Word 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.

  • Now, we’re even.
  • Jetzt sind wir quitt.
  • Snapchat is such a distraction, sometimes I even forget to finish the
  • Snapchat ist so eine Ablenkung, manchmal vergess’ ich sogar das Beispiel zu

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.

  • Wir haben auf einer wunderschönen Hochebene campiert.
  • We camped on a picturesque plateau/high plain.

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.

  • Thomas ist Ben Afflecks Ebenbild.
  • Thomas is Ben Affleck’s clone/image/(lit.: “equal image”)
  • Was Biertrinken angeht ist Maria Thomas ebenbürtig.
  • When it comes to drinking Maria is on a par with Thomas/she’s his equal.
    lit: …. Maria is of equal birth as Thomas
  • Haribo macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso.
  • Kids and grown-ups love it so – the happy world of Haribo.
    Lit.: Haribo makes children happy and adults too/likewise.
    (slogan of a famous German wine gum brand and the melody that they used :)
  • “Schönen Tag.”
    “Danke, ebenfalls/ebenso.” (a bit formal sounding, but used)
  • “Have a nice day.”
    “Thank you, likewise/you too/”same to you“.
  • Der Mantel ist ebenso zeitlos wie aktuell.
  • The coat is as (lit.: “equally so”) current as it is timeless.

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.

  • “Entschuldigung. Wie komme ich zur East Side Gallery” (famous sight in Berlin)
    “Da vorne links und dann immer geradeaus.”
  • “Excuse me. Do you know how I can get to the Est side gallery?”
    “Yeah, turn left at that [thing] there and then go straight ahead.
  • Mein Chef ist immer sehr geradeaus.
  • My boss is very straight to the point/direct (in a good way). My boss doesn’t beat around the bush much.
  • Der Stuhl ist total scheiße. Ich kann darauf nicht länger als 10 Minuten geradesitzen.
  • The chairs sucks ass. I can’t sit up straight for more than 10 minutes.
    (note that it’s one word, not two)
  • Zwei Geraden sind genau dann parallel, wenn sie sich nie schneiden.
  • Two straight lines are parallel when (and only when) they never intersect.
  • Das Projekt ist auf der Zielgeraden.
  • The project is on the final stretch.

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.

  • 2 ist eine gerade Zahl, 3 ist ungerade.
  • 2 is an even number, 3 is odd.

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, judge, justice, judicial – 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**

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

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8 months ago

Thank you very much for this high-quality article. Such diving deep into the language makes learning process so much enjoyable!

2 years ago

I think there is an English word that is very close to gerade – to grade, or level out, something such as a roadbed. And the device that does that is a grader…

2 years ago

How do I register so I can buy a month? I have “subscribed” so get 2 free per week, but I have not set up a user name or password and I see nowhere to do that.

Johannes Liebermann
Johannes Liebermann
3 years ago

Thanks so much for this article! Super interesting and enlightening. I always love analyzing words in my head, tracking their origins and finding connections between different languages. For example, I recently found an interesting connection between the word “board” (as in blackboard) and eating or food. I needed German, English and Icelandic for that :-)

Anyway, *just* wanted to add: “justification” also has these two meanings. It can mean “the action of declaring something as correct or appropriate”, but it can also mean straight or aligned (like the “justified” text alignment in text editors).

Johannes Liebermann
Johannes Liebermann
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Here goes:

The shorter path between “board” and “eat” is, as it turns out, through Icelandic: in Icelandic, “Borð” means “Table” whereas “Borða” means “eat”. I don’t speak Icelandic (yet!), but learning this connection has lead me to finding lots of similar connections in German and English. Ready?

The word “board” in English has meany meanings. A somewhat less known meaning of the word is (quoting Oxford) “the provision of regular meals when one stays somewhere, in return for payment or services”. So, to board means – to be fed. But apparently there are (using your term here) crazier connections between “board” and “eat”.

One translation of “board” into German is “Tafel”, which could mean “blackboard” (the thing the teacher writes on in class) but could also mean “Table”. As a matter of fact, “table” and “Tafel” are strongly related and have a common origin (Latin “tabula”).

At this point we can probably establish that “board” is used to describe something flat, two-dimensional, possibly made of wood. We can further reinforce this: “board” could also mean “to get on an airplane”. I think we can safely assume this comes from boarding a ship, which means to get on the deck, which is this flat, wooden surface on the upper part of the ship. Wait… flat and wooden? Aha! Same as “board”! But “board” has another meaning, which is a group of people who are the decision makers around some topic (as in “board of directors”). I’m making a guess here that this is because they typically sit at a long table, a “board” or “Tafel”. Bear with me, not done yet.

Translating “Tafel” back to English, it could mean “board”, “table” or – “plate”. Huh. Plate is new. We know that “plate” could mean something flat, as in “tectonic plates” or a metal plate. But we also know that “plate” is the round thing we eat from. There is another English word for round food containers: “dish”. The word “dish” is strongly related to food: we borrowed “dish” to describe a portion of food at a restaurant, for example. But we also say “satellite dish” to describe the round thing we use to receive radio signals from space.

