Time 4 – gleich, bald, später, nachher and more

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the forth part of our (not so) mini series on how to talk about time in German.

The first part was and overview over what the different ways to indicate time, not just in German but in language in general, and I strongly recommend that you read that theoretical monster… uhm article (find it here)

The second part was about saying the time of day in German, and it was pretty boring. Like… REALLY boring. But you still have to know this stuff, so have to read it sooner or later (find it here).

In the third part, we looked at all those “names” for times like Monday, June, morning, last week and so forth and if you like exceptions (who doesn’t) then that’s gonna be your favorite article. (find it here).

And while all three parts have quite different subjects, they have one thing in common:
they are incredibly long.
So will part four live up to its predecessors and be as long and tiring?
The answer is… No!

The first three parts were like the 2020 of talking about time, and now slowly, we’ll start the fun again.
Here is what’ll happen today:
We’ll look at a bunch of words, I’ll say a few things about them, you will go like “Oh my god, I always used that the wrong way”, “Oh cool, that is really good to know.” and “Oh cool this is also really good to know.” and “Oh cool, this is also really really good to know.
And then we’ll be done.
Sounds great? Cool. The let’s jump right in and look at

German time adverbs

Yeay…

Now, what are adverbs of time?
Well, they’re basically words that can indicate either a point in time or a span by themselves.
Actually, we’ve already learned some of them last time, when we were talking about the “names”, because grammatically, today and yesterday are adverbs of time.
And the key thing is really that they can answer the question when? by themselves.

  • When did/will you do your homework?
  • … .

But the bulk of time adverbs are words likee now, soon, later, earlier, or recently.
And because there are so many of them and they’re SUPER USEFUL, we’ll split this in two parts – the past and the “not past”.
In this lecture, we’ll focus on the latter, so we’ll start in the present, and move along the time line into the future.

And the first word is of course the German word for now  – jetzt.

  • Ich muss jetzt gehen.
  • I have to go now.
  • So, what now?
  • Und, was jetzt?

German actually also has nun, a direct relative of now, but jetzt and nun are synonyms for the most part, and jetzt is definitely more common, so just stick with that one.
Cool.
So, now that we know how to refer to the now, let’s move forward in time to the immediate future.

The immediate future

And the first word to know there is sofort. Sounds a bit like so forth, looks a bit like so forth, smells a bit like so fart… I mean forth.
But it means immediately because German likes to mess with our heads.

  • Mach sofort den Fernseher aus!
  • Turn off the TV immediately!
  • “Hast du deine Mails gecheckt?”
    “Noch nicht, aber ich mache es sofort.”
  • “Have you checked your Email?”
    “Not yet, but I’ll do it right away.

Generally, sofort really sounds pretty immediate, but time is of course relative.
A kid playing Fortnite might very well use sofort as an answer to “Start doing your homework!” only to keep playing for another 3 hours.
Or a waiter might say sofort, when you ask for the bill, only to go have a cigarette with the waitress.
I think, neither immediately nor right away can be used in this kind of Einsteinian-way.
But anyway, generally sofort is the closest to now there is in the future.

Also pretty close to “now” but not as immediate as sofort is the word gleich.
The temporal range of gleich is roughly from about in 5 minutes to in 2 hours, depending on context.
If a waitress says:

  • Ich komme gleich.
  • I’ll be there in a minute.

…that means that she will probably be there once she’s done with that cigarette.
If you are on the phone with a friend and you say

  • Bis gleich.

then that might mean that you’ll meet in one hour in the park.
Of course, the range of gleich doesn’t stop precisely at the two hour mark. It’s blurry. But saying bis gleich on the phone to someone you’ll see five hours later for dinner might already be confusing.

  • “Ok also dann sehen wir uns heute Abend zum Dinner.”
    “Ja ich freu mich, bis gleich.”
    “Ähhh… wie bis gleich… ich dachte, heute abend?”
  • “Ok, so we’ll see each other tonight for diner.”
    “Yep, I am excited, I’ll see you in a bit”
    “Uhh… what do you mean “in a bit”.. I thought, tonight?”

