Tag Archives: what is

German Participle Construction 1 – what, why and how

german-participle-constructHello everyone,

and welcome to our German is Easy Learn German Online course and I have good news for all beginners: You have a day off! Hooray.
The topic today is maybe not exactly what you are asking yourself when you’re making your first steps in German, it’ll be long, and have grammar in it so… why not just go outside and enjoy the sun.
I mean, not that it’s gonna be too difficult for you, you’d be able to understand it just fine, you would gain some insight into the mechanics and structure of German and then of course there will be the answer to the question: is the following a possible beginning for a sentence:

  • Die das den…
  • The the the…

I really don’t know. Sure looks stupid, but then again… it’s German so it might work. Aaaaanyway, so beginners, you’re free to leave or stay as you please :).
So… what are we going to talk about today? Get ready for some jargon… our topic today is the:

German participle construction aka Partizipialkonstruktion

Wow, what a word. The German participle construction is something you will have to deal with when you advance to German level B2 and you certainly need them for mastery and to get the higher language certificates like the DHS. The mere German word for it, Partizipialkonstruktion,  is rather intimidating and about 80 % of all German native speakers have no idea what that is so naturally the word is used in language tests and textbook exercises to indicate what you are supposed to do.
So… you should know the term, but what really matters is an understanding of what this is, what it does and how you do it. And the particle consump… constructions are actually kind of useful, especially in writing. And the underlying idea is even more underlying… uh I mean useful of course.
So… today we’ll do 2 things. First we’ll explore what partial combustions are  an why they are useful. Then we’ll focus on the present tense version and learn how to build it and and when. Be warned: I will be really really detailed about everything. And because I’m already sick of the term itself… from now on we’ll call them party-somethings.  Sounds good? Awesome. Continue reading

What do darum, daran, davon, danach and all those mean?

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another part of the “German-is-easy learn German online course “… a course just as great as its title is stupid and long. So why not abbreviate it? Well that doesn’t really help … “Gielgoc” … sounds like a Superman-villain. Gielgoc, the mighty, is severely hit by the man of steel but ohhhh, oh noooo, Gielgoc is using his stare of doom, a concentrated … watch it… grammar ray forcing superman to wonder which case to use … guahhahahhahahahahahaaa…. oh what a way to start a post.
Anyway… first let me say sorry, that I haven’t been posting very regularly recently. I have moved into a new flat and my job is getting the best of me at the moment. And then there is this summer here right now and then there is this soccer here too… and all things keep me from writing as much as I wanted to.

But today we will have a look at something that has bothered generations of learners. No one has ever put it into words more beautifully than a certain young guy who was learning German as a second language 2 centuries ago.

Darum, davor, damit
what’s with all that shit

It may be surprising to hear that this very young man who scratched those words into his wooden desk in despair grew up to be one of the most famous poets in the galaxy… Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
What?… What do you mean ‘he was a native’? … Was he? … oh really … oh … well… uh… well uh… (god this is sooo embarrassing)…
So… uh,… well… today we will talk about one of the most fierce gangsta crews in German language, chillin, hangin’ out on da corner in every other sentence hustling info… it’s “da wordz” maaaan.

daran, darauf, damit, dadurch, danach, dazu, etc

Those da-words seem to be in every other German sentence, and they also seem really hard to translate sometimes.  They actually are a very essential part of German. You cannot talk fluently without them, and you do need to fully master them to pass any higher German language test. So today we will talk about, what they are, what they mean and why and when you need them and why they actually SAVE work… yes they do. Continue reading

Word of the Day – “einstellen”

einstellungHello everyone,

and a very warm welcome to our German Word of the Day. Why very warm you ask? Because, I like you all so much… and because it is SUMMER, it’s warm outside and I had the waitress put ice cubes in my beer…  Yes… I do that. I am that kind of person. I totally water down the oh so tasty German beer just for the sake of freshness… and now to take a first sip….
….sooooo refreshing. Seriously… you should try it some time.
So… it looks like it’s going to be a great article today, and it’d better be because we are going to look at the meaning of:

einstellen (pron.: ine shtelln)

Now some of you may be asking themselves why they should read stuff of a guy who wastes his introduction for pointless banter and who openly admits that he is drinking… alcohol while writing.
To those of you I say: fair enough. Go ahead and use a dictionary … here is einstellen at Pons.de and here at Leo.org… … …
So… everybody back? Great. Let’s start then.

