Word of the Day – “irgend”

irgend-pictureHello everyone,

and welcome to our little photo technique blog. Yes, that’s what you came here for, remember? Neat little tricks and hacks on how to make the best pictures ever. So… have you ever tried taking a photo in dim conditions? Like… at night, with your eyes closed, or in an economy in recession…  hey … hey is there tumble weed passing by? Why is there tumble weed passing… oh…. ohhhhh, because it wasn’t funny, I get it… anyway… Where was I … ah right. So, unless you have had one of those eye-sight damaging flashes, your picture has probably turned out in 50 shades of dark gr… what’s that…  tumble weed? AGAIN??…I guess I’ll close the door real quick, hold on … (door shuts)Soooo… the reason for your picture being dark is that they are under exposed… and THAT just so happens to also the explanation if you have never heard or seen the word irgend in German.
So, the word irgend is everywhere and I think I use it more than 10 times per day. But it is not just common it is also confusing for many, so today we’ll take a comprehensive look at the meaning of:

irgend (pron.: urghent/earghent)

Of course we’ll explore the origin, talk about the easy words like irgendwann or irgendwo but we’ll also find out about the differences between etwas and  irgendetwas and jemand and irgendjemand. Quite a lot to do so let’s dive right in, shall we? Awesome…
Irgend is actually not a word of it’s own… at least for the most part. It is more of a prefix but not for verbs, and I guess I’m not giving away too much if I tell you right away that it means something like some.
But let’s look at the origin first, real quick. Just like in school… where you have the boring history class before the afternoon German class, that you love. As so many of the words I have written about recently irgend used to be 2 words back 1000 years ago: io and (h)wergin. Io is the great great grandfather of the German word je that has starred in movies like “Je… desto… 2 cops re-compensate “, “Jemals, a story of the time lost” or “Jeders darling”. What does je mean exactly? Well, that would take up an article of its own so we’ll have to skip that for now.  But what I will tell you is that io is coming from an old Germanic word a, meaning always, ever, and this the root for ever and every. Now… the second part of irgend was (h)wergin which is basically the old version of the question word wo or English where mixed with gin. In my opinion gin works best with tonic, but okay, … oh… I.. I think I hear some tumble weed bouncing against the door, thank god I closed it… But seriously, I was not able to find any information about this gin-suffix but it doesn’t really matter… the main things are io and h(wer) the combination of which meant something like in some location or simply: somewhere. Soon the Germans fused it into one word, added a d, because they had done so with jemand and niemand and so irgend was borne and it meant… somewhere. Yes, that’s right. Actually just irgend alone used to mean somewhere until 300 years ago. Then, people started using it as a general tool to indicate …. “some-ness” if you will. On www.dwds.de, I found a sample (sadly, not a full sentence):

  • wohl irgend 20…

which meant:

  • probably some 20 or 20 something…

This way of using it, however, has somewhat declined, and the only example I can think of is this:

  • Versuch, wenn irgend möglich, nicht zu spät zu kommen.
  • Try, if somehow possible, not to be late (lit)

There might be others but it is really really rare and the main use of irgend today is as a prefix for the question words and some articles and pronouns and it always adds the idea some in sense of “don’t know exactly”. So irgendwo means somewhere… and yes, if you look at it from the origin point of view somewherewhere :) but I think only few Germans are aware of the origin.

  • Gibt es hier irgendwo eine Bank oder einen Geldautomat?
  • Is there a bank or an ATM somewhere around here?
  • Ich habe irgendwo mein Handy liegen lassen.
  • I left/forgot my phone somewhere.

With wann, it works just the same. Maybe somewhen isn’t really used very often…. irgendwann certainly is

  • Hast du morgen irgendwann Zeit?
  • Will you be free sometime tomorrow?
  • Ich will irgendwann gern mal nach Autralien.
  • I’d love to go to Australia at some point.

The combination with wie gives us one of the most frequently used ones…

  • Ich muss irgendwie nach München kommen.
  • I have to get to Munich somehow.
  • Ich habe mir echt Mühe gegeben, aber irgendwie kann ich mir den Unterschied zwischen Akkusativ und Dativ nicht merken.
  • I’ve tried really hard but somehow I can’t really grasp the difference between accusative and dative.

