German Prepositions Explained – “mit”

mit-prefix-meaning-germanHello everyone,

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



Mit means with. Let’s do an example.

And that’s that. Just good ol’ literal translation. Hooray. And what’s even better is that we don’t have to worry about what case to use because… they all are equally correct with mit… okay they’re not. Mit needs Dative. But at least it’s easy to remember.. mit dem…  starts with “em” and ends with “em”. So, bottom line… mit  – simple, honest, literal.
Best preposition ever!
Now, of course mit wouldn’t be a Word of the Day if there wasn’t anything interesting to say about it. Mit is a really really cool prefix. There are so many uber common mit-verbs that are used every single day, and yet all those dumb text books miss out on them. Hey… hey beginners-book, I don’t care what bell pepper means!
Anyway…so, today we’ll take a look at some of the most common mit-verbs and along the way, we’ll discover the 2 main aspects mit can add to a verb. Sounds good?

So, let’s start with one of the most basic verbs German has to offer. Herstellen. That is a synonym for the one I mean. I am talking of course about machen.
And when you add mit to it, well… you join the making… or doing.

Mitmachen, generic as it is, is actually the perfect word for joining if you don’t want to specify the exact activity.

Many NGOs like Greenpeace or Goldman Sachs as well as political parties have a menu “mitmachen” on their website.
But of course, if we want to be a little more specific, we can replace machen with all kinds of verbs and have mit add the join-idea.

Oh, speaking of mitessen… do you know these little brown or black spots on the skin that release some greasy matter when you pinch them?  They’re mostly on the nose? In English they’re called  blackheads. Pretty cool name actually… they’ll even use it for the 2021 expansion pack of COD Warzone:  Warzone: Blackheads – Mission nasal wing.”
Anyway, the “official” name for that is comedo… and guess where that comes from: the Latin word for eating.Because it was believed that those things are in fact little worms that live off of us. And what are they called in German? Mitesser. We eat, they join right in.

“Äh… ich glaub ich will grad doch kein Chili.”

Oh okay :)
All right. So this was the  joining-idea of mit.  But that doesn’t always make sense.
Let’s look at this example.

Based on what we’ve learned so far this should mean something like: someone else is bringing you the book and I’m like “Hey that looks fun. Kann ich mitbringen?”. The true sense is different. It is  about bringing the book with me…. or along. Along actually best captures this second idea of mit.

  • I’ll bring along your book.

You see… without the mit, it would sound like I come ONLY to bring the book. That’s why I’m coming. With mit the bringing is more of a convenient side activity. Or a necessary one…

Very similar examples are mitnehmen and mithaben.

Without the mit, the sentence would sound incomplete. I would be like “Ok, I have my trash in my hand now.What do I do with it? Oh god…it doesn’t say it on the sign! What do I dooooo?”. I guess in English it’d be the same if the  with you were missing.
Anyway… isn’t the mit awesome? Imagine we would have to say with you/me/him in German…. we’d need to do all that case stuff. But no… just add mit and be done with it.

Another nice one is mitgeben which dictionaries translate as to give sb. sth. to take with him / her / them. That’s pretty long.

The mit in this context implies that I am going somewhere and I take the fruits with me. So much information in just a little word.
Now, I said that the second idea of mit was best captured by along… but all the examples are with this with her/him… stuff. So why not call THAT the second idea of mit. Well, even though it is not in the translations, along is still in the meaning of the example… mitgeben, mithaben, mitbringen... it’s always about going places and taking stuff along. I just felt like the with me-phrasings were more idiomatic (not sure ), so I used those. There are verbs however, for which the whole with me stuff doesn’t work at all. For example mitschreiben.

That doesn’t make sense. So what does the sentence mean? Based on the first idea of mit, the joining, we could assume that it means “join the others in their writing”. But nope. You can be the only person in the classroom writing and still call it mitschreiben. The actual meaning is this: as the lecture moves along, you “write along”… you take notes. And that’s the real translation

  • I never take notes/write anything down in class.

