German Prepositions Explained – “gegen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. And today, we’ll take a look at the meaning of

gegen

 

Which is short for generation G.
Which is short for generation Genitals, the generation that has genitals.
Or it’s short for generation Gesus, the generation that has Gesus in their heart.
Or it’s short for generation Generation, the generation that has Generations.
Or it’s short for generation Get-on-with-the-article. Which is the generation I am from.
I will get on with the article swiftly. On the double quick. Just had to clear my system.
Gee, this intro is a disaster.
Anyway, let’s jump right in…

Most of you probably know that gegen is the German word for against. It is a preposition and in German you need to know which case goes with a preposition. For gegen it’s the Accusative.
Examples…

  • Thomas, der Betrunkene, läuft gegen die Wand.
    Die Wand gewinnt gegen Thomas, den Betrunkenen.
  • Thomas, the Drunk, walks against the wall.
    The wall wins against Thomas, the Drunk.

  • Wenn die Schwerkraft Deutsch lernen müsste, wäre sie auch gegen Fälle.
  • If gravity had to learn German, it would be against cases, too.
    (it’s funny in German, I promise)

  • Egal, was es ist – Anti-Man ist dagegen.
  • No matter what it is – Anti-man is against it.

As you can see, gegen and against are pretty one to one, but unlike against, which only has a weird look-alike again, gegen is at the core of a ton of whole family of words.
There are loads of nouns for instance, that all have a notion of confrontation and that translate with counter or oppo- in English

  • Manchmal ist Deutschlernen wie bei Gegenwind einen Berg aus Sand hochlaufen.
  • Sometimes, learning German is like walking up a mountain of sand with head wind/counter wind.
    (help, what’s the proper word here… the dictionary entries all sound weird)

  • Yes-Man ist kein würdiger Gegner für Anti-Man.
  • Yes-Man is not a worthy opponent for Anti-Man.
  • Maria ist heute früh aufgestanden und hat Sport gemacht. Im Gegensatz zu Thomas, der verschlafen hat.
  • Maria got up this morning and did a work out. As opposed to Thomas who/Thomas, on the contrary, overslept.
  • Gegensätze ziehen sich an.
  • Opposites attract.
  • Was ist das Gegenteil von langweilig?
  • What is the opposite of boring?

The answer to that answer is “this article”, by the way. Because it’s so unboring. And since we’re by the way anyway… have you ever really realized that opposite is a direct offspring of position? I mean… it’s super obvious and yet I was like “Oh, right… of course” when I consciously noticed it.

Anyways… there are not only nouns with gegen. There are also a few really useful small words. Like dagegen for instance. We already saw it in an example as a normal da-word, but it and its fancier version hingegen can also be used in a sort of independent sense of on the other hand, however.

  • Viele sagen, dass es für Anfänger echt hammer krass wichtig ist, die Artikel richtig zu lernen. Ich dagegen/hingegen glaube, es ist Zeitverschwendung.
  • People often say that it’s vital for beginners to learn the articles properly. I, on the other hand/however, believe that it’s a waste of time.

Hingegen is probably the better choice because there won’t be any confusion with the “normal” da-word dagegen.
Anyways, another one worth noting is gegenseitig, which expresses the idea of reciprocity. This one is quite handy if you have to clear up a plural sich in German. Like here:

  • Die Einhörner cremen sich gegenseitig ein.
  • The unicorns are putting lotion on each other.

Without gegenseitig, the sentence could mean that the each unicorn is putting lotion on itself, but they’re a group doing this. Still quite sexy, but not as much. An more elegant way to say this would actually be to say einander (one another) instead of sich gegenseitig, but elegant shmelegant. German learners are honest, down to earth folk. We learn hard and then drink cold beers and eat kebab at the kebab stand right across from the school.

Which brings us right over to our next word… gegenüber. Depending on context, it can mean the other side of the street or just directly facing something. And it can also be used in a metaphorical sense of toward.

  • “Einen Döner mit Kräutersoße, einen Ayran und ein Bier, bitte”
    “Ähm, der Dönerladen ist gegenüber. Das hier ist ein Starbucks.”
  • “One kebab with herb sauce, one Ayran and one beer.”
    “Erm… the kebab stand is across the street. This is a Starbuck’s”

  • Thomas sitzt mir gegenüber.
  • Thomas is sitting face to face with me.
  • Thomas war mir gegenüber irgendwie kalt.
  • Thomas was somehow cold toward me.

And of course we need to mention the word entgegen, which is actually one of the few prepositions that can be put AFTER what they connect. Whohoo, yeah… you’re super excited to finally meet one, I know :).

  • Entgegen meiner Vorstellung war die Suppe lecker.
  • Contrary to my expectation, the soup was good.
  • Ich gehe der Sonne entgegen.
  • I walk toward the sun.

On second thought… the second example is actually the prefix verb entgegengehen, not the preposition. Entgegen as a prefix is actually much more common and useful than the preposition. So in the past it would be

  • Ich bin der Sonne entgegengegegangen.

***note to interns who edit this: I think, I might have put one too many ge in this ge-form. Please take it out (and this comment, too, obviously). Thank you!! Oh, and don’t forget to leave 20 Euro coffee money for this week in the jar in the kitchen. I ain’t no charity :(!

Anyways… since we’re at verbs… there’s also a couple of verbs with gegen that we need to mention.

