Make English verbs German in 3 steps
If you are tired of steering clear of German words that seem to be the same as some English words, but are not quite the same, this guide is for you. Germans love to speak Denglisch, a mix of English and German, and this is what we want to talk about.
Those Germans, they steal words from us, mangle them, use them with German grammar and even pronounce them with a German accent, terrible! Yes, you are right. But let’s face it, this is what Germans do. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity to use your English skills to speak German.
Don’t worry about those English looking words anymore. We will help you get them right, easily; words like Computer, getagged and Computerscreen. But we even won’t stop there.
Absolutely, you can use words others have used before. If you are happy with just learning existing words, just stop half way through the post, you will still learn a lot. For all others, how about we jump into the creation of new Denglisch words ourselves and repeat some basic German grammar along the way? You can pave the way for others, even if you are not a German native speaker.
This post is part 3 of our Denglisch Guide. We have talked about these points before:
- Part 1: What is Denglisch and what do I need it for?
- Part 2: How to make English nouns German (Computer, der Screen)
- Part 4: The English apostrophe in German (Katrin’s Katze)
- Part5 : Is Denglisch ever appropriate?
- Part 6: How to actually pronounce English words in German
What part 3 of our Denglisch Guide is about
In English it is quite easy to transform a noun into a verb. As an example, the search engine Google can be used as a verb as well.
I googled something the other second.
It is still possible in German, just not as easy. To start out we want to focus on English verbs first since they can be made German in no time. We will show you how to say our example sentence in German, and many others, too.
What you will be able to do after reading this this article
Speaking about other sentences, let’s have a look at some real life examples, sentences you come across everywhere, in daily conversations and online.
Klara hat mich auf Facebook getaggt!
(= Klara tagged me on Facebook.)
Ich habe es gestern gedownloadet.
(= I downloaded it yesterday.)
How it is done
After reading the sentences you might already get a feeling for how it is done. Here are the 3 steps we have to take.
To turn an English verb into a German one we need to do 3 things
- Take the past tense form of an English verb
- Change the ending
- Apply German conjugation rules
It’s that easy, but what does it mean exactly? We want to focus on real life examples again.
1. Take an English verb
What is a verb again?
Google describes a verb as followed:
“a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hear, become, happen.”
Here are some more verbs. We use verbs to let others know what is going on, what is happening. We use them to describe some action.
hören (to hear)
sehen (to see)
essen (to eat)
aufmachen (to open)
verlieren (to lose)
Can I use any verb?
In theory it is possible to import any English verb into German, but not all verbs will look amazing to German eyes. We want to focus on regular English verbs since nearly 95% of them will still sound great after our import into German.
Regular English verbs have the same form in the simple past and perfect tense. They are verbs that never change no matter whether you say
I walked to the shops or I have walked to the shops.
We arrested her or we have arrested her.
And example of an irregular English verb you’ll find in this sentence:
They saw him on top of the house but They have seen him on top of the house.
In our post we want to use the “normal”, regular English verbs from the first 2 sentences, the ones that don’t change.
It doesn’t matter whether the English verbs that we are going to export have only one or two syllables. Have a look at the examples and you will know what I mean.
Form the English past tense
The first thing we want to do with our regular English verb is to form the English past tense of the verb. Just build a sentence and imagine what you are describing happened in the past. Let’s say we want to import the verb
because we like the sound of it and find it’d look awesome in a German sentence as well. We want to build some English sentence with it first.
to bounce → The ball (has) bounced off. → bounced the part we need.
My hair always is a mess and I want to look smart and sharp, for a change. This is why I straightened my hair this morning.
to straighten → She (has) straightened her hair. → straightened is what we export
We had no idea, so we just shrugged when they asked us where to find a good bike shop.
to shrug → We (have) shrugged when asked. → shrugged is the one we want to import into German.
This was step 1. Well done. Let’s use the verbs in German sentences.
2. Change the ending
German Verb basics
To use English verbs instead of German ones you need to know the basics about German verbs in the present, but also in the two past tenses, simple past and perfect. You will need to know how to conjugate them and how to build the past tenses. If you are not sure how it is done, have a look what others have already written about it. We are also going to talk about it here, because we are going to apply the rules very soon.
You will be assimilated
To import the English verb into German you
- Take the English past tense form: bounced (checked)
- Replace the last letter “d” with “n”.
bounced – bounced → bouncen
Tata! We have a new German verb. May I introduce you? It is
bouncen (to bounce)
in the infinitive form. And conjugated here.
Here is the next one. Replace the last letter “d” with “n”, straightened → straightenen
straightenen (to straighten)
We also want to import to shrug and replace the “d” with “n”: shrugged → shruggen
shruggen (to shrug)
This was step 2 of our process of assimilation. Just build an English sentence about something that happened yesterday, take the verb with the ending -ed and replace the d with n. That’s it.
We are now ready for step 3, we want to apply German grammar rules. What is coming up now in step 3 is all about normal German grammar rules, about how to form verb forms and how to use them.
3. Apply German grammar rules
As I just said, what I am going to talk about in step 3 is about German verbs. In step 1 and 2 we learnt how to import English verbs. Now we want to focus on the use of our creation. Since we have created proper German verbs we can now apply the rules for German verbs.
What do you do on Facebook?
It’s time to apply the rules we just talked about. Here is the first German sentence we want to modify.
Sie hat mich einfach auf Facebook markiert! (= She just tagged me on Facebook.)
We want to take the English past tense form of to tag which is tagged (I tagged her yesterday.) and replace the “d” with “n” which makes our new German verb look like this:
taggen (to tag)
Just use taggen the same way you will use the original German word markieren.