In this situation, we need something that’s a bit further into the future, which bring us right to our next section.

Later that day

And the two main possibilities here are nachher and später.

Später is the literal translation of later, which could technically be in 100 years. But in practice, as a name for time, später covers the span between 2 hour and 5 hours from now.
Why 5 and not 6? Well, no idea… it is just a feeling.
If you agree with someone at noon that you will meet up at 8 pm, you’d rather say heute abend (tonight) and that’s just more idiomatic.
The best use for später is as a reference to some point within the next few hours, and it is not clear when exactly. So, you go shopping and your friend goes to the library and you’ll see later –  that is a perfect moment to say

  • Bis später.
  • Later.

Just to make sure… später ALWAYS means the same day.
If you say “Bis später” to someone when you mean the next day, that’s actually a bit confusing.
Like… which is it, today or tomorrow?
Cool

Now, the other word, nachher, refers to the same range of time as später. And many times, nachher and später are interchangeable.
But I feel like nachher sounds is a bit more specific. If you do know the exact time you will meet, nachher is the better pick, because it sounds more “aware of the date“. And später sounds more open and has more procrastination potential, if that makes sense.

  • “Thomas, wann machst du die Küche sauber?”
    Nachher Schatz.” (Thomas acknowledges that he will do it at some point later really should do it, just not now)
    Später, Schatz.” (Thomas sounds a bit as if he doesn’t really care and is just procrastinating the chore)
  • “Thomas, when will you clean the kitchen?”
    Later, hon’.”

But this difference between nachher and später is really subtle. Here are two examples, where they’re pretty much interchangeable.

  • Bis nachher.
  • Later.
  • Ach Mist, ich muss nachher noch zur Uni. Ich habe keine Lust.
  • Oh crap, I have to go university later. I don’t feel like it.

Now, before we move one, I want to say a quick word about danach, beacuse I’m sure some of you are wondering about it.
Danach can translate to later as well, but it NOT mean the same as später or nachher because danach is what I call a pointer, not a name, and you need a reference point for it.
Don’t worry, we’ll talk about this stuff in part 6 of this series, but you can keep it in the back of you head that you CAN’T use danach if you have no point in time to point to.
All right.
Now so far, we have learned words, that can be applied for the same day.
Time to go further into the future.

Beyond Tomorrow

And the main two words here are are bald and demnächst.
Just like später and nachher, bald and demnächst are interchangeable oftentimes.
They both can refer to any point  in the future between, let’s say four days and four weeks maybe… yes, they are THAT vague :).
They CANNOT be used for the same day and the shouldn’t be used for the two or three following days as those are quite close and can be addressed with morgen, übermorgen or in ein paar Tagen.
So if you are going to see someone three days from now you WOULDN’T say

  • Bis bald /demnächst.
  • Till soon.

And not only because three days is a bit closer than bald and demnächst sound like, but also because bald and demnächst with all their inherent vagueness really express that you do NOT know when something is going to happen. They’re like soon but think bald actually sounds less soon, than soon does…. like… bald sounds a bit less urgent.
Here are some examples.

  • Ich muss bald/demnächst mal wieder Fenster putzen.
  • I will have to clean my windows at some point /soon.
  • Ich glaube mein Handy geht bald kaputt.
  • I think my phone will break at some point (soon).
  • Bald ist wieder Winter.
  • Not so far from now/ soon, it will be winter.
  • Ich will so bald wie möglich Kaffee trinken.
  • I want to drink coffee as soon as possible.

Now, is there a difference between bald and demnächst? Well, yes. It’s tone.  Demnächst wouldn’t really sound right. I think demnächst has kind of a technocratic touch to it. Bald is the heart, demnächst is the Google calendar.

  • Wir haben demnächst in unserer Firma Besuch von einem wichtigen Investor.
  • We will have a visit from an important investor in our company soon.

