Useful German interjections
Published on May 8, 2019 / Updated on January 10, 2024
Ask someone about interjections in their native language, and they will squint into the middle distance for a minute.
Interjections, those nearly unconscious things we all say when we’re in conversation or in reaction to something surprising, are a funny part of any language.
It’s incredibly hard to think of them when you’re asked directly. Interjections definitely make you sound more natural, and standing there staring at someone while they tell a story, without reacting, will make anyone feel weird. Even Germans.
In my second German class, my teacher taught us Stimmt das? which means ‘is that right?’. It is the most important interjection to learn at the beginning, because you can try out your German skills and then ask if you got it right, but in German.
What often happens is you will say the sentence correctly, ask if you got it right, and the person you’re talking to will clarify why the weather is nice or the coffee is good, not understanding you meant to ask if your German was correct. Congratulations, you have passed their internal language sensors!
Of course it’s not surprising we have quite a few interjections that sound very similar. Pass within a few metres of a child anywhere in Germany and you will hear Aua! which sounds like the English ‘ow’ with an extra ‘ah’ on the end. Aua has the unfortunate ability to stretch out into a whine that goes on forever, and means exactly the same thing as the English ‘ow’.
Juhu, when you remember that J is pronounced like Y in German, comes out like the English ‘yooohoo!’ but in German is much less coquettish. Quite a few texts in my school parents WhatsApp group start out with Juhu ihr Lieben!, followed up with requests for what the math homework was and whether the kids have swimming the next day.
It is quite hard to learn about interjections without a native speaker to help you, or at least laugh and explain it to you over a beer. While researching this post, I came across the word Igitt, and when I played a recording of it, my son laughed.
‘What’s “yuck”, Mama?’ he said.
‘Oh so it does mean “yucky”?’ I asked him.
‘More like,’ he wrinkled up his nose, ‘diiiiiissssgusting.’
So there you go, straight from a nine-year-old boy in bilingual school with all German friends. Draw out the last bit to really make it clear how gross something is. In the same vein, Iihh is just like the English ‘eww’, but it builds in the nose wrinkle with that tight ‘eeee’ sound. Pretty clever.
So your new German friend is telling a story, and you’re pretty much understanding. You’ve successfully repressed your urge to say ‘yeah!’, ’for sure’, and ‘uh-huh’ at appropriate intervals. But what’s the German thing to do?
After my first few months in Germany, I joked that every conversation seems to be 20% genau by volume. Genau means ‘exactly’, but in a conversational interjection situation, it is closer to the way we say ‘yeah’ or ‘for sure’ when someone is telling us a story. It’s encouraging and positive.
If you want share someone’s disappointment, for instance they’re telling you they stayed in all morning waiting for a package and then the moment they got in the shower the delivery person showed up – the correct response is Oh neee which sounds like a nasal ‘oh nay’. You draw out that last noise in direct relation to how crappy the situation is.
So you’re all set for your next conversation with German native speakers! Or at least to complain about something disgusting.
So now you have the basics of German interjections, how about putting them into practice with native-speaking teachers? Visit our website today and you can put your skills to the test with a Lingoda trial.