The core of einstellen

Einstellen is one of those verbs that seem to have a million meanings. But it is not so bad after all… wait till we talk about anstellen. That one is a real monster. 
can be boiled down to 2 main concepts and with a little mind bending even down to one. To get to this kernel of einstellen, let’s first look at the parts. The word consists of the prefix ein and the basic verb stellen. Ein when together with a verb usually carries the idea (and only the idea) of in(to)… .so it has nothing to do with the ein as in a.  Other example with ein would be einschlafen (to fall asleep) or einfallen, which was already a Word of the Day here.
The basic verb stellen …  well … in German there are basically 2 main ways to position stuff – stellen and legen. Stuff can be anything from solid physical object to entirely abstract things like … hmmm … uhm … an imaginary chair. Legen is to position something in a horizontal or at least comfortable, “low energy” position… a lot of times it translates to to lay… but not all the time of course. Stellen on the other hand is to position something in an upright or tense position… sort of… this is not the catch all explanation but the best I have. So for example I  stelle  my glass on the table. I could also legen it on the table but then the (still refreshingly cold) beer would damage my laptop. Other things you stellen in German are questions and an alarm.

  • Darf ich dir eine Frage stellen?
  • May I ask you a question?
  • Ich muss mir einen Wecker stellen.
  • I have to set an alarm.

In these examples, nothing is literally put in an upright position but you could justify the use of stellen by saying that there is some kind of some tension in both these cases. The question seeks an answer and the alarm will go off with a lot of noise. Legen would be way to cozy here… I hope you can follow me so far . So… Possible translations for stellen are to put, to set and to pose.
Based on these 2 parts, einstellen should mean something with the idea of  to put into something.  And all we have to do now, is to see what we can do with this :). Piece of cake.

Meanings of “einstellen”

The first and most important meaning of einstellen is best described (not translated) by the word to adjust… . Let’s look at this in real live.

  •  Thomas stellt seine Klimaanlage ein.
  • Thomas adjusts/configurates/stets up his airconditioning.
  • Maria stellt einen neuen Radiosender ein.
  • Maria tunes in a new radio station. (lit.)
  • Kannst du mir meinen Computer so einstellen, dass er nicht immer automatisch Updates runterlädt, sobald ich online bin.
  • Could you set up my computer such that it won’t automatically download updates whenever I am online.

Whenever you adjust something so that it is “in tune” with something after, what you do in German is einstellen.
Interestingly, this can be also used for people.

  • Stell dich daraufein, dass es morgen regnet.
  • Attune yourself to that, that it will rain tomorrow. (lit.)
  • Prepare yourself that it will rain tomorrow.
  • Ach du bist ja schon da??? Ich war jetzt darauf eingestellt dich erst NACH dem Essen zu sehen.
  • Oh you are here already??? I was thinking that I meet you AFTER diner.
  • Um sich auf das Meeting einzustellen, hat Maria alle Akten gelesen.
  • In order to prepare for the meeting, Maria has read all the files.

So if you einstellen yourself, you set your mind in a certain way. What is important to realize is that you need to say what you tune, so in this case you must say yourself. Otherwise it could be very well your alarm, that you set. Saying the myself, himself, etc make it clear… oh as we talk grammar already let’s not forget the preposition you need: auf… just like ich warte auf, you stellst dich ein auf
This einstellen is used quite a lot, but what’s even more important is the corresponding noun… die Einstellung. If you are talking about a technical device, die Einstellungen are the settings. Check with your cell phone for example. But also people have Einstellungen. Germans are like really complicated machines here… (oh the stereotype)… we have a LOT of EinstellungenEinstellungen about a certain question, Einstellungen towards other people but also general Einstellungen about life.