I don’t use demnächst that much in every day speech but I think you’ll see it around. One example, where they do use demnächst is in movie trailers.

  • Demnächst im Kino.
  • Coming soon.

However, both things work as a good bye if you are not quite sure when exactly you will see someone.

  • Bis bald/demnächst.

Alright.
So this has gotten quite long already so I think we’ll divide it into 2 parts and make a … oh, hold on… my red exception phone is ringing, gotta take that call real quick… hey John man, how is it going?… WHAT? … I messed up?!?!… about bald?…uh … oh …. ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … oh crap…. damn bald… well, good you called man, that is a BIG deal, thanks a lot man and keep watching…. yeah you too, bye.
So…. sorry guys but I have really overlooked something about bald. So … I said that bald doesn’t refer to the same day!
That is true in context of good bye phrases. “Bis bald” does absolutely NOT WORK for the same day.
However, there are many occasions when bald refers to the same day in sense of soon.

  • Ich glaube es regnet bald.
  • I think it is going to rain soon.
  • “Ist Maria schon da?”
    “Nein, aber sie sollte bald kommen.”
  • “Is Maria here yet?”
    “No but she should be coming soon.”
  • “Was machts du gerade?”
    “Ich bin noch in der Bibliothek aber ich glaube ich gehe bald nach Hause.”
  • “What are you doing?”
    “I am still at the library but I think I will go home soon.”

This same-day-bald can mean anything between 30 minutes and 2 hours … that’s what I feel. It is actually kind of similar to gleich, just a little more extended.
So bald is REALLY vague after all. And it’s really up to context.

  • Wir sollten bald wieder ins Theater gehen.
  • We should go to the theater again at some point in the near future/soon.
  • Wir sollten bald losgehen, sonst kommen wir zu spät ins Theater.
  • We should head out soon, or we will be late for the theater.

Cool.
And I think we’ll actually make a break here. We’ve learned the most common time adverbs for the future and next time we’ll do the same for the past. To recap quickly here is a list of today words in temporal order:

  • jetzt  – now
  • sofort – immadiately
  • gleich – (a few minute)
  • später, nachher (bald) – (a few hours on the  same day)
  • bald /demnächst (a few days till 1 month or more into the future)

If you REALLY have no idea, then you can also say irgendwann, which is at some point.
And to wrap this up, here is the ultimate word that can stand for ANY point in time.

dann

Technically, this is one of those pointer-words, that we’ll talk about in part 6, so it needs a reference point. But when saying good bye to someone, it can be used generically.

  • Bis dann.

This is fine for in an hour or in 2 months, for a fixed appointment or for no idea when exactly… it just always sounds appropriate.
If you want to recap what we did, go ahead and take the little quiz my beautiful assistant and I have prepared.
And if you have any questions or suggestions please leave me a comment, I hope you liked it and
Bis dann.

further reading:

Word of the Day – “gleich” .

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PeterB
PeterB
3 years ago

Perhaps it is subjective, but “I think it is going to rain soon” means that it may start raining any minute or perhaps within 30 minutes. “I think it is going to rain later” means that it will rain later today (but not the following day). So, which of the two is “Ich glaube es regnet bald.”

So, maybe it is risky to give a time frame, since “soon” is different for rain vs. going to a theater.

So, maybe “bald” means “in the near future, but unspecified” and “gleich” means soon at a specific time, which is probably why we would not use it for rain (I’m assuming), since we do not really know when.

Julian Koch
Julian Koch
3 years ago

Thanks a lot.. these adverbs are really important I think.. and you really explained their use pretty well. As aditional reading I can recommed https://language-easy.org/german/grammar/adverbs/ as they also talk about other types of adverbs.. their position in sentences etc. But of course, it is not as detailled as your article. Thank you very much again and greetings!

Annasc
Annasc
3 years ago

“I think I will make bald a Word of the Day at some point…” >_>

Stephen Pickahrdt
Stephen Pickahrdt
4 years ago

Hi Emanuel. Concerning your exception to the use of bald, I am wondering if this goes for demnächst as well. I was driving yesterday and using the German navigation system for the first time. The system kept saying “demnächst links abbiegen” and similar constructions with demnächst. I take it that the exception also works for demnächst.

