Word of the Day – “anyway”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our Word of the Day. And this time, it’s actually a pretty special episode because instead of taking a German word and explaining it, we’ll take an English word and look at how to translate it properly.
The reason I haven’t done this kind of articles yet is that not all of you are native English speakers and I wanted to keep the focus on German and use English only as a means to an end.
But hey, it’s 2020 and I just felt like doing it.
So, today we’ll talk about the translation of:

anyway

And not only because it is a really common and useful word, but also because looking at this can help us understand the differences between a bunch of German words learners are slightly confused about.
So are you ready to jump in?
Perfect.

Taken at face value, anyway means something along the lines of “no matter which way”. Something is the way it is, no matter the “way”. So there’s a core notion of “makes no difference”. That’s what unites all anyways. But we can also distinguish between three different use-types of anyway:

  1. a “contradictory”-anyway
  2. an “aligned”-anyway
  3. a “conversational” anyway

Why are we making this distinction? Well, of course because German uses different translations for all three, and mixing them up would be… you guessed it… confusing.
So, the first type, the one we called contradictory, implies or expresses a conflict or contradiction between two things.
Here’s an example:

  • “Hey man, did you know that Maria will be at the party.”
    “Ugh… I… I will go there
    anyway.”

The anyway does two things here. First up, it signals that Maria’s being at the party has no effect on my decision to go there. That’s pretty much in line with the core of anyway we found – Maria or no Maria, I will go.
But in addition to that, the anyway in the example ALSO implies that the fact that Maria is there would normally be a reason for me to not go. That’s what I mean by contrast or contradiction.
Synonyms for this type of anyway are regardless, nonetheless or despite that. Which is probably the best to keep in mind, because it leads us right to the German translation for this contrast-anyway. Some of you might have a hunch already. I am talking of course about …  trotzdem.

Trotzdem is THE translation for anyway, whenever there’s a contradiction involved. Actually, let’s say it’s the only translation. Yes, theoretically there are a few alternatives to be found in the dictionary. But they’re barely ever used in normal daily conversation. Any they look like letter garbage. I mean, come on…  nichtsdestotrotz. That looks like my cat walked across the keyboard.
So yeah, whenever you can replace anyway with despite that (WITHOUT changing the meaning, of course) use trotzdem in the translation.
Here’s a couple more examples.

Cool.
Now let’s get to the second use of anyway, the one I called it “aligned”anyway. On first glance,  it can actually look very very similar to the first one.
Let’s take  the example with Maria and the party again but modify it slightly.

  • “Hey man, do you know that Maria will be at the party?”
    “Oh really?! Well… I was gonna go there
    anyway.”

We haven’t really changed that much, but the whole notion of contradiction is gone now. Instead, the example sounds like the fact that Maria will be at the party might actually be a reason for me to go. But I don’t need this reason, because I am going even without her being there. I was gonna go anyway. Again, her being there has no effect on my decision, but this time my decision and her presence are “in alignment” not “in contradiction”, if that makes sense.
I know this one is much harder to grasp, so let’s look at another example, comparing the two.

  1. I have a cold. But I am working at the office anyway.
  2. I have a cold. But I am working at home anyway.

This time, the only difference in the examples is the location. But that changes the entire context and thus also the “vibe” of the anyway.
In the first version, me being at work is clearly a contradiction to me having a cold, I mean… especially these days, with Corona
The second example on the other hand says that the fact that I have a cold is not a problem, because I was gonna stay at home even without it.
I couldn’t think of a synonym for this aligned-anyway, but a fairly good test is to add “so it’s a match.” to the end.

  1. I have a cold. But I am working at the office anyway, so that’s a match.
  2. I have a cold. But I am working at home anyway, so that’s a match/not a problem.

The first sentence got pretty weird. I mean, how is having a cold and being at the office a match. But the second one works fine.
And how do we actually translate this aligned-anyway?
There are actually several options here, but the two most common and natural ones are sowieso and eh.
And yes, eh is a word! And a pretty common one, too. I’ll post a link to my article about that below :).
So here are the translations for the two examples we had:

Cool.
We’ll see more examples in the exercise of course but before we get to that, we have to talk about the third type of anyway, the conversational-anyway one.
This one is actually pretty easy to spot. It is the one that we say before we say an actual sentence, to kind of switch topic or get back to it after a detour, or just move aside what has been said before.

