Useful German Words That Tie Conversations Together

The words in this section are multi-purpose words that you’ll hear often, with definitions broad enough to apply in a variety of contexts—it’s handy to have these guys around.

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Stimmt

It means “agreed,” “right” or “true,” and is often used to affirm a comment someone else has made. It seems to work in a surprisingly wide range of contexts and can be modified very slightly to expand its meaning, e.g.:

Stimmt das?

Is that right?

Das stimmt nicht

That’s not right

Stimmt so!

Keep the change (handy in restaurants/cafes if you’re feeling generous).

Genau

Meaning “exactly,” this word works in a similar way to stimmt. It also serves as something of a filler or sentence connector when you’ve paused between statements, similar to the way you use “so” in English. Unlike stimmt, you’ll often find it used as an adjective too, e.g.:

Genau hier

Right here

Genau wie

Exactly like

Also

No, it doesn’t mean what you think, but bear with me! Translated as “well” or “so” and used in pretty much the same way as its English equivalents, this is a great one to have on hand. It stands alone or functions as a sentence opener.

Also! Fangen wir an?

Well, shall we get started? (Expression of enthusiasm)

Also…ich weiß es nicht.

Well…I don’t know. (Expression of uncertainty)

Combine it with Äh (pronounced “eh,” the German version of “um”). If you have to sound uncertain—and let’s face it, you’ll be doing a lot of this to start with—you might as well do so like a native!

Oder

Means “or,” but it’s also very often thrown onto the end of a statement, where it means “right?” or “isn’t it?”.

Machen

Although English has significantly more words in total than German, my guess is that German’s in front when it comes to verbs. Learning German verbs opens up a whole new world of possibility—and confusion. Many are incredibly similar to one another, yet an innocent little prefix can change the meaning dramatically.

Amidst such a minefield, machen, meaning both “to make” and “to do” is a good go-to for many situations.

One can not only ein Kuchen machen (make a cake) but also Party machen, Fotos machen and eine Diät machen (go on a diet). If you break something, you “make it broken,” es kaputt machen, and to finish up is Schluss machen, which literally translates to “to make an end.”

Watch out though: You don’t “make” friends in German. Instead, you’d use something akin to Freunde kennenlernen (to literally “get to know” friends). You also don’t “make” decisions, you’d phrase this as Entscheidungen treffen (to reach a decision). But on the upside, you can now chuckle knowingly when your German friends enthusiastically tell you in English that they’re “making the party.”

Q & A

When you’re out and about in the German-speaking world, there are certain phrases that you’ll hear time and again. In my case, early contributions to basic interactions with German speakers ranged from embarrassed silence to a mumbled danke or OK. Getting familiar with a few simple phrases, questions and responses will go a long way to boosting your comfort level in these situations.

Einen schönen Abend/Tag noch

This phrase is used for polite leave-taking, usually between strangers or acquaintances. It literally means “a lovely evening/day still” and is basically the equivalent of “have a nice day.” You’re likely to hear it at the supermarket checkout, along with schönes Wochenende, “have a nice weekend.”

Gleichfalls!

You can say this in reply to a polite leave-taking phrase such as the above. This means “likewise” or “same to you,” and it’s the appropriate catch-all response to all manner of well wishing.

Wie, bitte?

The German equivalent of “pardon?” which is the polite way of asking someone to repeat themselves, if you haven’t heard or understood.

Was geht (ab)?

This is how you’d informally say “what’s up?” or “what’s going on?” to a friend.

Was ist los?

What’s wrong?

Hast du was (etwas)?

Is something wrong?

Warum?

Why?

Echt?

Really?

Geil!

Cool!

Ach, so!

Aha!

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