Words of the Day – “eben… and gerade”

eben-geradeHello everyone,

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



and the meaning of




Wait what? Eben AND gerade? Both of them together?!?! This is so much madness it’s not even Sparta anymore.
I mean, both these words are in the top ten of the “German Words that Piss Me Off”-charts of students. So is it really a good idea to talk about them together?
The answer is: maybe.
I … I mean, yes! Hell yeah.
Why? Well, because not only are their normal meanings kind of close. Also their crazy meanings are. In fact, they’re often synonyms. And the … uh… “logic” behind their crazy meanings is the same. You cannot really talk about eben without automatically also explaining gerade. So we might just as well do it in one go.
Well, two go-s because this is gonna be a two-parter.
What we’ll do today is take a look the “normal” side of both words, see where they come from and what they have to do with each other. Then we’ll find out a crucial twist to their meanings and then we’ll stop right when it gets interesting. Just like a TV Show. Or that date I had recently. So… are you ready to get lead on and then let down? Perfect.

Two unlock all meanings of eben and gerade we the mysterious magic key, a key that consists of 3 even more magicerer parts. The first one is their worldly meaning. Let’s take a look.

Meet “eben”

Eben and even are absolutely awesome translations for each other… NOOOOOT! They can be but it’s rare. When English even talks about a surface, German would go with glatt (smooth, slippery, even) or flach (flat, even) and even in sense of equality would be something with gleich or quitt  and the crazy-even, the one that’s like “Wow, even this” is sogar.

Yeah, no… I’m not looking for a relationship right now. I just wanna go out ;), have some fu.. oh crap , I think I just typed into the wrong window.
Anyway, so even and eben have a very high score on the False-Friends-ometer. But they are definitely related and their core idea is the same. It’s just the use that is different. The origin is the Germanic root *ebna and *ebna meant something like leveled, even, flat. Even surface, even-minded or to even something out – all these are clearly based on that idea. And also in German, the original meaning is still very much around. Words like die Ebene  (lit.: “the leveled one”,  the plain, flat surface)  or uneben (uneven, bumpy) are all about the notion of flatness and ebenbürtig (en par, “of even birth”), das Ebenbild (the perfect look-a.like) or the very common ebenfalls, ebenso (likewise, also) focus on the aspect of equalness.
So both, eben and even, are at their heart still the sam… what? … oh, I’m sorry, of course. Here are some examples.

The word die Ebene is used a many contexts actually… geometry, landscape, but also abstract layers like levels of hierarchy, or layers of thought or layers in Photoshop. Anyway, here are some more examples.

So, flatness,  equalness. leveled-ness or whatever you want to call it  that’s the original idea of eben and even and it’s still at the core of the words today, even though the languages just ended up using them for different contexts.
But both languages have messed around with it, too. Like, for real. English has somehow twisted the original idea into the crazy-even, and German…  well, German has found a way to “broaden” the idea so much that it become one of these particles. My god, these particles. They’re like the pimples on the face of an adolescent. They’re all over, you’d rather not see them but you cannot do anything against them and clearing them all up is a piece of wor.. what the hell am I talking about. Must focus. Waitress…. another Old Fashioned please.

Meet  “gerade”

In the first part, we learned about the basic meaning of eben. Now, let’s turn toward another one of these pimples…. I mean particles: gerade.
Many of you probably know gerade in context of directions. Immer geradeaus pretty much means keep going straight, straight ahead and that is also pretty much the core idea of gerade. Gerade means straight, not curved.

By the way… the word straight is related to stretch. Does gerade relate to any English word? Not really. Well, it is related to words like ridge and creek  somehow but about as closely as I’m related to Justin Bieber. Never say never, man. But it doesn’t really matter anyway. Let’s get straight to the REALLY interesting question what gerade has to do with eben. And for that just think about what a plane looks like from the side… exactly… like  this:

.                             _________________________  (a Gerade)

The essence of BOTH words is idea of leveled-ness, free-of-bumps-ness. And in fact, gerade is even a translation for even.

So, both words have a very very very similar core, eben is just 2D.  So, in case there is any crazy twist that people do to with the idea of straight-ness… it’ll probably affect both words.
Well, what do you know… the crazy twist does exist. And that’ll lead us to the second part of our magic key.

Straight and right – two of a kind

Ever since the dawn of language people seem to have associated the idea of not curved, straight with the idea of correct, good, right.
And the best proof is the word right itself. How so?
Well, right come from the super ancient Indo-European root *reg. Just like the German recht-family and about a bazillion other words  like rectangle, rectify, direct, regal, royal or rule. But the Indo-European root *reg itself meant something else. It meant… drum roll please…

move in a straight line.