  • Du bist immer pessimistisch. Das ist die falsche Einstellung.
  • You are always pessimistic. That is the wrong  mind set.
  • Meine Einstellung gegenüber Vegetariern hat sich geändert.
  • My attitude towards vegetarians has changed.
  • Thomas hat eine merkwürdige politische Einstellung.
  • Thomas has a weird political opinion/view.
  • Du musst deine Einstellung ändern, wenn du Erfolg haben willst.
  • You have to change your attitude, if you want to get a job.

As you can see, there is not really one translation for Einstellung attitude is quite close I would say, but still it doesn’t feel quite right in some situations. Think of Einstellung as the setting of something or someone and learn this word… it is used a lot in German.
So to wrap this up some sentence that our chancellor Merkel has been saying for a while…

  •  Wir müssen uns auf eine längere Krise einstellen.
  • We have to be ready for a long crisis.

God, did you feel that too? … this sudden whiff of bore… must have been this example with politics… well, that won’t happen again anytime soon. Now let’s look at the next meaning of einstellen but first I need to get me a new beer…

The next meaning of einstellen has a very limited range. It is simply to employ…  At first it might feel like it has nothing to do with the first meaning of einstellen but remember: the very core of the word, the main idea was to put into… if you employ someone you sort of put him or her into your company… or on your payroll if you will.

  • Meine Unternehmen läuft super. Ich werde 3 neue Leute einstellen.
  • My business is going great. I am going to employ 3 new people.

There really isn’t much to say here except maybe this: another possible translation for to employ is anstellen, but I don’t want to talk about the differences here because… you know… that whiff of bore from earlier was kind of intense. Imagine that as a tornado.

The third meaning of einstellen again feels like it has nothing to do with the one before… it is kind of like to show up.

  • Die ersten Gäste haben sich gegen um 8 eingestellt.
  • The first guest showed up around 8.

Now to show up doesn’t REALLY nail it, as this einstellen has a slow edge to itself… guests “trickle in” one by one. So if you just get to the train station, einstellen wouldn’t really fit.
And does it fit the core of einstellen? Yes it does. Why? Because, showing up someplace means to “put your body” there…
This einstellen however is not that much used… so as long as you understand it, it’s enough.

So.. now we have already reached the meaning of einstellen that is REALLY out there… and this meaning is… to stop. Damn.
Einstellen can mean to stop but it is a very special part of to stop only. First of all, einstellen is NOT the stop of stopping a moving object. You cannot einstellen a car or a thieve.  Think of einstellen as to cease or  to knock of. You can only  einstellen activities. But is there a difference between einstellen and aufhören (read up on aufhören here)?

Difference between einstellen and aufhören

Well there sure is and it sort of lies in the grammar. Aufhören goes very well with verbs so most of the time it is used in a zu-construction. Einstellen on the other hand goes along with things /nouns. It is not so easy to illustrate that in English but we’ll try nevertheless.

  • I stop smoking.

Now what is smoking here? A dress of course…. badum tish…
Is it a verb or a noun based off of a verb? As far as I am concerned the answer is not important because it depends on the perspective. It will become obvious what I mean once we look at the German translations.

  • Ich höre auf, zu rauchen.
  • Ich stelle das Rauchen ein.

Both mean the same pretty much but in the first sentence we have rauchen as a verb while in the second it is a noun or a thing – the action of smoking. It is not possible to exchange aufhören and einstellen without altering the rest.

  • Ich stelle ein, zu rauchen.
  • Ich höre das Rauchen auf.

Both these sentences are wrong. So einstellen and aufhören have the same idea, but they differ in construction. You can ONLY einstellen things… nothing else. So you have to make your verb a thing first. This makes a sentence with einstellen pretty stiff in comparison to a phrase with aufhören. Why… because the latter has 2 verbs, and verbs make the language feel alive.
Aufhören is BY FAR the more used. Einstellen is actually really limited to certain situations. One of them you might have heard on a plane.

  • Bitte stellen Sie das Rauchen ein.
  • Please refrain from smoking/stop smoking.

They could very well also say:

  • Bitte hören sie auf, zu rauchen.

