whole thing. The meaning then shifts again… not much… just makes the whole matter more personal, if that makes sense. Here is a snippet from an argument I had with my girlfriend a few days ago.

  • Mir geht es nicht darum, dass du MAL auf deiner Yacht bist. Was mich stört ist, dass du IMMER auf deiner Yacht bist.
  • My problem is not that you are on your yacht SOMETIMES. What bothers me is that you are on your yacht ALL the time.

So… with a mir or a dir the gehen um combination kind of means something like matter to me, matter to you and so on.
So… it can have a variety of translations (can’t everything) but the basic idea is always that the omnipotent cat is circling the point or subject and it really is a often used phrasing. I mean… I guess you can live in Germany without using it that much but at least when you talk about movies or books there is NO way around it so bottom line… I’d say it is worth being part of your active vocabulary. Oh… I almost forgot to mention one special thing about the past of this construction… it is almost always using the real past of gehen. So it is

  • Beim Meeting ging es um das neue Design.

as opposed to the spoken past version:

  • Beim Meeting ist es um das neue Design gegangen.

This sounds really really wrong so stick with the written past ging there.
All right.
Now let’s move on to the other combinations of gehen and um.
Um can be used as a prefix for gehen and what’s special about um is that it can be separable as well as not separable … (if you don’t know what I am talking about, check out the basics of that here).
So… there is umGEHen with a strong emphasis on GEH and there is UMgehen with um being stressed… and of course both words mean something different. Let’s start with the non-separable version, so we’ll start with umGEHen.
This meaning is pretty straight forward as it basically means to go around with an extra layer added of to avoid.

  • Ich gehe um den See.
  • I go around the lake.
  • Ich umgehe den See.
  • I go on a path that will prevent me from getting anywhere near the lake, because I hate lakes.
  • I go somewhere avoiding the lake (I can’t think of a better translation)

One use of this umgehen is the word Umgehungsstrasse (bypass road) but the majority of situations in which this umgehen is used are abstract though… so you can umgehen a problem of sorts

  • Ich umgehe das Problem.
  • I work around the problem/ I avoid facing the problem.

So I’m not solving it, I just find a route on which I can proceed without encountering it. Now, again here’s something special about the past because we have to use haben here. Sure, we are talking about some kind of movement here, albeit in the abstract, but it seems as if the direct object (problem, Firewall,etc…) dominates the rule here. So it is

  • Ich habe das Problem umgangen.
  • I have avoided the problem.

And because it is a non-separable verb, we don’t have a ge in our ge-form here.
Now on to the last umgehen… the separable one.
The translation of that umgehen is … get ready for German at its finest… to treat, to handle.
Huh?
What?
But…
WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????
Well, it is really not obvious so let’s get ready for some “mind chi”. You see, there actually is kind of a side meaning to this umgehen: is to wander around. It is really rare these days and pretty much only ever used in combination with ghosts.

  • In diesem Schloss geht ein Geist um.
  • A ghost is roaming around in this castle (lit.)
  • This castle is haunted.

However, while almost forgotten today, this meaning to go/ wander around might have been the original meaning of this umgehen. So… let’s keep this in mind for a second. Now, the contemporary umgehen, the one that means to treat, NEEDS the preposition mit in order to have that meaning. So it is umgehen mit. Here are 2 examples:

  • Ich gehe vorsichtig mit meinem Laptop um.
  • I handle/treat my laptop with care/carefully.

And now let’s combine our findings… umgehen meant to wander around and you do that with your laptop. And you do it in a certain way… carefully. Here is another example… you are walking around, doing your things and you have stress. Now you want to know what would be the best way to do what you do (walking around doing things) with this stress of yours… so you ask:

  • Wie gehe ich richtig mit Stress um?

A few centuries ago this might have translated to:

  • How can I run my daily errands well when I have stress.

And over time, the actual running around part of the meaning has disappeared and what’s left is the coping, the dealing with, the handling and today the same question means:

  • How can I handle/deal with stress the right way?

Oh god, I hope that makes sense… I don’t know if that’s what happened but it sounds plausible to me.
So… umgehen as a separable verb means to treat or to handle.

  • Der Freund von Marie schnarcht, aber sie hat gelernt, damit umzugehen.
  • Marie’s boyfriend is snoring, but she learned to deal with it.
  • Thomas kann nicht mit Kritik umgehen.
  • Thomas doesn’t take criticism very well.

So… umgehen can be to treat, to handle or to put up with… there is a challenge or something and you go around with that in a certain way. SO it is not to treat as in a doctor, it is not to handle in sense of to take care of… try to capture the idea rather than the translations. Here again an example that works well in the abstract  AND the literal meaning.