Irgendwie is used a lot. Sometimes it isn’t really translatable…. almost like a particle it just adds the notion of “don’t know exactly”

  • Heute fühle ich mich irgendwie komisch.
  • I feel a little strange today (can’t describe it, don’t know why).
  • “Und dann hat er mich voll komisch angeguckt…” “Wie denn?” “Na irgendwie so halt.” (trying to imitate it)
  • “And then he gave me this really weird look.” “Like what?” “I don’t know, kinda like this I guess…”

So… when you hear irgendwie and you can’t really make sense of it as somehow… just ignore it :). And those are the most important ones… irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann. But there is another one… welche, which means which. There is no somewhich in English… but there is irgendwelche, and it means… some… just some as some persons or things.

  • Habt ihr noch irgendwelche Fragen?
  • Do you guys have some/ any questions?
  • Hast jemand irgendwelche Einwände?
  • Does anyone have (any) objections (of any kind)?

All right. Now, if you know German question words you have probably realized that 2 very important ones are missing… wer and was. But before e get to those and to ein and jemand, I think we should quickly address another issue. Looking at the last 2 examples one question comes to mind…. “What about any?”

Irgend and any

In English, there are any and some and they kind of mean the same but it depends on the context and the sentence which to use … I find it really confusing actually and I am glad that all I have to explain is the easy German grammar. But anyway, the question we need to find an answer to is :

  • Does irgend also mean any ?

And the answer is … yes, BUT! Irgend is also any for any any that is kind of some and it is the only translation for it.

  • Is there an ATM anywhere?
  • Gibt es hier irgendwo einen Geldautomat?

But there is another anyany in sense of every and that is totally NOT irgend. Here are some examples:

  • I’ll go anywhere for you.
  • Für dich gehe ich irgendwo hin… is wrong… means you go somewhere

In German, you can basically just use the every-version

  • Für dich gehe ich überall hin…. is correct
  • “Wann hast du morgen Zeit?” “Is’ egal, ich kann den ganzen Tag.”
  • “When do you have time tomorrow?” “Doesn’t matter, any time tomorrow is fine.”
  • Blah blah blah blah.. anyhow, yada yada yada
  • blah blah blah… wie auch immer, laber laber laber

So… think of irgend as some in sense of “not sure which”… it is not some in sense of a bunch but we’ll get to that later. Okay… so… so far we’ve learned that irgend works like the prefix some and you can add it to question words. Now let’s talk about was.

irgendetwas, irgendwas, etwas, was… what the ???

Was is the German question what but it is also a short form of etwas.

  • Hast du (et)was zu trinken?
  • You got some(thing) to drink?

This etwas-was is used A LOT in daily life. I actually think that I rarely say etwas at all. Always was. Now, why I am saying all of this? When we add irgend to was we get irgendwas and based on the logic it should mean somewhat. But it doesn’t. I repeat, it does NOT mean somewhat… it means something and most people perceive it as a short form of irgendetwas… which also means something. And now we get to the crux… etwas in itself already means something. So what’s the point of adding a prefix to express the idea of some? What is the difference between (et)was and irgend(et)was. I can’t give you a catchy answer. I think people just liked their irgend-prefix so they added it to etwas too. It doesn’t really change the meaning but it makes the thing even more some… even less defined, kind of like an any.

  • Hast du was zu essen?
  • Do you have something to eat?

Here, I am hungry and I am asking if there is some food I could eat.

  • Hast du irgendwas zu essen?

Here, I am pretty hungry and I indicate that any kind of food is probably fine… no special wishes.

  • Hast du IRGENDwas zu essen?

Here, I am starving and I will gladly gorge anything you got… kind of like

  • Do you have ANYthing to eat, no matter what it is.

So… irgendwas or irgendetwas sound more indefinite than just was or etwas. And you can stress the irgend to make it sound SUPER-indefinite. But don’t try to interpret too much into it… people might just use irgendwas because it sounds better rhythmically in some situations.

  • “Auf was für einen Film hast du Lust?” “Hmmm keine Ahnung… irgendwas lustiges.”
  • “What kind of movie do you feel like watching?” “Hmmm … no idea.. anything funny is fine/something funny.”

Here, irgendwas is mainly used for rhythm. Let me modify the example a bit:

  • “Auf was für einen Film hast du Lust?” “Hmmm keine Ahnung… auf jeden Fall was lustiges.”

This means the same and it sounds smooth because there is something before the was…. “was lustiges.”… this just feels a little truncated to me. So… bottom line… don’t think too hard … just take all 4 versions (irgend(et)was) as basically the same … something…. or anything if you will. But just to make sure… NOT this anything:

  • I will do anything for you.

Why not? Because that means everything… or at least it is closer to everything than it is to something.

  • Ich tue alles für dich.