Why do they use einstellen? Well… during all that welcome speech on the plane they tell you to fasten your seatbelt, put your seat in an upright position, shut of electronic devices and so forth… so basically they tell you to do things with stuff. A phrasing using zu with 2 verbs, like aufhören would be,  would totally stick out there and ruin the flow. And einstellen sounds a bit more official I guess.
2 other prominent examples with einstellen are these:

  • Feuer einstellen!
  • Cease fire!
  • Die Serie wurde nach einer Staffel eingestellt.
  • The show was canceled after one season.

Especially the first one is really stupid. If you are not aware of the meaning there is absolutely NO reason why you wouldn’t think that it actually means  start fire or adjust fire or set fire.
Anyway…bottom line: einstellen as to stop is really not very useful in every day life. It is enough to know that it can mean that.

But does this meaning of einstellen actually match the core we had? Remember… to put into… Well if you are REALLY open minded it does.
See… first of you have to think of to keep as from of foresighted from of putting… if you don’t put something out (which is to keep), you don’t have to put it back in. So to keep is equal to to put back and to put back is a special form of to put into, which was our core. So… now when you cease fire,you keep the bullets IN your gun. When you cancel a show, you keep it IN your network or the writers minds. If you stop smoking, you keep the nicotine IN the cigarette, and the cigarette IN the pack… and yet you are tense so stellen is totally adequate there… and tadah… there you go. Einstellen as to stop totally fits the core meaning… and I see we have a call here, Matthiew from New York, hi Matthiew, how are you doing:
“Hey Emanuel… look … I like your show a lot and so far this one was quite
interesting too although there weren’t as many jokes as usual BUT…. this last
thing you said was ABSOLUTELY RETARDED!”

Uhm… uh… what do you mean?
“Oh please… this whole explanation why einstellen as to stop is the same  like
 einstellen as to set… Do you seriously believe this nonsense… I mean come the fuck on!… ‘you’re keeping the smokes in the pack blah blah blah’…  what the
fuck were you thinking… are you drunk?”

Uhm… well a little but that has nothing to…
“Dude, do you even realize what bullshit you just dumped on air… ‘keeping
something is a foresighted form of putting it back’… for fuck’s sake … you really
have to cut back on the beer man. People trust you and believe the stuff you say
 Uhm … uh.. well uhm…
 “No man… I am really disappointed in you… I think your Einstellung (attitude/mind set)
is totally wrong and if you go on like that the interNet-work will
your show sooner than you can einstellen (prepare/ adjust/set) yourself for it.”
Look Matthiew, I … uhm…
“No man… don’t say nothing… listen to this again, when you’re sober… for
shame Emanuel, for shame!!… (hangs up)”

Wow… I don’t really know what to say. See that’s what happens when you are live… ok… so… what now?… uhm… yeah… the grammar… einstellen is a separable verb and builds its past with haben.

  • Ich habe mich auf Regen eingestellt.

To prevent confusion I need to say this: when you einstellen in the sense of your personal settings you often use it as an adjective…  you say that you ARE prepared for something. This is done with sein….

  • Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt.
  • I am prepared for love from head to foot.

It does look an awful lot like past but if a lady says that to you, it is present… very present… and to end this article with schmaltz, here is the famous Marlene Dietrich… enjoy

If you have questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment and I promise you, I will only moderately consume beer from now on :)
Hope you liked it and see you next time.

German Word of the Day – “der Zettel”

einkaufszettelHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will take a quick look at the meaning of:

der Zettel (pron.: tsattle)

 Zettel is one of those words that I perceive to be purely Germanic… not very elegant, a bit harsh in sound and yet it has a certain degree of clumsiness to itself. So does it have an English relative that evolved from the same Germanic root? It does indeed… and this counterpart is…. schedule. Yes, schedule … trust me, I was as surprised as you are now but when you mumble both words it kind of shows. And what about the Germanic root? Well I was kind of blown away that Zettel and  schedule originate from the fancy Latin schedula, which meant small strip of papyrus.
Obviously the word schedule has very little to do with the origins but it still looks quite the same. The German Zettel has come quite a long way as far as the looks are concerned, but what about the meaning?

