Why do we need interjections in German? To communicate our feelings and opinions more expressively to other people. Ih! and Ups! are short words that carry a lot of meaning, so it’s best to use them correctly (if not exactly sparingly).
This isn’t always easy. German interjections are mostly used as spontaneous reactions of surprise, agreement or disgust, so they have to be etched in your memory and ready for immediate recall. This poses a challenge for many German learners.
Na, but don’t despair! We’ve got you covered. Here are some of the most important German interjections and their meanings.
You’ve probably already come across this one in conversations with German speakers. Genau can be translated to “exactly” and ranks among the most common German interjections.
You can use it to show that you agree with someone, or to confirm another person’s assumptions. For example:
- Dein Name ist Anna, oder? (Your name is Anna, isn’t it?)
Na holds a special place in the constellation of German interjections, because it changes its meaning depending on how it’s pronounced.
You can use na in combination with ja to express hesitation, typically when answering a question or reacting to a statement. In this way, it’s similar to the English “well”: Na ja, ich weiß nicht… (Well, I don’t know…).
If you prolong the vowel (Naaaaa?) and elevate your voice, Na becomes a question. Na? is used as an abbreviation of Na, wie geht’s?, which means “How are you?”.
Further, na can be used as part of an exclamation to show surprise (Na wirklich?), relief (Na also…) or strong agreement (na klar!).
If you want to express astonishment or simply have no idea what someone is talking about, an inquisitive Hä? makes it clear that you lack understanding.
It’s not considered polite to use this interjection in formal situations, so reserve it for the next time you’re talking with your friends about the paperwork for an Anmeldung (address registration) in Germany.
If you want to express that you’re lost for words or still thinking about an answer to a question, ähm can bridge the silence between words.
When used as a question, Ach? means the same as “Really?”. Exclaiming Ach (so)! signals that the penny has dropped and realization has set in. It can be translated to “Ah, now I got it!”.
German speakers use Huch! to express surprise. It can be used when you bump into someone in the corridor or accidentally drop your phone. Huch loosely translates to the English “Yikes!”.
By the way, if your phone survives the fall unscathed, you can use Puh! to indicate relief.
Hit your foot on the couch again? The right way to express your pain in German is screaming Aua! or Autsch!, which is pronounced in the same way as the English “Ouch!”.
Imagine you find a fly on your Sauerkraut. What’s the right interjection to use? While an English speaker might scream “Ew!”, in German a prolonged Iiiiih or Igitt leaves no doubt that you’re in distress.
Ups! sounds and means exactly the same as the English “Oops!”. Life is full of little mishaps. Muttering (or even screaming) Ups! helps you to cope with them.
Convey your emotions with German interjections
Interjections liven up the way we use language. Even so, it’s important to know that a lot of German interjections have multiple meanings, and these meanings can change depending on the context they’re used in.
This means that interjections can be difficult for German learners to master. The easiest way to learn them is to use them, so make sure to scream Ih! the next time you find a spider on your wall or Ups! if you forget an appointment.