1. Objectives

In this unit you will learn how to:

  • Correctly translate a number of “false friends.”
  • Identify and translate a number of common idioms.
  • Translate four common particles.
  • Identify and translate commands in imperative mood.
  • Identify and translate reflexive constructions that are functioning as a passive-voice equivalent.
Last revised on October 6, 2014.

2. False Friends

By this point in your experiences with German you will have noticed that, despite the existence of thousands of words which both look like and share the same meaning as English words, there are a few which look like English words but whose meanings are completely different. Visual similarities of other kinds can also be misleading. Here are the most common of these so-called “false friends” – words that are often confused:

False friend Not to be confused with
aktuell (current, up-to-date) eigentlich (actual, actually)
also (thus, therefore) auch (also)
bald (soon, shortly) kahl (bald)
bekommen (to get, to receive) werden (to become)
erst (only, not until) (when used with time expressions It means “first” when used as an adjective: das erste Teil [the first part]).
etwa (approximately) etwas (something)
eventuell (possibly, in that case) schließlich / endlich (eventually)
fast (almost) fest (firm, solid) or schnell (fast, quick)
fehlen (to be lacking or missing) – there is no one-word English equivalent
gelangen (to arrive, to attain)
(tip: regular verb!)
gelingen (to succeed)
(tip: irregular verb!)
der Rat (advice, counsellor) die Ratte (rat)
reichen (to reach, to suffice) riechen (to smell, to reek)
der Roman (novel) der Römer (Roman person)
schon (already, even) schön (beautiful)
wer (who, whoever) wo (where)
wohl (probably, indeed) gut (well)
Last revised on October 6, 2014.

3. Some Common Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions

es gibt / es sind

In Unit 2 you learned about the idiom es gibt (there is / are). This is used in general statements such as:

Es gibt viele Leute in New York.
There are many people in New York.

When we are talking about a specific number of people / objects, then you will see the form es sind (there are):

Es sind zwanzig Studenten in diesem Zimmer.
There are twenty students in this room.


In both the above examples the pronoun es is translated as “there.” Similar uses of it are:

Es geschah im Jahre 1990 ein Erdbeben in San Franzisko.
There occurred an earthquake in San Francisco in 1990.

Es spielte ein Kind in dem Garten.
There was a child playing in the garden.

In both of these examples we could ignore the es (there) and simply say “An earthquake occurred in San Francisco in 1990” and “A child was playing in the garden.”

abhängen von (to depend on)

Es hängt davon ab, ob wir das Geld haben.
It depends upon whether we have the money.

Meine Urlaubspläne hängen vom Chef ab.
My vacation plans are contingent upon my boss.

sich befassen mit (to deal with)

Dieses Buch befaßt sich mit der Geschichte des Automobils.
This book deals with the history of the automobile.

es geht um (to be a matter / issue of)

Es geht um die Finanzen.
It is an issue of finances.

gelingen (to succeed)

Es ist mir gelungen, die Aufgabe zu beenden.
I succeeded in finishing the task.

Es ist den Engländern gelungen, über den Stillen Ozean zu segeln.
The Englishmen succeeded in sailing across the Pacific Ocean.

This verb is what we call an impersonal verb: the grammatical subject is es, and the verb’s actor is in the dative case. We, however, ignore the es and translate the dative pronoun / noun as the subject.

sich handeln um (to be a matter of, to deal with)

Hier handelt es sich um das neue Modell.
Here we are dealing with the new model.
[or:] This has to do with the new model.

Es handelt sich darum, Geld zu verdienen.
It is a matter of earning money.

liegen an (to be due to / to be the cause of)

Das liegt an den Katastrophen in diesem Land.
That is due to the catastrophes in this country.

Es liegt daran, daß die Autofirma in die Verlustzone gerutscht ist.
The cause is that the auto company slid into the loss column.

denken an (to think about, to think of)

Haben Sie oft an Ihre Tante gedacht?
Did you often think about your aunt?
[or:] Has your aunt often come to mind?

