Word of the Day – “der Ärger”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time, we’ll have a look at the meaning of

der Ärger


And many of you know Ärger very well, because Ärger is what you’re likely to experience when sit down and study German words and genders. I’m talking of course about … an orgasm.
Nah, of course it’s not an orgasm. And if you’re now secretly thinking “God, these dumb jokes are really getting on my nerves.” and you then, despite knowing deep inside that you shouldn’t, click on this link here, well, then you’re on your way to experience actual Ärger.
Because Ärger is about anger. 

Let’s start with some examples right away…

The two don’t line up completely though. I feel like Ärger is overall a bit “weaker” than anger. Something between real anger and a stinky mood. For strong anger, you’d use the word die Wut.  And that’s not the only difference between Ärger and anger. Because whilst anger is pretty much limited to the sentiment, Ärger  is used more broadly.

Here, Ärger kind of refers to the cause of a stinky mood; some trouble. And in the next couple of examples, the focus is on someone releasing their anger onto a person, as in scolding them. And again, trouble is a good translation.

Note if trouble is completely focused on the notion of problem, then Ärger is not the right word. There needs to be a notion of being pissed or angry involved. That’s the core of Ärger  and as we’ve seen, it pretty much covers full life cycle – the cause of being angry, the sentiment itself and the release of anger onto someone.

Cool, now let’s take a look at the related words and first at the adjective ärgerlich. And it would make uber sense if that meant angry. Well, you know what that means… it’s likely not the case.
The better match for ärgerlich is annoyed, pissed. One reason is that ärgerlich is (like the noun) weaker than angry. Angry would be wütend.
Like… if your flatmate were to tell you that they’re angry about you never doing the dishes, well, then you should probably change habits till the smoke has cleared. If they say they’re ärgerlich about it… well.. you there’s still some headroom :). Hey, by the way… do you wanna venture a guess what the German word for headroom is. Hint: compound.
If your answer is Kopfraum, then you’re wrong. Kopfraum… pfff… seriously.
The proper word is of course Aussteuerungsreserve. Of course. I mean … duhhhhhhh. A two year old would have guessed that**.
(**disclaimer: the word is not obvious at all, the last part was just for transitional purposes)
Anyways, let’s get back to ärgerlich and look at an example.

And ärgerlich can actually also be used to describe a situation or a thing. You can’t say that a situation is angry, but you can say that it’s ärgerlich. That means that it “causes a stinky mood” and in fact “Das ist ärgerlich” is a good translation for “That sucks.”

Now, of course there’s also a related verb: ärgern. And this is a pretty useful one. It’s always about being or getting pissed of, but the exact meaning depends on the context. If a thing or situation is “ärgering” you, that simply means it pisses you off.
If  a person does the “ärgering” then that leans more toward teasing, especially if animals are involved.

And then, you can also use ärgern with a self reference sich ärgern. Literally, this would be teasing yourself or pissing yourself off, but the actual meaning is just a very active sounding way to say that you’re pissed about something. 

And you all know the old wise proverb “In for the verb, in for the versions” which simply means that no look at a verb is complete without a look at the prefix versions. Ärgern takes it easy, though. There are only two. Verärgern, with ver- adding the notion of state change, is a result focused version of ärgern and rumärgern is a pretty colloquial term that expresses the idea of ongoing hassle with something…. like a Windows Update or something.

So now we know everything about Ärger... except one thing.

Where does Ärger come from

Other people in traffic, your job,  that forum post that spoiled your favorite series for you, adolescent unicorns… Ärger can come from plenty of sources.
But of course, I’m not talking about that the origin of the thing itself here, but about the origin of the word.
And that is actually pretty surprising.
Ärger is actually not related to anger, but instead based on an inconspicuous little German word:

Yup, this is actually a word. Kind of a funny coincidence seeing how “Argh!” is a common onomatopoetic word to express anger.
The original meaning of arg was bad, vicious, the more-form was ärger and the verb ärgern essentially meant to make worse. And slowly the verb and the noun took on a meaning for themselves and the connection to arg was soon forgotten.
Not the word arg itself, though. Chances are that you haven’t noticed it, but it’s actually still totally around; and not only in written German. It still has its original sense of bad, both in compounds as well as a stand alone.

That’s not too common though and mostly used in semi-fixed combinations.
But at some point people started also using as an intensifier, and that’s what it still is today – essentially a synonym for sehr.  Oh ..and by the way… guess what English word sehr is related to. It’s related to sore as in sore muscles. The root of those was about pain, and sehr originally meant painfully.So sehr ALSO was a negative word before it started its career as an intensifier, just like arg.

Now, I feel like arg sounds a bit weird when used to intensify positive things but maybe that’s just me. Either way… arg is nowhere near as common as sehr, but people do use it in daily life and it’s one of those nice little gems that’ll make you sound super idiomatic if you use it every now and then.