Sie hat mich einfach auf Facebook markiert!
Sie hat mich einfach auf Facebook getaggt!
As you can see the tagging happened before the speaker was telling us about it, it happened in the past.
We used the perfect tense here to build the sentence which is done as followed (a side note on that further down)
haben (mostly and used here) or sein (sometimes) + part participle of a verb (getaggt)
You might have seen lists full of irregular verbs you should learn apparently (you should by the way).
to see, saw, seen
= sehen, sah, gesehen
to come, came, come
= kommen, kam, gekommen
to flee, fled, fled
= fliehen, floh, geflogen
The verb form we need for the perfect (past) is the third one, the ones that are in bold.
Speaking about this, the verb forms of taggen are (infinitive, past, perfect):
taggen, taggte, getaggt (also: getagged)
Well, is it getagged or getaggt?
More German is getaggt as it follows the rules for regular verbs, but as far as I can see both are acceptable (the Duden, the German version of Oxford Dictionary, hasn’t decided on it yet).
Since it is ein Baby, zwei Babys unlike the English babies, I recommend choosing getaggt over getagged.
Your new German verb is now ready to be used, also for things that happened in the past:
ich habe getaggt
du hast getaggt
er/sie/es hat getaggt
wir haben getaggt
ihr habt getaggt
sie/Sie haben getaggt
Google is pretty popular
Let’s check out some other popular verbs we can use every day.
Kannst du es nicht einfach auf Google nachschauen? (= Can’t you just look it up on Google?)
We form the English past of to google which is googled (I googled it yesterday.) and replace the last letter “d” with “n”:
googeln (to google)
We can use our new German verb in a sentence like this:
Kannst du es nicht einfach googeln? (= Can’t you just google it?)
The verb forms of googeln are:
googeln, googelte, gegoogelt (Duden also: googlen)
But wait a second, to google and googeln looks different. Yes, it does.
Following the rule or importing English verbs, the verb forms should actually be formed
googlen, gegooglet, gegooglet.
They just don’t look right to German eyes when having to pronounce the search engine like “Googel”. Just flip over e and l to harmonise the pronunciation and spelling.
The Duden has listed the form I suggests here (googeln – er googelt) to be the prevalent form but also assumes googlen (er googlt) can also be used. Er googlt looks a bit strange to me since the pronunciation and spelling don’t match.
This is why I prefer the first one: googeln. And I am not alone. But both is be correct.
The same is true for to recycle: recyceln, recycelt, recycelt (Duden also: recyclen)
Er hat es gestern recycelt. (= He recycled it yesterday.)
Downloads can be very exciting
One more import of a very important and useful verb is shown here.
Ich habe es gestern runtergeladen. (= I downloaded it yesterday.)
Downloaded is the past tense of the English verb (I downloaded it yesterday) and “d” replaced by “n” turns it into a German verb:
downloaden (to download).
Placed in an example sentence and used as a German verb it looks like this.
Ich habe es gestern gedownloadet.
The verb forms of downloaden are
downloaden, downloadete, gedownloadet (also: downgeloadet)
Downloaden is a regular verb again. It’s not clear yet whether it is a
- Separable verb (downgeloadet)
→ Ich habe es gestern downgeloadet.
- Non separable (gedownloadet)
→ Ich habe es gestern gedownloadet.
Where does the confusion come from? The German equivalent is separable:
runterladen (ich lade herunter, du lädst herunter,…), runterladete, runtergeladen
Most separable verbs have prefixes that look like prepositions or adverbs (e.g. an, unter, auf, herunter). Since “down” is not (yet) a German preposition, it feels more natural to treat it as a non-separable verb (gedownloadet), but downgeloadet feels totally fine too. It takes on the properties of the already existing equivalent (runtergeladen looks similar to downgeloaded).
You also need to squeeze in an e after the final d, because we don’t want to confuse the past tense with the present tense. This is nothing new, the same is done to words like arbeiten (to work) that end in a t/d-sound:
arbeiten, arbeitete, gearbeitet.
Alright, this is how you do it. It’s not too hard. Think of a sentence with yesterday and your English verb, take the verb with the ending -ed, replace the last letter “d” with “n” and you will have your German verb that is ready to be used.
A side note for forming the German perfect
Don’t forget, you use either haben or sein to form the German perfect (something that happened yesterday). Haben is used most of the time, sein only for verbs that describe motion, change of state and so on [ http://lw.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Verb_Summaries/Tenses.html#PastTenseOverview ].
Ich bin mit dem Auto gefahren. (= I drove the car.)
Ich habe mit dem Auto gefahren.
Which of the two you should use, is based on normal grammar rules, nothing fancz. An indication is again the verb that is supposed to be replaced by your new verb.
- Apply existing rules (motion, change of state? → sein, if not → haben)
- Use the one the existing German equivalent uses
- If there is not yet an established German verb, the only option is to go back to the first bullet point and apply the normal rules to find the suitable one
To summerise, what we want to do to make an English verb German is actually pretty straight forward
- Build the English past tense form (I compared it yesterday)
- Take the verb with the ending -ed (compared)
- Replace the last letter of the ending “d” with “n” (compared → comparen)
- Use it in German sentences.
Be aware of those specialties
- Bring into line spelling and pronunciation (to google = googeln).
- If in doubt whether your verb is separable or not (because existing verb is separable), remember that both forms are acceptable (gedownloaded and downgeloaded)
- When talking about the past and using the German perfect, apply “normal” rules to find out whether haben or sein is the correct form. Use the one an established German verb with the same meaning uses, if there is one.
If there is anything unclear, let me know in the comments. I’m sure I can help.