There is this very common phrase that people say when are about to repeat something to make it extra clear

Similar to mitschreiben is mitdenken, which is something like to think along. And again, you can be the only person doing any thinking. You “think along” as a situation unfolds. For instance you and some friends rented a little cottage in the middle of nowhere for the weekend. On the way there you do your groceries, but then, as you start to cook dinner you find that there is no salt in the cabinet. Damn. And you actually wanted to make a pasta with salt-sauce. Double damn. But then your friend Cathy goes like… “Chill out dudes… I brought some salt from home. I figured there might be none here.” Perfect moment to say

Little did they know what the night had in store for Cathy… but that’s another story.
So, first we had along as in along with ourselves and then we had along as in along with whatever happens. But that’s still not all we can do with the along idea. Take for instance the verb mitessen. The second night in the cottage a German friend has cooked the traditional “Kartoffeln mit Kräuterquark” (potatoes with herb-curd). Someone complains, that the potatoes are too hot to peel, but your friend says

Little did he know that there was something else “organic” in the house…. but anyway… mitessen basically means that you can eat for example the peel along with the rest of the potato. But wait… wasn’t mitessen to join eating? Yes, it was. It can mean either. And that is true for many mit-verbs. Even for mitmachen.
The next morning in the cottage…

  • “Uahhhh… was für eine Nacht. Weißt du wo Cathy ist?”
    “Nee… keine Ahnung.”
    “Naja… vielleicht wandern oder sowas. Ich mach mir erstmal einen Crawnberry-Acai-Frappucino.”
    “Oh … kannst du mir einen mitmachen?”
  • “Guahhh… what a night. Do you know where Cathy is?”
    “Nah… no idea.”
    “Oh well… maybe hiking or something. I’m gonna go fix myself  a Crawnberry-Acai-Frappucino.”
    “Oh … can you make me one too?”
    ” ‘course”

Little did he know what awaite…okay, okay… I’ll stop that :).
So mitmachen can mean to join the making but also “to make along”. Those are the two essential ideas or poles that mit can add to a verb. And they are not really that far away from each other after all. And often they do overlap. Take mitsingen.

These two are super close. Or take mitkommen.

This is basically one verb. The two idea just completely fuse.
So… we have two different ideas, yes, but they have a lot lot lot in common and maybe it is best to just think of mit as  along-ish and let the context do the rest. That would also help with the more abstract uses that have evolved for many of these verbs.

  1. Jeden Tag Überstunden und immer nur Gemecker. Ich mache das
    nicht mehr lange mit.

  2. Mein Fahrrad hat schon viel mitgemacht, aber fährt immer noch
    wie eine 1.

  3. Als der Lehrer über Grammatik geredet hat, bin ich nicht mehr mitgekommen.
  4. George Clooney hat in vielen Filmen mitgespielt.
  5. Der Politiker wird dieses Projekt nicht mittragen.

All those should be pretty more or less clear by context…. the precise translation doesn’t matter that much. It’s the idea that counts.

  1. Extra hours everyday and nothing but bleat. I’m not going to take that/go along with that/suffer that for much longer
  2. My bike has been through a lot but it is still running perfectly.
  3. When the teacher started speaking about grammar, I couldn’t follow anymore.
  4. George Clooney has been in many movies.
  5. The politician will not support that project.

The most abstract one out there is probably mitbekommen (or it’s colloquial brother mitkriegen)

The words are used in a bunch of different context and it doesn’t make much sense to give ONE translation… sometimes it’s hearing, sometimes it’s reading, or seeing. The underlying idea is that you get (bekommen) some kind of information along your path through life, so to say.
But that’s about as abstract as it gets with mit and I hope you got an idea of what the mit does.
Now, before we wrap up, let’s maybe look at a few mit-nouns. Okay… actually there is also a verb for most of them but whatever.

Useful nouns with “mit”

The first noun is Mitarbeiter. Of course logic suggests that Mitarbeiter means coworker. But nope. Shoo logic, shoo shoo… go back to math, there’s no room for you in language. Mitarbeiter means employee and if you say “Mein Mitarbeiter” then that means that you’re the boss.
The next noun is das Mitleid. Literally this is “the with-suffering” and it is a verbatim translation of a Latin word…  com-passio Passion is such a weird word. For years I was REALLY confused about the title “The passion of Christ”… I was like “What’s his passion? Like … healing or soccer or something?”. But then at some point it clicked and I was like “Ohhhh passion can mean suffering too”. Anyway… Leid is a little bit more “suffering” than passion, so Mitleid is actually closer to pity than to compassion.