  • Marie kann nicht gut mit Geld umgehen.

This means that she spends too much or is always in debt… she can’t handle money very well… but we can also picture Marie running around with a sack of gold, and then she loses half of it and buys stuff she doesn’t need for the other half… she is not able to walk around with the money without loosing it.
All right… a quick word on past and then we’ll wrap up… the last umgehen forms its past using sein and the spoken past is fine.

  • Ich bin pfleglich mit deinem Buch umgegangen.
  • I treated your book with care.

So… this was our German word of the Day couple special and I hope you are ot scared of German now. It is really rare that there are 3 combinations of a basic verb and a little word. However, 2 combinations are really common, so hopefully this post was gave some insight into the different mechanics. The most important word or phrase to take home with you is definitely es geht um (it is about/ the topic is). It is used a lot and you really need it when you want to talk about books or movies, conferences or meetings. Here again are all 3 combinations we had back to back…

Um as preposition:

  • Es geht um dein Pferd.
  • It is about your horse.

Um as non-separable prefix:

  • Ich umgehe dein Pferd.
  • I go somewhere avoiding passing by your horse (because it hates me).

Um as a separable prefix:

  • Ich gehe gut mit deinem Pferd um.
  • I treat your horse well.

If you have any questions or you need to let off some steam about German and it’s prefix madness, please leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

PS: Are there ads being displayed on this blog??? If so, they’re not mine. It’s WordPress.com. I don’t get any money from it , neither do I know what or when they put them up. My apologies.

16 responses to “Word of the Day – “gehen um” – this time for real :)

  1. Hey, Emanuel! Another good post! As a matter of fact, one of these days I was wondering which would be the best translation for “to deal with/ to cope with”. Could I say that it would be “umgehen mit” for most occasions?
    Thank you ;)

    Like this

    • hmmm… I’d say yes, but there might be situations in which it doesn’t work… I just can’t put my finger on them. I’d say generally umgehen mit works best for rather mundane challenges… so it would be weird in context of your house burning down.
      There are many other verbs, all in the same area:

      sich arrangieren mit
      klarkommen mit
      da müssen wir durch (implies an eventual solving)
      leben mit

      Umgehen mit has this partial notion of to handle and even to operate….

      Meine Oma kann nicht mit einem Computer umgehen.

      So umgehen mit is good for mundane things you get or are confronted with, … I don’t know… I really can’t pinpoint that. If you have an specific context please let me know and I’ll elaborate more :)

      Like this

  2. Emanuel you are hilarious — I love your sense of humour, and your ability to pin-point the nuances that would confound students of German. Thanks so much, please keep this going!

    Like this

  3. Awesome article. And I have never seen any ads on your site (ads, not adds, by the way), but it may be because I virtually always am reading your site on my phone. Also one other minor correction – when you originally mention that umgehen used to mean “to wander around” you use “wonder” instead and I doubt ghosts are walking around asking themselves questions. Maybe one day I’ll feel comfortable enough with my German to post my responses in German, then you can tear apart my grammar ;)

    One last question. I haven’t gotten any formal training on da-words. But I have surmised that da-words seem to be used mainly when you’re using a preposition that you want to refer to an action (not sure if that makes sense), whether the preposition is along with the verb, or extra info you want to add to the sentence. Is it safe to assume that of you want to use a preposition and reference an action, you’ll be using a da-word? A recent example that came up was asking someone/pleading someon to do something. I was trying to use bitten um or flehen um (which might not have even been the right choices to begin with) and thought I should use darum with “dass du…” Would that be correct?

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    • Thanks for the corrections as always :). And don’t hesitate… write in German. It’ll suck at first and take sooooo long but it’s training and I’ll happily correct it.
      As for the da-words… I think you got it. The use in the example you gave is perfect. A da-word always points at something… a thing, that is. It can be something that has been mentioned before.

      - Ich habe ein Auto. Damit fahre ich gerne.

      Or it can be something that will be mentioned right away. And those situations are the ones where you need to connect something to the verb and that something is not a thing but an action so it needs its own verb to be expressed.

      - Ich bitte dich darum, in Deutsch zu schreiben.

      Sometimes (as in this example) you can leave it out and still have a correct sentence. But when the verb WANTS a preposition at all cost you need a da-word.
      What follows can also be a minor sentence with wo, wie, wann or any other further explanation.

      – Ich denke darüber nach, ob/wann/wie/wo/mit wem/womit/worauf….