All right. Now let’s get to the last question word… wer.

irgendwer, irgendjemand and other persons

Wer means who so irgendwer should mean “somewho”, right? It almost does… it means someone (or anyone)

  • Hat irgendwer zufällig ein Feuerzeug?
  • Does anyone have a lighter by any chance?

And just as with was, there already is another word for someone… jemand. Jemand is a combination of io (which was the first part of irgend) and the word man… which is man or one. Makes for a nice someone :)… however, people were so fond of their irgend that they also slapped it on jemand… and thus we have irgendjemand…. which would technically be somesomeone … this word looks weird by the way… so, what’s the difference? Kind of like was vs. irgendwas… but maybe a little more important. I’ve read somewhere that irgendjemand underlines or indicates that I do not know the person, while jemand can be used for people I do know. This did sound adequate at first but I think the line is very very blurry and personal preference as well as flow does play an important role in which word people use.

  • Weiß (irgend)jemand von euch wie spät es ist?
  • Does/do any  of you know the time?

You can ask that in a room filled with your friends. The irgend-version just makes it sound less like you’re directly addressing the people and it also kind of implies that knowing what time  it is is somewhat rare. But honestly… again, I’d say don’t worry too much about finding a difference. The essence of the words is the same. And now what about irgendwer… well, this is the same, too. And sometimes people even just use wer in sense of someone.

  • Kann mir wer erklären, warum es so viele Wörter für someone gibt?
  • Can someone explain to me why there are so many words for someone?

Irgendwer as a word has more flow in many situations. Irgendjemand is a little bit clunky. But again… they all mean someone. The situation changes a little when we talk cases… yes, jemand and wer of are going through the motions. We all do :)

  • Ich habe irgendjemandem/-wem mein Buch gegeben, aber ich weiß nicht mehr, wem.
  • I gave my book to someone, but I don’t remember to whom.
  • Kennst du irgendwen/-jemanden, der sich mit Computern auskennt.
  • Do you know someone, who knows stuff about computers?

Now, I know that you are all like “Soooooo complicated..” but before you start learning Spanish instead let me tell you a trick… just use jemand in those examples. It might not be grammatically correct but half of all Germans do it anyway and it doesn’t really sound wrong. Actually, I’d say jemandem sticks out more despite or FOR being correct :). All right, we’ve almost reached the part with the surprise but there is one last thing we need to talk about.


So… looks like Germans also use their “don’t know/don’t care” prefix in combination with the indolphinate article ein. So what does this mean exactly? Now, ein or in English a are not very specific themselves but adding irgend makes it even less so… luckily there is an English translation so I don’t have to annoy you with endless and twisted attempts at explaining… the translation is … drum roll… some… or any of course.

  • “Wo hast du diese Rose her?” “Oh… die hat mir vorhin irgendein Typ geschenkt.”
  • “Where did you get this rose from?” “Oh… some guy gave it to me earlier.”
  • Boah… diese Aufgabe ist echt schwer… hast du irgendeine Idee, was wir machen sollen?
  • Boah… this exercise is really tough… do you have any idea what we’re supposed to do?

So… irgend just underlines the “don’t know or care which one”-idea.

  • Ein Apfel…
  • An apple…
  • Irgendein Apfel…
  • Some/any apple…

Now, be really careful not to overgeneralize things here... irgendein  means some… but ONLY for singular things… it is NOT this some:

  • I have some apples in my bag.

This is plural and here some is used in sense or a few… that has nothing to do with irgendein… which is basically “one, no matter which one”. All right… Of course, since ein can get all kinds of annoying endings, irgendein can get the same ones but … cases shmases… whom cares. I think we’ve good for today :). This was our German Word of the Day irgend. It used to specifically mean somewhere, but soon people used it as a general indication of “don’t know, don’t care”… nowadays it lives on as a prefix for all the question words (except the why-questions) and some other words too… and it always adds the idea of some or any… and if that idea is already present… well… it just makes it “somer”. Just like the season we have right now :) If you have irgendwelche questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time… … oh and as a little bonus, here is a little vocab-table for you to get the whole picture on things

  • nirgends/nirgendwo  –  irgendwo(wohin)           – überall
  • nowhere                        –  somewhere/anywhere  – everywhere / no matter where
  • nie             – irgendwann                       immer
  • never        – some time/at some pointalways/no matter when
  • nichts       – (irgend)(et)was           – alles
  • nothing    – something/anythingeverything/all/no matter what
  • niemand         – (irgend)jemand/(irgend)wer/irgendwelchejeder/alle
  • no one(body)someone/anyoneeveryone/no matter who