I mean… who would reject actual compassion like that :).
All right.
Another nice noun  is Mitteilung. Teilen is to share so Mitteilung would literally be something like with-sharing. The actual meaning is (somewhat formal) message. For example, SMS is Kurzmitteilung in German. Or it would be if it wasn’t SMS … in your face,language Nazis. Anyway.. in a message we’re sharing information with someone. The mit is kind of unnecessary… I mean… sharing is by default with someone. But whatever, it isn’t too odd.

  • Betreffend unsere Mitteilung vom 32. 4. 2021…
  • Pertaining to our message of April 32nd…

And there are many many more. Mitschuld (part of the guild), Mithilfe (assistance, help), Mitbewohner (room-mate)…  Mit is just super productive and you do a lot with it. And that concludes our Germ… wait a second. With it. Wouldn’t that be… yeah, it totally would be damit in German.

damit – a quick look

Now, we’ve talked about the da-words some other time but since – in all those text books and courses – damit totally seems to be a thing let’s have a peek at it real quick.
Damit is often talked about under the headline “final clause”. I don’t really know what that is though. I’m a  little  clausetrophobic … ahem… get it? I just made a pun… … … …. okay, never mind.
So, here’s the deal. For many of the things we do in daily life we need a tool… a bike to bike, a key to pass the test, a lighter to lighten up. So we have a tool, and we do what we want to do with it. With it. Damit.  Tadah… so damit has the built in idea of help with accomplishing a goal. Now, not only tools can be a means to an end. Also an activity. And over time damit developed into a functional word that can connect activities or … verbs.
The “normal” use is this:

and the functional use is this:

In the first sentence the bike is my tool, in the second having a bike is the tool. The structures are totally different but the content is kind of similar, albeit not identical.  So, this is where the functional damit comes from. The so that meaning.
And what about um zu? Well, that expresses the same idea with a different grammar. And it is more limited,because it only works if the subject in both parts of the sentence is the same. Just like in the bike-example.
Let’s look at another example with both ways back to back and then we’ll finish, all right?

  • Thomas … , damit er Maria nicht weckt.
  • Thomas steht sehr leise auf, um Maria nicht zu wecken.
  • Thomas gets up very quietly, so that he doesn’t/so as to not wake Maria.
  • Thomas steht sehr leise auf, damit Maria nicht aufwacht.
  • Thomas gets up very quietly so that Maria doesn’t wake up.

In the first example, Thomas is the subject in both parts, so I can use um zu. In the second example, Thomas is the subject in the first part, while Maria is the subject in the second part and hence, no um zu is a no go.
I on the other hand am a yes go, because we’re done and I will go to the break room,  drink coffee. Little do I know what horrors are waiti.. oh wait, we’re not in that cottage anymore. Phew.

This was our look at the German preposition mit, and I hope you got some idea of how useful and common it really is as a prefix. Mitkommen, mitbringen, mithaben, mitmachen, mitthis, mitthat … there are sooo many.

If you have any questions about mit or if you want to try out some examples and have them corrected, or if you know some other cool mit-words that we should mention, just leave a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh … by the way… here’s a common German idiom. Our teachers used that in elementary school after some of us had done something stupid during lunch break … can you guess what it means?

  • Mitgegangen, mitgefangen, mitgehangen.

Hint: they used it to legitimize their unjust collective reprimands … that’s right!! I have not forgotten!!!!

further reading:


** vocab **

mit = with
mitmachen = to join (an activity); make something for another person (while you’re making it for yourself); put up with (usually used with a negation)
mitreden = to talk, to join the discussion
mitessen = join eating, eat with someone
der Mitesser = the blackhead
mitbringen = bring along (doesn’t work if bringing is the only purpose of your going somewhere)
mitnehmen = take with you
mithaben = have with you, have on you (colloquial)
mitschreiben = write along (as someone is talking)
mitdenken = to think along
mitteilen = to let someone know something
mitkommen = to come with someone, to join (very common in context of inviting friends for events)
mitbekommen = to hear, to learn (in the sense of picking up a piece of information, usually “mitkriegen” in spoken)
mitkriegen = to hear, to learn (in the sense of picking up a piece of information, fancy version is “mitbekommen”)
der Mitarbeiter = the employee, the coworker
das Mitleid = the compassion
das Selbstmitleid = the self pity
die Mitteilung = the notification, the message
der Mitbewohner = the flat mate
damit = with that; so that (conjunction)
mitgegangen, mitgefangen, mitgehangen = In for a penny, in for a pound (idiom)


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