  • “I met this girl at the bar and she looks exactly like Maria…”
    “Hey, Maria will be at the party by the way.”
    “Oh really? Well, that sucks. Anyway, so I met this girl and we started to talk and…”

I think this one is pretty clear, but how do we translate it to German?
Well, there are several options and it depends a bit on context or “tone” which one to pick. Here they are, each with their closest counterpart in English

  1. wie dem auch sei
    (“be that as it may” )
  2. (naja…) jedenfalls
    (“in any case”… jedenfalls is actually part of the sentence, doesn’t work as a standalone)
  3. aber ja (“but yeah so”… works if you’re talking and you want to get back to the topic after a slight detour)

Now, I know many of you are now like “Please tell us exactly when to use which with examples.” but I’m not gonna do that and I urge you not to get hung up on these. There are more options, people also make all kinds of combos and you just need to develop sprachgefühl for that. But German doesn’t use this conversational-anyway as English anyway, so often it’s best to just leave it out.
As far as the example goes, number two or three feel like the most natural fit to me.

Oh and let’s note that jedenfalls is actually a proper part of the sentence with the verb after it. You can’t use jedenfalls as a standalone, like you could the other.
Cool.
So those were the three types or ways of using anyway and how they each translate to German.
Here they are again:

  1. contradictory-anyway
    test:               can be replaced with despite that
    translation: trotzdem
  2. aligned-anyway
    test:              you can add “so it’s a match” and it kind of makes sense
    translation: eh, sowieso
  3. conversational-anyway
    test:               sits in front of a sentence, not really part of it
    translation: wie dem auch sei, jedenfalls, [nothing]

And now all that’s left for us is a little practice.
Usually, I’d include that here, but I haven’t prepared it yet, and since many of us have to stay put at home these days, I thought, I’ll just give you the article now, so you have something to read, and follow up with the quiz in a few days :). So stay tuned!

And that’s it for today!
This was our look at how to translate anyway.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts or if you have a specific use of anyway that you’d like to have a translation for, just leave a comment and we’ll clear things up together.
Oh and also, what do you think of this kind of article?
Should I do more “How to translate”? If yes, please let me know which words you’d like me to talk about.
I hope you liked it, and I’ll see you in a few days with the quiz.

for members :)

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Steph
Steph

This article is fantastic!! Thank you very much.

Can you expand upon it a bit and help use understand why Germans area always misusing “anyway” in English? Germans love to say nonsense like “That was anyway strange” — are translating “irgendwie” as “anyway”? What’s a better translation for “iregendwie” — “somewhat / a bit”?

Francesca Greenoak
Francesca Greenoak

Great. A really useful piece, for me.anyway ! I’d be happy for or more like this. You can get it more or less right with G translate but still have no idea why.

Elsa
Elsa

Hi!

Does this new article mean you managed to get back to Berlin?

Typos first:
“The reason I haven’t done these kinds of articles yet was that not everyone of you is a native speaker of English and I wanted to keep the focus on German and have English only be a means to an end” (although this phrase isn’t wrong, it sounds convoluted to me – you may obviously disagree, but I’d probably go with “The reason I haven’t done this kind of articles yet is that not all of you are native English speakers and I wanted to keep the focus on German and use English only as a means to an end”)

“number two or four feel like the most natural fit to me” (numbers two and three?!? there’s no number four in your examples!!)

OMG, I loooooove the “How to translate” series (yes, I’m already calling it a series because I hope you’ll write a lot more of these!) There are lots of words like “anyway” that I struggle with when I try and say something similar in German, but nothing comes to mind right this minute. I’m sure I’ll find quite a few soon!! I usually do a mental exercise, which is to have mental conversations with an imaginary person (now you’re probably thinking the quarantine has made me go completely insane!) and I often don’t know how to translate words just like this one!

Bis bald!

Alison
Alison

Imaginary conversations are THE best way to practise. i tell my students this, but I think they only half believe it.

Doktor Fredl
Doktor Fredl

Typo! Your suggestion for change above in quotes should be “this kind of ARTICLE (singular).”

aoind
aoind

Danke Emanuel. Ich finde dieses neue “How to translate” Format sehr hilfreich. Könnte es sein, dass “already” eine akzeptabele Alternative für das “that’s a match – anyway” wäre? Nicht ganz, nicht genau, aber verständlich.

z.B. – “Oh really? Well I was already going, so…” Nur ein kleiner Gedanke.

Toranome
Toranome

Sehr hilfreich.

Roger
Roger

So how would you say in German “I’m not dead yet, but I’m so old I’m not worried about coronavirus because I am going to die soon anyway” ?

