Er ist kochen – How to say what you’re doing in German

Please say Ja if you’ve ever felt victimised by the German language. Victimised by the fact that Germans express ideas in some of the weirdest ways making you question your ability to be able to speak it one day.

The English language features one distinctive attribute that we would be hard-pressed to give up on despite the fact that it does not exist in the German language:

I’m typing this blog post that you will be reading soon while you’re staring at your screen and asking yourself ‘What the hell’.

Germans are most likely to say it this way:

I type this blog post right now that you read soon while you stare at your screen and ask yourself ‘What the hell’.

(Ich tippe jetzt diesen Blogpost, den du später liest, während du auf deinen Bildschirm starrst and du fragst dich ‘Was zur Höllle…?’)

Can you spot the difference? The German language does not have the so called progressive/ continuous verb form. ‘I am typing’, ‘he is laughing’, ‘she is crying’ these do not exist in German. There is not a way for us to express that something is happening right now simply by changing the verb tense – for example ‘He reads’ into ‘He is reading’.

Every time you want to say

I’m reading

in German, hold on if you catch yourself saying this:

Ich bin lesen.

Nein, nein, nein. We can’t say it like this. Das ist nicht richtig.

Don’t worry though, I’ll show you what to say instead.

 

3 ways to say You’re doing it right now

3-ways-to-say-I-am-doing-sth-the-germanz

You’re going to learn about three variations of what in English would be easily expressed by ‘[…] is doing […]’. At the end of the article, you’ll also find some tips on what you can do to ensure it all makes sense if it seems like it doesn’t make any sense. Makes sense?

Alright, let’s set the scene:

Peter is at home, cooking up a storm when in the middle of a tender situation the phone rings. He knows he will have to answer it because it’s his mum/dad/grandmother/husband/wife…

Hi, yes, can I call you back in a second? I’m cooking.

In German:

Hallo, ja, kann ich dich gleich zurückrufen? Ich ___ ___.

What will Peter say?

If you can think of one way of saying it, excellent! You know a bit of German. If you can identify a second one, I’ll be impressed. If you can identify a third one, then consider yourself a German native speaker and genius.

If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Look at the 3 ways to say ‘I’m cooking’ in German.

 

a) Ich koche gerade

Ich-koche-gerade-the-germanz

I cook right now, is what we’d literally say when panting into the phone:

Ich koche gerade.

As you can see the continuous aspect of I’m cooking is not expressed by using a different verb form – I’m cooking instead of I cook – but simply by adding the German word gerade.

Gerade translates to right now, but by using it in another context, it can also mean straight as in Der Stift ist gerade, nicht gebogen (=The pen is straight, not curved).

Please also note that it would be incorrect to say Ich gerade koche as Germans place their verbs (kochen, laufen, rennen, singen, etc.) in the second position in full stop sentences. Gerade has to come after the verb kochen, not before it: Ich koche gerade.

Other words that you can turn to as a substitute for gerade are the following:

  • jetzt – Ich koche jetzt (Literally: I cook now)
  • noch – Ich koche noch (Literally: I cook still)
  • im Moment – Ich koche im Moment (Literally: I cook at the moment)

Keeping this in mind, we move onto our second option, am Kochen.

 

b) Ich bin (gerade) am Kochen

Ich-bin-am-kochen-the-germanz

Instead of saying Ich koche gerade (= I cook right now), we can also start out as we would say in English and say

Ich bin ….

which translates to

I am ….

but then, before bursting out ‘cooking’, take a moment to think and say (literally)

…. at the cooking:

Ich bin am Kochen.

Additionally, we can add in gerade to say

Ich bin gerade am Kochen.

In case you haven’t seen das Kochen, das Lesen and das Schwimmen before, I want to sneak in that you can turn every single German verb into a noun by simply assigning it the neuter article das and spelling it with a capital letter. Instead of to cook, you could say the cooking.

  • singen (to sing) – das Singen (the singing)
  • tanzen (to dance) – das Tanzen (the dancing)
  • schreiben (to write) – das Schreiben (the writing)

This is exactly what we want to do here. We will need ‘the cooking’. Once you’ve completed this simple step, you’ll want to form the ‘at the’ part of ‘at the cooking’.