Prepositions Used Idiomatically

In Unit 5 we listed the major prepositions and their most common meanings. You should have noticed by this point in the course that a preposition – just as in English – will always take on an idiomatic meaning when used with a certain verb or noun. Note the varied translations of um and an in the preceding examples. While it is a good idea to learn idiomatic expressions, you will be able to understand prepositions correctly only if you always consider the context of the sentence.

For example, in the following sentence für is best translated as “in” to fit our English idiom. You would first discover this by consulting your dictionary entry for interessieren.

Der Student interessiert sich für die Musik.
The student is interested in music.

Likewise, in the next sentence, auf is best translated as “for.” You would first learn that when you consult your dictionary entry for warten.

An der Straßenecke wartet der Vater auf seine Kinder.
The father waits for his children at the street corner.

Two examples of an idiomatic combination with a noun are zum Wohl! and zu Hause which you would find explained in your dictionary under Wohl and Haus, respectively.

When in doubt about the meaning of a preposition, consult the dictionary entry for the preposition’s object (noun) and/or the verb of the clause. You may see that the noun and/or verb (along with the preposition) together take on an idiomatic meaning when used in combination.

Last revised on October 22, 2014.

4. Particles

You will have seen and will continue to see in German-language texts the adverbs that are listed below. They are used often in German to add shades of meaning and emphasis to German sentences, and are not usually translateable with one-word equivalents. In fact, it is sometimes better to avoid trying to add a corresponding word to your translation. Instead, simply take the effect of these particles into consideration as you select the most appropriate translations of other words and phrases in the sentence.

auch also, even
doch really, nevertheless, but certainly, after all
ja certainly, to be sure
schon already, even
Last revised on October 6, 2014.

5. Imperative Mood

The imperative mood is used in forming commands, and can be recognized based on unusual word order, unusual verb forms, and / or an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. The verb will appear at the beginning of the sentence (as do English imperatives). In the second person singular (du-form), an –e is added to the stem of regular verbs as follows, although this –e may be omitted:

Bring mir den Salz! [or:] Bringe mir den Salz!
Bring me the salt!

If the stem of the verb ends in a –d or a –t, the final –e is never omitted. Verbs featuring a vowel change from an e to an i in the stem retain this change in the imperative, and omit the final –e. Second person plural (ihr-form) imperatives retain their present-tense forms. The formal Sie-form also is identical with the present tense, but Sie-imperatives include this pronoun immediately after the verb. Separable-prefix verbs retain the separation of stem and prefix. Study the following examples:

Finde mir meinen Hut!
Find me my hat!

Gib mir das Buch!
Give me the book!

Singt bitte lauter, Kinder!
Please sing louder, children!

Sprechen Sie bitte langsamer, Herr Schmidt.
Please speak more slowly, Mr. Schmidt.

Mach(e) das Fenster zu, Wolfgang!
Close the window, Wolfgang!

The verb sein is irregular in the imperative form, as the following commands indicate:

Sei nicht so hastig, Wolfgang!
Don’t be so hasty, Wolfgang!

Seid nicht nervös, Kinder!
Don’t be nervous, children!

Seien Sie ein bißchen rücksichtsvoller, Herr Schmidt.
Be a bit more considerate, Mr. Schmidt.

The first-person plural (“we”) imperative in German is simpler than its English counterpart. It corresponds to English statements beginning with “Let’s . . .”:

Lesen wir die Zeitung!
Let’s read the newspaper!

Fahren wir im Sommer nach Kalifornien!
Let’s drive to California this summer!

Last revised on October 6, 2014.

6. Reflexive Constructions as Substitutes for the Passive Voice

Certain reflexive forms may serve as substitutes for the passive voice. They may often be translated with the words “can be,” although there are also other possible translations:

Dieses Buch liest sich leicht.
This book can be read easily. [or:] This book is easy to read.

Dieser Satz übersetzt sich nicht!
This sentence cannot be translated. [or:] This sentence is untranslatable!

You may find the
Review Units 13-16 exercise more valuable now or as a later review opportunity.

Last revised on October 6, 2014.