Tadahhhh. All these words that revolve around  right, law, leading and correct come from the simple idea of not curved
Maybe because the direct way, the straight way is the quickest way or something. I don’t know. Anyway, if ever wondered why a ruler can be this AND this? Now you know. Oh and the right hand  is called right because it is the “good” hand.
So, if eben and gerade are at their core about straight-ness and that very idea of straight-ness  has been associated with the idea of right, correct for thousands of years, it is more than likely that they too have taken on that notion. They did. And in one way in particular.
You see, one possible use of the word right is to kind of underline the precise-ness of a statement. I don’t know how to better express that so here are some examples.

  • He was there.
  • He was right there. (on that very spot)
  • He went to the bar.
  • He went right (straight) to the bar. (to that very destination)
  • You called me when I was leaving the house.
  • You called me right when I was leaving the house. (at that veeeery moment)

And that is it. That is the second part of our key. The first part was the idea of leveled-ness, the second is the notion of exactly, directly, spot on and the third one
Wait. Just?! Where does that come from? What does that have to do with anything? Let’s find out.

Even and just- kind of two of a kind

When you think of just you probably first think of it in sense of only. But just can also mean rightful. That’s actually the original meaning. Just, judgejusticejudicial – they all come from a root that meant lawful, right, correct.  So there’s a huuuuuuge overlap with the word right.
Now, we’ve seen how right was used to underline the precise-ness of a statement. The word just can do just that. Here’s an example.

  • The word “just” can do just that.

That means “exactly that”. And now get ready for something crazy. Look at these two examples

  • There was even a unicorn.
  • There was just a unicorn.

A few centuries ago, these two sentences meant the same thing. Even and just were used just like right to underline the precise-ness of the statement. Just could do that simply because it essentially meant the same as right. And even could do that because of the close connection between its core idea of straight-ness with the idea of right.
Over time, they went in opposite directions. Just became exactly in sense of “no more than that” and even went the other way and became exactly more in sense of “I know it sounds crazy but it’s true”

“There was a unicorn.”
“Yeeah, just one. So it was really lame.”
(focus on “exactly” as in “no more than one”)

while even went the other way.

“There was unicorn.”
“What? A unicorn!?”
“Yeah man, even a freaking unicorn… how crazy is that”
(focus on “exactly” as in  “it sounds crazy but it’s correct”)

What does that have to do with eben and gerade?
Well, for one thing, we’ve used the key idea we had established to explain the crazy-even… you know.. this notion of exactly, directly. So we have a proof that it’s worth something.
But more importantly even, we’ve learned some background about the word just and how closely it is connected to the idea of exactly. And the word just is really useful because it has taken the idea into the realm of time… which is just what eben and gerade did.
So now we have it. All three parts of our magic key. The idea of leveled-ness, the vibe of exactly, directly and the word just.  Now it’s time to put them together. What has long been forgotten finally made one again. The magic key to the meanings of eben and gerade… here it comes. Behoooooold (thunder roars):


Oh. Uhm… I… uhmm… I actually think I liked the single magic parts better. Yeah … let’s work with the parts. And let’s do that next time. Yeah, I know, I know…  you’re curious. But I think we’ve really had enough to digest for  one day :).
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions so far or if you want to take a shot at eben and gerade, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

** Check out part 2 here**


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Further reading:

Word of the Day – “gar” including “sogar”

** vocab **

eben – smooth, without bumps
die Ebene – the plane (flat surface, used also for geometry), layer (digital images), level (hierarchy)
ebnen – make flat (mostly used in landscaping and the abstract sense of paving the way)
uneben – bumpy
die Unebenheit – a minor bump in a surface
ebenso – likewise (as a wish), also
ebenfalls – likewise, also

flach – flat, even
glatt – even, smooth, slippery 

gerade – straight
die Gerade – the straight line, also: straight arm punch (in boxing), long straight section (in racing)
ungerade – odd (only for numbers), not straight (for lines)
geradeaus – straight ahead (as a direction)
die Zielgerade – the final stretch
schnurgerade – straight like a string
für etwas geradestehen – bear responsibility/consequences for something (negative contexts)

sogar – even in sense “THIS one, too, even it sounds crazy”
hetero – straight in sense of sexual orientation

gleichmütig – even-minded