Cool verbs with gegen

The first one is entgegnen. It looks SUPER similar to the preposition entgegen, but the meaning is quite different. Because entgegnen is a slightly bookish sounding word for to reply, retort, answer.

  • “Was wollen wir essen?”, fragte Maria.
    “Das was du kochst.” entgegnete Thomas. Und bereute es sofort.
    Kapitel 4 – Nächte auf der Couch
  • “What should we eat?” Maria asked.
    “Whatever you will cook.” Thomas replied. And regretted it instantly.
    Chapter 4 – nights on the couch

The other verb I want to mention is begegnen, which is a German for to encounter but it’s also used for to meet at times. Note that the spoken past is formed with sein, not with haben. Because… logic (#irony).

  • Wo seid ihr euch zum ersten Mal begegnet?
  • Where did you meet for the first time?
  • “Ich gehe echt oft im Märchenwald joggen aber ich bin noch nie einem Einhorn begegnet.
    “Sei froh, ich hätte die Begegnung mit diesen Bestien fast nicht überlebt.”
  • “I go running in the fairytale forest a lot but I have never encountered a unicorn.”
    “Be glad! I almost didn’t survive the encounter with those viscous beasts.”

Cool.
So now we’ve seen a good selection of gegen-words and while they’re not all straight up against something, they all do share some notion of countering.
But there are a few words that don’t really fit.

gegen – when con becomes pro

Take die Gegend for instance. Die Gegend is a pretty common word for area in the sense of area of landscape or city scape.

  • Der Märchenwald ist eine gefährliche Gegend.
  • The fairytale forest is a dangerous area.
  • Ich wollte immer in dieser Gegend wohnen.
  • I always wanted to live in this area/neighborhood.

Or what about die Gegenwart – most of you have probably seen it and know that it’s the German word for the present (tense) and also for the presence (in the sense of being there).

  • Als Zeitreisender in der Gegenwart leben – geht das überhaupt? In diesem Webinar findest du alle Antworten (click here to sign up).
  • Living in the present as a time traveler – is that even possible? In this webinar you’ll find all the answers.
  • Ich fühle mich in deiner Gegenwart ruhig.
  • I feel calm in your presence.

And last but not least, there’s der Gegenstand which is a German word for… object.
It’s used for undefinable tangible objects but also in a figurative sense for topics or matters of debate.

  • “Leute, da liegt ein echt merkwürdiger Gegenstand auf dem Küchentisch. Weiß jemand was das ist?”
    “Ja.”
    “Ah, okay, dann ist ja gut.”
  • “Guys, there’s a really weird object lying on the kitchen table. Does anyone know what that is?”
    “Yes.”
    “Oh okay. All good then.”

  • Deine Klopapierpräferenz ist eigentlich nicht Gegenstand dieses Meetings, aber ok – wieviele Lagen hättest du gerne?
  • You toilet paper preferences are not really subject-matter of this meeting, but okay – how many plies would you like?

Gegend, Gegenwart, Gegenstand … one is about place, one about time and one about things. And what they all have in common is that they’re NOT about countering what is there. They ARE what is there, so to speak. They’re what we’re looking at, in a given moment. So are we looking at a singularity here? The moment where contra and pro are one and the same? Yin and Yang? The source? God?
Nope! It’s not that epic.
It’s actually not epic at all, because the original Germanic word gagan wasn’t about confrontation… it carried a notion of toward.
In fact, this notion is still alive in modern gegen and its cousin gen, which actually means toward.

  • Ich komme gegen um 9.
  • I’ll come toward/around 9.
  • Die Vögel fliegen gen Süden.
  • The birds are flying south.

The notion of confrontation is just a special kind of toward. This also explains the connection between again and against.
Against is the “strong” toward, while again is a “mild” toward that has focused on the idea of toward a former position/state. And if you’re a bit skeptical… just think of the word comeback... it can be just coming back to your former position. Or it can be a good argument in a confrontations.

**to the intern editing this: please find a clever way to transition to the end of the article! Thanks. No going home before it is done ;););) (I got you on cam, don’t forget)!! And delete this comment.

And that’s it for today. This was our look at gegen and the many useful words with it. Actually, there are plenty more but I think with the notion of toward and confrontation in mind you’ll be able to get all of them in context.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

** vocab **

gegen – against, around (for time), versus
gegen- (prefix) – oppo-, counter
gegen den Uhrzeigersinn – counter-clock-wise (is that a compound, maybe)
gen – fancy term for toward, usually for cardinal directions
dagegen – against it
wogegen – against which
hingegen, dagegen – on the other hand

der Gegenwind – the wind in face
das Gegenteil – the opposite
der Gegensatz – the contradiction
der Gegner, die Gegnerin, die Gegner – the opponent(s)
die Gegenfrage – the counter question

entgegnen – to reply (bookish)
jmd. begegnen – to meet someone, to encounter
die Begegnung – the encounter

entgegen (dat.)- toward
entgegengesetzt – with the opposite direction

gegenüber – facing, across the street
gegenseitig – reciprocal
sich gegenseitig, einander – each other

die Gegenwart – the present (tense)
gegenwärtig – momentary (formal)
sich etwas vergegenwärtigen – the make oneself aware of something

der Gegenstand(-stände) – the object (for unknown tangible objects), subject matter

die Gegend(en) – the area(s), the neighborhood, the neck of the woods

 

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