Well, Zettel is actually pretty close to the origins when it comes to meaning, so this is the point where we say good bye to schedule because it has nothing to do with the word Zettel. Great, a mere 200 words into the post we are already … behind schedule…. … …. tadah!!
No one is laughing? Ok fine… it’s not like I can’t dry this explanations till it totally blows… … …
Still nothing? No appreciation? Come ON!!! BLOW DRY!!! No?
Well that just tears it. There won’t be no pun never no more (whatever that actually means).

So… Zettel has kept the original meaning pretty much. A Zettel has the following characteristics. It is made of paper, it may or may not be a complete page (usually it is smaller), it may or may not be square shaped, it may or may not be used on one side and it won’t probably last long. So basically it is a piece of paper that you need to write down some information.
You are on the phone with someone and they are about to give you some address? You want to leave a little note on the fridge for your flatmate? Or you need to buy some things for your cake and you are to lazy to memorize the 4 items?
 to the rescue. You don’t need a whole new white shiny page… you just need a piece of paper of any kind… a Zettel.

  • Hast du mal einen Zettel?
  • Do you have something to write on?

Zettel is used in a number of compound nouns.

  • Ich habe vergessen, meinen Einkaufszettel mitzunehmen.
  • I forgot to bring my shopping list.
  • Ich habe mir einen Merkzettel für morgen geschrieben.
  • I wrote a notepad for tomorrow.
  • Für die Mathearbeit brauche ich einen Spickzettel.
  • I need a cheat sheetfor the math quizz.

Spicken does not mean to cheat by the way. It is more like to peek. Anyway…  so a Zettel is a small piece of paper to write on… so just to make sure, a flyer with mostly dark colors won’t make for a proper Zettel.
Zettel isn’t very official. If someone was to falsify the theory of Einstein on some wrinkly Zettel that would be a bigger bang (no pun here… continue reading) than if he did it on a page of a spiral notebook… how lame. A Zettel would be really ‘in your face Einstein’.
Zettel is also often used in sense of note. It is actually a very good translation for note a lot of times.

  • Ich habe dir einen Zettel auf deinen Schreibtisch gelegt.
  • I left you a note on your desk.
  • Kannst du mir einen Zettel schreiben?
  • Could you write me a note?

The other translations for note would be Nachricht or Notiz and for the examples both would be weird… especially Nachricht, because Nachricht is really just the information. You can hardly leave a Nachricht on a table… you need to write it down first or record it and leave the cassette… uh… I just gave away that I was born in the 80s :)

So now that we know the meaning of Zettel... let’s enter the realm of the abstract. Behooooold…

A squared squirrel squinted at the squash court. How industrious. Clouds were there. Despite, counterclockwise would have been the better choice…

What’s that? You would like to know, what the fuck? Well that was just a little warm up to open your minds and hearts.
So the first abstract meaning of Zettel is Denkzettel. The literal translation would be think-note but it actually … a lesson. Not a lesson in school but a lesson someone is taught after doing something wrong. So if someone keeps parking in your spot and you have his car towed… that is a Denkzettel. Or you flatmate keeps drinking your milk, so one day you put some REALLY rotten milk there… that morning coffee will be a Denkzettel.
For some reason German do not simply give a Denkzettel to someone, they make them have it. The following phrasing is kind of fixed as it is and anything else would sound weird.

  • Ich verpasse dir einen Denkzettel.
  • I  make you have a think-note. (lit.)
  • I teach you a lesson.

Go ahead, look up verpassen in the dictionary… you are sure in for an unpleasant surprise … guahhahahhahhahhaaa… that’s just what you deserve for not finding my puns funny.

Another abstract usage of Zettel is one I really like a lot. I don’t use it very much as in… never, but I still find it very figurative. The word I am talking about is the verb verzetteln or to be precise sich verzetteln. It really doesn’t have anything close to a translation…  “getting confused due to too much input at a time” kind of goes there but when you check the different dictionaries you will get all kinds of translations. So lets just look at verzetteln itself… think of ver as the same ver as in verlaufen which means to lose your way and zetteln… well zetteln as a verb doesn’t exist but it feels like it could mean “work with notes”... so sich verzetteln is kind of getting lost or lose the big picture because of a whole lot of notes all around you. An example?