Angie
Angie
6 years ago

“I’ll see you right away”, in England this term is used in official capacities; doctor/dentist/the boss etc.
“I’ll see you shortly” is the least friendly way, something your mother-in-law would say to you.

Riman Ellis
Riman Ellis
6 years ago

Hey, thank you for this post. It really helped me!

I have a question, can we say: Ich glaube wird es bald regnen instead of ich glaube es regent bald?

Ferro
Ferro
6 years ago

Vielen Dank nochmal für deine wunderbare Erklärungen. Ich habe eine Frage noch, und zwar was ist der Unterschied zwischen jetzt und nun? Ich weiß, dass die beiden bedeuten “now” aber ich weiß nicht wann jedes Wort verwendet wird.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Just after talking about bald you said ‘we’ll make a break’. We don’t make breaks in english. We have breaks :)

Angie
Angie
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

We also take breaks/take a break.

MegaMu
MegaMu
7 years ago

I use shortly quite often (also from Australia) but usually at the end of a sentance, like the examples already given in the comments. The waiter will be with you shortly. It CAN also be used in the middle of a sentance as well – the waiter will shortly be bringing out the main dish – but to me that sounds a bit stilted and old fashioned and I wouldn’t say that.

alexviajero
alexviajero
8 years ago

Great information here. By the way, “shortly” is also used all the time in the US. To me, it is the normal phrase a waiter/waitress uses after an order is taken when he stops by to refill your water glass: “your dinner will out shortly.” Also, “see you in a bit” is a friendly, sweet convention, but not something you’d say to your boss, it’s a little too “familiar.” In the latter case, I’d use “I’ll see you soon.”

Alan
Alan
8 years ago

road(-)map (no hyphen)

recommend( to read that )(that you read)

One word(s) I feel like ( word)

where (transtaing)(translating) one …

other (costumers)(customers) to rendered Costumers make costumes probably for actors etc

for (diner)(dinner) might diner is the american word for “cafe”

“Yep, I am excited, see you shortly.” No, we would use “soon” or “later”. “shortly” would be maybe 15min to an hour.
I never use the word “shortly” and neither do most people. I can only think of one news presenter on television (a Welshman) who says
” We will be going over to Fred Smith shortly, but first lets hear from …..” Maybe it is regional.
Note “soon” can also be used for a much longer period of undefined time. It is often used at the end of a
telephone conversation when no meeting has been set up.
“See you soon”/”Hear from you soon”
It can also be used for short or long periods.
“Is dinner ready? It will be ready soon”. short
” We will all be driving electric cars soon”. looooong

atjmail.co.uk
atjmail.co.uk
8 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You can say “I’ll see you right away” but not without the “I’ll”. “See you in a bit” is perfect, or “See you in a minute/second” or “ “See you in a few minutes” And you of course you can be specific “See you in 5 minutes” or “See you at one o’clock”

Alan

Bash
Bash
9 years ago

great post! Very helpful! Danke schön!

also, could you write one about the word “na” as in “na, ja…” or how some people just say “na” as a greeting? Think about it…

Bash
Bash
9 years ago
Reply to  Bash

oh, and I won’t accept “sofort” as an answer to my request. ;)

gold price
gold price
9 years ago

I’ve always hated the word “bald.” To me “bald” is a bad word. How many people really wish to be bald?

Eddie
Eddie
9 years ago

Maravilhoso o post!!! Toll!!!

Tommaso Benacchio
Tommaso Benacchio
9 years ago

Hey,

congrats for the blog, really useful! Just to report an experience: my boss uses “Bis spaeter” in e-mails as you would use “see you later” in English (I suppose, I am mother speaker of neither), so as “bis dann”, without specification. That was a bit “gewöhnungsbedürftig”…

Bis dann

Tommaso