‘At the’ translates to am, an abbreviation of an dem. The preposition an takes the dative case (here) which is why we change the neuter article of DAS Kochen into an DEM Kochen, short AM Kochen:

Ich bin gerade am Kochen.  

Here are some more examples:

  • Er ist (gerade) am Reden (Literally: He is at the speaking)
  • Sie sind (gerade) am Laufen (Literally: They are at the jogging)
  • Sind Sie (gerade) am Fahrradfahren? (Literally: Are you at the bike riding?)

 

bb) Ich bin (gerade) beim Kochen

Some regions, especially those in West of Germany, also like to use beim (bei + dem) instead of am:

  • Er ist (gerade) beim Reden
  • Er ist (gerade) beim Laufen
  • Er ist (gerade) beim Fahrradfahren

Please note that the beim construction is less common in formal writing and as a result,  can be found in casual speech. Additionally, beim Laufen indicates that someone has just gone for their run, but that they also do it regularly. It’s a hobby and they’re doing it right now.

 

c) Ich bin (gerade) dabei, zu kochen

Ich-bin-dabei-zu-kochen-the-germanz

Of course, the German language also utilises a more formal way to express that we’re doing something right now:

Ich bin dabei, zu kochen.

While the zu + infinitive structure looks funny, it is pretty common and also your only choice after certain phrases. One such phrase is Ich bin gerade dabei. This structure is also not far off from English.

Think of

She wants TO read (= She hat Lust ZU lesen).

He has no time TO sing (= Er hat keine Zeit, ZU singen).

Germans love going crazy with their commas, they tend to place a comma right before the zu as you might have noticed, but it’s not mandatory:

Ich bin dabei zu schwimmen is as correct as Ich bin dabei, zu schwimmen.

Getting back to our cooking, we can use the zu + infinitive structure after the term Ich bin dabei to express that we are doing it now. Ich bin dabei, etwas zu tun literally translates to ‘I’m at it, to do something’.

  • Ich bin (gerade) dabei, zu schwimmen (= I’m swimming).
  • Sie ist (gerade) dabei, zu rauchen (= She’s smoking).
  • Lena ist (gerade) dabei, nach Hause zu gehen (= Lena is walking home).
  • Sören ist dabei, mit dem Hammer auf den Tisch zu hauen (= Sören is dropping the hammer on the table).

You can shorten the phrase up as well. When you’re prompted to do something, but you’re already on it, you can shout back over your shoulder: Ich bin (schon) dabei!

 

d) We need more context

we-need-more-context-in-german-the-germanz

Even though there are ways to express that we are doing something right now in German, the lack of a continuous verb form like in English can results in a bit of uncertainty when speaking in German.

Yes, gerade as in Ich koche gerade (= I cook right now) seems to be a good choice to make sure everyone is on the same page in the cookbook. But we can also do the magical trick and do what Germans always do:

Add more context.

The context will help Germans understand the circumstances of an action. The context will ensure everyone knows what you’re talking about.

If you want to play it safe, add gerade as well as a bit of context to what you’re saying.

Going back to our cooking example, you could add that the water is boiling and you’re just about to put in the Spaghetti and that it’s just not the best time to have a lengthy chat on the phone:

Du, kann ich dich gleich zurückrufen? Ich koche Spaghetti Napoli und das Wasser kocht. Ich bin gerade dabei die Spagetti reinzumachen.

Even though it will take a considerable time to say it, Germans are likely to add the context if they think it’s needed for the meaning or what they’re saying might come across rude otherwise.

Want more tips on how to add some context? Then download this printable sheet with helpful examples and exercises for you.

Summary

It’s time for a summary. To say you’re cooking right now, you have the following choices:

  • Ich koche gerade/jetzt/noch/im Moment (Lit.: I cook right now/now/still/at the moment).
  • Ich bin gerade am/beim Kochen (Lit: I’m at the cooking).
  • Ich bin (gerade) dabei, zu kochen (Lit: I’m at it to cook).
  • Don’t forget to add more context than you would when speaking in English, if you can.

 

What is your favourite way to say I’m cooking? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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