Plus “I’m not dead yet, but I’m so old, and I am very worried about the coronavirus, despite the fact that I am about to die anyway”

When phoning the funeral director to book my funeral is one of these alignment and is the other contradiction?
How will he reply if he wants to say “I was going to bury you or cremate you anyway !!”

PS I know it is a serious and sometimes tragic issue, so it is not right to make jokes about it, but it’s important to be cheerful anyway. Sometimes we need humour even when times are tough. Anyway I didn’t want to upset anyone, and for anyone directly affected I send sincere condolences. It could be me next anyway.

Elsa
Elsa

Hi, Roger
You survived your surgery, you’ll sure survive the coronavirus!!!
I’d say the first one’s a “sowieso” and the second one an “obwohl…sowieso”, but let’s see what Emanuel has to say!

Alison
Alison

Sowieso ??

stosselgg

I’ve never given any thought to how “anyway” is used in English, so your article makes a lot of sense for both languages.

Mario
Mario

Hi, Google said I might like this article, so here I am. I am a German native speaker, but from Austria. I just wanted to leave a comment and point out a mistake in one of the German sentences, “Oh echt?! Naja, ich wär wollte sowieso/eh hingehen.” -> the “wär” shouldn’t be there. I think you were probably going for “Naja, ich wär sowieso hingegangen.”, but changed your mind mid-sentence. ;)
The article was interesting, and I remember an English speaking friend asking me years ago to explain the usage of “eh” in German, and finally after all these years there is the perfect explanation! Thanks for that!

DEmberton
DEmberton

Thanks. These similar but different words are always really difficult.

For the first I was expecting something with doch. Could you say:

“Maria wird bei der Party sein.”
“Ugh… ich… ich gehe doch.”

Or does that make no sense?

Bori
Bori

I love it!! Bitte bitte mehr von solchen Artikeln! Und wie steht es mit dem Wort ‚Übrigens‘? Ich dachte es bedeutet anyway auch. Allerdings höre ich es nie im Alltag, nur ich benutze es..ich vermute mal :)

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog

That was really interesting. Looking at how we use one word to mean (at least) three different things, it makes sense that German wouldn’t necessarily follow that pattern!

I do enjoy your articles.

Alex
Alex

Great article, thanks very much!

As a native English speaker I was wondering if the example for the aligning-anyway could be “I have a cold. But I work from home anyway.” It sounds very similar but feel this version is a little more complimentary.

Also, one of the big differences between the first and second, for me, is when or not a decision has been made. For instance, in the contradictory-anyway the decision to go to the party was made in spite Maria being there on the spot. Whereas in the aligning-anyway, a decision had already been made and the information doesn’t affect it. For instance: “I have a cold. But I work from home anyway, (so it doesn’t matter)”.

Hope this is somehow helpful…

Jorge
Jorge

Sowieso, Trotzdem, auf Jedenfall..
Many possibilities, cool..
Tks

Tim Mohler
Tim Mohler

Emanuel I just have say, you are SO good at explaining all the little nuances and subtleties that make languages so much fun — far and away the best I’ve ever encountered, and that includes multiple language teachers in several different languages (including German)! I’m only a subscriber now but looking forward to a time when I hope to have more time to reap the benefits of membership. Meanwhile, just wanted to say thank you for the always fascinating posts and to let you know how much you’re appreciated!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Wonderful and valuable article. Thanks a lot!

Tom
Tom

Thanks so much for this- nothing like a bit of self-isolation German!
Seriously though, I’d love more articles where you explain how to translate English words into their various German counterparts.
Keep up the good work and stay safe!

Adam McKenna
Adam McKenna

Really great article – thanks for sharing. I always get confused with sowieso and trotzdem!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Typo: “This WAY to anyway in German.”

Alma
Alma

Ich habe mich schon öfters gefragt, was das “eh” sein soll… Jetzt weiß ich’s! :D Danke!

mw
mw

To me, trotzdem is always ‘nevertheless’ and sowieso is ‘regardless’ in English?

Na ja to me is for those sometimes awkward pauses in conversation that signal a change in subject/topic.

Alison
Alison

For your conversational ‘anyway’ in Switzerland they often use ‘also’ ich habe diesen Mann kennengelernt. .. also…er hat gesagt……

Pentatomidae
Pentatomidae

Great article – so helpful! I learnt all these German words separately but couldn’t figure out when to use one and not the other.