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the meaning of Ärger and the related words. They’re all pretty common in daily life, especially the verb ärgern and they’re a really useful addition to your active vocabulary, unless you’re a master of zen meditation who doesn’t get angry anymore. Although… on second thought, it’s probably still useful because you’re even temper will drive other people mad.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about today’s article or if you want to try out some examples and get them corrected, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** vocab **

der Ärger – the (slight) anger, the trouble (if it has some notion of being angry)
die Wut – the anger, rage
ärgerlich – irritated, annoyed, pissed (not very strong)
wütend – angry
das Ärgernis – a nuisance (rare)

ärgern +acc – irritate, make angry, tease (process oriented)
sich ärgern über – be angry about something (sounds very active)

verärgern – make angry (result oriented)
verärgert – pissed off

arg – bad, vicious, also: very, really
der Argwohn – the suspiciousness
argwöhnisch – very skeptical as in “expecting a trap”
arglos – unsuspecting (without “bad” in mind)

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“Sore” actually used to be used like “arg” as an intensifier too – of 105 occurrences of “sore/sorely” in the King James Bible, the vast majority have that meaning.

How would you rank “ärgerlich”, “sauer”, “zornig”, and “wütend” (and any other related words/expressions for pissed-offedness [not a real word]) in terms of intensity?

“Anger” to me doesn’t feel quite as intense as “Wut”, at least not necessarily. I’ve always had the impression that “Wut” is more like “rage,” when somebody really loses control. This is one of those areas where it’s easy to be nervous that you’ll over- or understate things when describing emotions or behavior, so it’s always helpful to get native-speaker insight.


Ich hatte dieselbe Frage… Ich glaube, dass ich meistens “nervig” und “sauer” höre/benutze und würde gern wissen, wie sie in Bezug auf wütend und ärgerlich im Hinblick auf die Intensität eingestuft werden.


ah und empört! Das ist auch ein schönes Wort, finde ich :)


Interesting about “sehr” and “sore” being related – thanks for this nugget. Explains why in Scottish English dialects (where Germanic roots are often more evident) “sore” is often replaced with “sair”. From Irvine Welsh (of Trainspotting fame)’s 1994 collection of vignettes “The Acid House”:
“You. Boab Coyle. Nae hoose, nae joab, nae burd, nae mates, polis record, sair face, aw in the space ay a few ooirs. Nice one!”
Translation “You. Bob Coyle. No house, no bird (girl), no mates, police record, sore face, all in the space of a few hours. Nice one!”

Tony Mountifield

All interesting stuff – thanks again for explaining the subtleties of German! Talking of subtleties, you seemed to be using “pissed” or “pissed off” as if they were just normal colloquial terms. They probably are for some people, but many English speakers would think of them as vulgar or as swearing, and certainly not to be used in polite company! So I just wondered if you were aware of that distinction. :)


Kannst du mal erklären, warum man sagt “ich rufe meine Mutter an” aber “ich rufe *beim* Kundenservice an”? Und wenn du mir nicht schnell antwortest, dann gibts richtig Ärger! ;-)


I’m very new to this stuff – all of it. Why was the early example Ich rufe beim Kundenservice an und mache meinem Ärger Luft.? Why not meinen? Or is it the Luft that gets the accusative and the dative is because I am giving vent TO my annoyance?

Incidentally, as far as pissed/pissed off go, pissed is the American usage. In English English it’s pissed off because pissed by itself means drunk.

Many thanks. I am having fun.
Audio Player


Ärgerlich hören die Briten “pissed” wenn man “ärgerlich” sagen will.


Danke für diese Eintrag. Ich hab die Einhalt über “Ärger” angemessen gefunden weil ich gestern Ärger von meinem Chef im Restaurant gekriegt habe. Er war fast wütend weil ich Krümmeln auf einem Schneidebrett geworfen habe. Er hat wirklich seinen Ärger an mir ausgelöst, aber nicht wegen mir sonst wegen andere Sachen die nicht mit mir zu tun hatten!! Ich finde dass so ärgerlich wenn man Ärger kriegt ohne Schuldig zu sein!

Naja es lohnt sich nicht sich darüber zu ärgern :D


Benjamin Geer

Toller Blogeintrag! Dabei fällt mir ein, was ist eigentlich der Unterschied zwischen “schlecht” und “schlimm” (und “arg”)?


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Wie wuerde man dann “trouble” uebersetzen, wenn niemand veraergert ist? “Schwierigkeit”/”Sorge” veilleicht?

Im Uebrigen – ich meine, dass es hier einen kleinen Fehler gibt:

> “Das war ein ärgerliche Niederlage.” <

Es soll "eine aergerliche Niederlage" sagen, oder?


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