  • Thomas hat sich mit seinen vielen kleinen Projekten verzettelt.
  • Thomas got kind of lost with all his small projects.

It is really giving me a hard time to translate this to English but I think you got the idea.
The last word for today is anzetteln. The literal or better the figurative meaning is to put a note somewhere at a wall, but it actually means to start or to cause. But although it would be a good word its use is rather limited as it is only used in combination with a war, conflict, brawl or argument… I don’t know why.

  • Thomas hat gestern in der Bar eine Schlägerei angezettelt.
  • Thomas provoked a fight in the bar yesterday.

So anzetteln is nothing you would need in everyday life but at least you will understand it when you read it.

To wrap this up real quick, here is the grammar of Zettel. It is masculine and the plural is die Zettel, so no change there.

  • Auf meinen Zetteln steht alles was ich wissen muss.
  • On my notes there is everything I need to know.

And this example shows that, just like so many other words, Zettel will get an n in case 3 plural… Zettel gets n-ed… just like this post…. badum tish.
That was our German word of the Day, der Zettel – piece of paper to write on.
If you have questions or suggestions or a good translation for verzetteln, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Word of the Day – “vielleicht”

do you wanne go out with me - yes no maybeHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we might… have a look at the meaning of:

vielleicht (pron.: fee-luygt)

Vielleicht is a very very important word and whenever I learn a new language (god, that sounds like I do that every other month) it is one of the first ones I look up. The main English translation of vielleicht is … maybe.

  • Heute abend gucke ich vielleicht eine DVD.
  • Tonight I’ll maybe watch a DVD.
  • “Kommst du zu meiner Party?”
  • “Are you gonna come to my party?”
  • Vielleicht gehe ich morgen schwimmen.
  • Maybe I will go swimming tomorrow.

As you can see in the last example, vielleicht already counts as one position so the verb has to come after. Usually one position does answer to one question. For instance heute answers to when? For vielleicht things are not that obvious but still it is a valid answer to “how?” or simply “Will you do this?“. Anyway… vielleicht can very well open a sentence. Just note that the verb has to come after that. Now let’s get to the more interesting question and that question is…

What the hell are the Germans thinking?

Not every German might be aware of this, but vielleicht is a actually really  awk word… … … (they MUST find this funny… it’s just so clever… I mean come on… I’ll give them some more time to laugh) … … …
The English word maybe makes perfect sense as it is. Something may or may not be… hence maybe. Vielleicht however seems to consist of the 2 words viel and leicht. Viel means much, many and a lot and leicht means light and easy. So based on that vielleicht would be much-easily. And why does this mean maybe? It would make sense as probably or likely… but maybe? Really?
I have been wondering about this for a while and I was quite convinced that vielleicht actually has some Germanic root that has nothing to do with viel and leicht and that it just happened to look like that. But after reading this source I knew I was wrong. Vielleicht really does consist of those 2 words and back a few centuries ago it used to mean something like probably or easily.
So originally it was used to express that something was very likely to happen, but it has changed and nowadays it really means just maybe.
Why this change occurred, I have no idea, nor have I found anything online. As a matter of fact probably and maybe are both giving information about how certain something is, only the degree of certainty distinguishes the 2… getting from number 80 to number 40 won’t take too long as long as it’s on the same street.

One explanation for this shift of vielleicht could be that the Germans just were overly optimistic back in those days. Everything seemed to be easy and possible, and yet the harsh cruel world taught them lesson after lesson… “Oh this war won’t vielleicht (probably) last for 30 years, I am so sure.” , “Oh vielleicht (probably) this Black Death thing is not going to spread around too much, don’t worry”. Let down after let down hit them until the once hopeful and positive vielleicht had turned into a  mere nihilistic maybe.
 Another possible reason would be that the Germans just plain sucked at keeping promises. Imagine a knight telling his maiden that he will vielleicht return from war and marry her… 10 knights later the maiden still hangs around in her dad’s castle and vielleicht just doesn’t quite feel the same anymore..