Ready to close the crazy loop we opened? What German word does the word “dish” remind us? Tisch! This is no coincidence: both words stem from the Latin word “discus”, which goes all the way back to ancient Greek and means something round, like the round thing people used to toss as a sport in the original olympic games. (Stupid thought: is this why greeks like to smash plates? “I don’t care – it’s flat, it’s round, let’s throw it!” There is another Latin word, “discuss”, which means to break something to pieces. Hell, I’m not gonna go there now).

Hope you enjoyed the ride! :-)

5 years ago

My name is Eben but why is there a German word for it if i am right here?

5 years ago

Interesting blog post, but in the end it doesn’t give me the key information it promised. What is the difference between “eben” and “gerade”, with relation to the unicorn example? Which one is “just”, which one is “even”, or how is the relationship if it is more complicated?

6 years ago

Hello there! And thanks for your great job!

Now, you wrote:

Was Biertrinken angeht ist Maria Thomas ebenbürtig.

Wouldn’t it be correct to use “wann” instead of “was”?

PS: I’ve studied German for 3 months so am still a noob XD

6 years ago

I can definitely relate to the notion of ‘straight’ meaning ‘good’, because my dad used to say to me “keep on the straight and narrow, and you’ll not go wrong”, meaning, “stay honest and true, and life will be good for you”.

Emily Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Probably from Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

6 years ago

Hello, Enmanuel, I come to you with an indiscreet proposal.

I need to translate a letter URGENTLY to german (5 hours from now… and counting. Posted at GMT 14:34). It’s for an application for a study grant in Germany through the DAAD. My lazy Lehrer told me he would help me but it seems he’s bailed on me, and I must deliver the letter today or I’m dead: of course, this is the way I always do things, at last minute, and I knew this would happen, but I didn’t imagine it would be so hard to find Überzetzere here in Venezuela. And I’d only trust the translation of this letter to someone that would capture the subtle nuances of language it contains.

Now here’s the catch just so you convince yourself this is the shittiest deal of your life: I can’t pay you or donate to you because here in Venezuela we got some badass currency control so there’s no way in hell I can’t get Euros or Dollars, much less transfering them over the internet. But I’m a English-Spanish translator and I’m not so bad myself, so I would forever owe you spanish translations for that day you have to confess your love in the language of telenovelas to that 18-yr old spanish girl you will meet at your 50’s or something.

Dringende Grüsse,


6 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Yes man, thanks for minding! A Lehrerin from the Institut (an absolute angel) kicked my head in the right direction and right now I’m finishing a much simpler, made-in-David motivation letter. Kudos, and good luck to you. If all goes well, I’ll buy you a pint in August

6 years ago

Is this post… snowing?

6 years ago

Thanks. My Dad is much farther along than I am, and still loves to learn.
My Dad learned German as a young boy from his German (Prussian) Grandfather, who he lived with during WWII, so he is very comfortable with the 19th century Prussian dialect and needs to work to keep up with the more modern changes to Duden and modern word usage. His “Grandpa Heiser” was born in Demmin (1883) and grew up in Üeckermunde before seeing the world as a sailor (1890s – 1900s) and emigrating to California before WWI. My Dad took some German in college, lived in Germany a couple of years when he was in the Army and even had occasion to speak German in Vietnam of all places, but has struggled to keep up with it since, here in America. He has been working on it over the past several years as he maintained and established contact with the German members of our family, as he promised his Grandfather he would. I finally found the time 3 years ago to start learning and he has helped me out a lot. A lot of very long but fascinating and unbelievable stories exist about Grandpa Heiser and my German family that I will save for another time.

6 years ago

You are missing a “k” in “atuell”
Der Mantel ist ebenso zeitlos wie atuell.
The coat is as (lit.: “equally so”) current as it is timeless.

6 years ago

Great post! I forwarded this article to my Dad and he is hooked now, too.

I have a question about the use of Zielgerade.
The final stretch in a literal sense, like the end of a car race, is what I think you talked about in the post. Can it also be used for more abstract things, like the final stretch of one’s physical rehabilitation, or one’s college degree program, for example? Cases where you are “bringing it home” literally or figuratively?

Thanks again.

6 years ago

the way you used even in the unicorn example, even means “exactly” as in “it sounds crazy but it’s correct” but when your going extremer than before
-I saw an elf today. And a fairy. And even a unicorn.
-this day was so magical, I even saw a unicorn.
-this day was so bad, even if I saw a unicorn it would still be bad

6 years ago

Ich habe auch oft gehört “eben” im Sinne von “right now”

-Ich muss mal eben telefonieren.
-Muss mal eben ins Toilette.

Mayar Magdy
6 years ago

danke :)

Bill Kammermeier
6 years ago

My guess on why straightness equates to goodness is probably from the Bible where a snake which is windy and curvy represents evil. There are a lot of biblical references where the idea of straightness is something good and the idea of things not being straight are bad.

3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

What I think Bill Kammermeier was getting at is that even though the Bible was written after ancient Greeks, this idea of straighness comes before the written word and before most if not all spoken languages, thinking of Garden of Eden as in Adam and Eve with the serpent before there were multiple languages. Just because a book was written at a certain time, doesn’t mean that what was written was from that point in time. Just a thought.

Oliver Neukum
6 years ago

No, definitely not. The timing rules that right out. The connection is shared between all Indoeuropean languages and thus must be older than 2000 BC, long before the Bible.

6 years ago

Will part two explain the difference between “eben gerade” and “gerade eben”? :) It always trips me up.

6 years ago
Reply to  TK