      I’m not sure if you’ve read it but I’ve explained the words in detail in one post here…. here’s the link:

      http://yourdailygerman.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/da-words-meaning-german/

      So if you’re still uncertain, check that out and hopefully settle the matter once and for all… except for the getting used to it part :)

      Like this

      • Ah ich dachte ich habe zwar alles hier gelesen, aber ich habe dieses Artikel nicht gesehen! Danke! Ich werde versuchen, mehr oft in Deutsch zu schreiben.

        Also ich verstehe immer noch diese “wo- words” nicht. Sie sind immer “was + preposition = wo- word”?

        Und vergiss nicht, ich lerne Deutsch seit nur einem Jahr, und ich habe mir selbst unterrichtet!

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        • Hey… das ist doch schon total gut (um mal ein paar Partikel zu benutzen). Kompliment.

          Ein paar winzig kleine Fehlerchen:

          - mehr oft = öfter

          – Ich lerne Deutsch seit nur einem Jahr…. das ist ok, aber mit “erst” wäre es besser.

          – Ich habe mich selbst unterrichtet (objekt ist direkt hier)

          - Der Lehrer unterrrichtet die Schüler in Chemie.

          Und dann der erste Satz…. du hast versucht zwar zu verwenden aber das passt hier nicht so gut. Warum nicht? Denn zwar funktioniert NICHT so wie truely. “Zwar ” bereitet ein “aber” vor.
          Das Problem ist, dass das “aber” von dem “Ich dachte” (plus Kontext) schon vorbereitet ist…. zumindest ein bisschen. WIr haben jetzt also 2 Setups und nur ein aber und das ist ein Konflikt. Man könnte es jetzt folgendermassen lesen:

          Ich dachte “Ich habe zwar alles gelesen aber den Artikel habe ich nicht gesehen.”… Du denkst also nicht nur den zwar-Teil, sondern die komplette Konstruktion. Dann ist das “zwar” richtig aber das ist nicht mehr das gleiche, wie was du sagen wolltest.

          - I thought: “I’d really read everything but I didn’t”

          vs.

          - I thought I’d really read everything but I didn’t.

          However, a native German would not interpret the sentence the first way but would rather just think “Hmmmm zwar sounds out of place here”.

          Das ist kein großer Fehler, aber das Feeling passt nicht :).

          Was noch… ah ja, die wo-wörter… ich werde da auch noch einen Artikel drüber (darüber) schreiben, aber im Wesentlichen hast du Recht prep + was = wo-wort.

          Womit, worauf, wovon = with what, for/on what, of/from what

          Like this

  4. Ah jetzt kenne ich wie du fühlst wenn ich dir deine Fehler in Englisch zeige! haha

    Danke für die Hilfe! Ich brauche alle die Hilfe die ich bekommen kann. Ich habe keiner, den ich mitsprechen kann, den mehr als ich weiß.

    Ich bin immer noch verwirrt, wenn man “erst” oder “nur” benutzen sollte. Normalerweise benutze ich “nur” aber nur (? haha) denn ich habe “nur” gelernt, und nicht “erst.” Ich muss deinen Post über “erst” wieder lesen.

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    • Also weiß ich auch nicht, was der Unterschied zwischen “benutzen” und “verwenden” ist! Eines Tages werd’ ich vielleicht alles wissen…

      Like this

      • Ich glaube da gibt es keinen Unterschied… zumindest nichts worüber man sich Gedanken machen müsste. Da kannst dir also aussuchen, was du nimmst (hehe… noch eine Option)… benutzen ist vielleicht ein bisschen mehr in die Richtung physisch, mit Händen, aber wenn, dann ziemlich subtil.

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  6. I just have a small question, when using “geht es um” as “to be about”

    “Der Film geht es um…”

    would “handelt von” also work here also? Or how is this used?

    Danke!

    Like this

    • Nah… it is either

      - Im Film geht es um…

      or

      - Der Film geht um…

      You can only have one subject, one thing that goes around the topic :). The first phrasing (with “es” ) is the better choice most of the time.

      - Der Film handelt von…

      that works too and means the same. The only difference is that “gehen um” is more general. “Handeln von” is about telling a story, “gehen um” can also be the topic of an upcoming meeting with your boss.

      - In dem Meeting geht es um die Quartalszahlen.
      - The meeting is going to be about…

      “Handeln von” wouldn’t work here because a meeting is not a story, not even remotely. The meeting just is. We cannot read it or consume it in some other way. In past tense it isn’t as bad anymore because the meeting has taken place and there is a story to tell about it but I would mark it as bad style if I was copy editing something.
      Hope that helps :)

      Like this

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