“yes yes… sure Sir Knight, sure… you will “probably” marry me… I gotcha.”

Either way… those are just personal stupid theories. Vielleicht is a strange word for maybe but it is the only one we have… besides eventuell of course.

Eventuell is one of the falsetestest friends ever. It has taken me SO freakin’ LONG to realize that it isn’t eventually at all… but I did understand that eventually… see… I just proved it. I really did:).
The German eventuell means maybe and there is no real difference to vielleicht except eventuell isn’t really what a steel worker would say. So if you want to sound educated and business like, it might be a good choice.

  • Schatz, ich muss eventuell heute Überstunden in der Ba.. äh… im Büro machen.
  • Honey… Mabye I have to work extra hours today at the ba.. uhm office.

So… looks like we have some time left here today so I guess we’ll take some calls… If you want to be live on the show, dial 0800-151-Vocab-4-You, I’ll repeat … 0800-151-Vocab-4-You…  and we already have a first call here from … uhm … Cock Wash in Australia, hi Lachlan what can I do for you?
 “Hi Emanuel, I just wanted to let you know that that joke o’ yours with the awk-word…  really wasn’t funny at all… nothing personal mate, just … don’t try please.”
Well thanks a lot man, I sure do appreciate critique. Our next call comes from Ontario Canada, hello Steve, how’s the weather over there… is it spring yet?
“Hi Emanuel, sure is…”
Cool, so what’s your question Steve?
“Ok so…  I have spent some time in Hamburg last summer and one day I was sitting with a German friend in a park when a woman with extremely long legs passed by. And my friend said something really strange:
‘Mann, die hat vielleicht Beine!’
I didn’t really catch on at first but later this sentence confused the crap out of me and still does. I mean… what does that mean ‘Maybe she has legs.’?
Is that like an ironical twist… like… she obviously HAS legs, she ‘GOT leg’ if you will,  and he said maybe just to be funny?”
Well Steve, that is actually a really good question, and I almost forgot about this meaning of vielleicht. Germans do use it sometimes to express that something was REALLY something. For example:

  • Puh, die U-Bahn war heute vielleicht mal voll.

Literally that would mean:

  • Gee, the metro was maybe full for once today.

But the actual meaning is

  •  Gee, the metro was REALLY packed today, I tell ya’.

“Wow, that is pretty confusing.”
Yeah, I guess it is if you’re not native… I don’t know the reason why vielleicht is used that way. I don’t really perceive it to be an ironic statement as you suggested though… if someone says it, he or she sounds honestly impressed to me … without any sarcasm… but your theory does make sense nonetheless so if it helps to comprehend this meaning of vielleicht… why not.
“And is it like a very common thing to say?”
Well, that’s hard to say. Me personally, I barely say it… that’s why I forgot to think of it for this Word of the Day. But I think every German understands it without feeling strange about it so yeah… people talk that way.
“Cool, that cleared up a lot for me…”
Yeah well thank YOU for bringing that up man, that was really important to mention… and actually there is even a third meaning vielleicht can have…
“Oh damn…”
It is not really an entirely new idea but different enough I think… people use vielleicht also in sense of approximately or circa.

  • Auf der Party waren vielleicht 20 Leute.
  • There were about 20 people at the party.

In that case the vielleicht doesn’t mean that some certain 20 people may or may not have been there… it really just expresses that the exact number is unknown.
“Oh, but that is quite the same in English actually… .”
Oh is it? See, I wasn’t quite sure… so

  • There were maybe 20 people at the party.

would be understood?
“Oh, definitely… people would say something like that using maybe…”
Ok cool, anyway… for those of you who’s mother tongue is not English… vielleicht can mean approximately too.
Well Steve, we’re at the end of the show now, but thank you so so much for your assistance…
“My pleasure… bye and thanks a lot.”

So… this was our German Word of the Day vielleicht. The main meaning is maybe, but it can also be used in sense of really to underline something or in sense of round about.
If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time… vielleicht ;).