German Prepositions Explained – “mit”

mit-prefix-meaning-germanHello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of our series German Prepositions Explained. And you know how series have these episodes that are kind of slow. Like… people talk and a thing or two happens but at the end you kind feel like there was no real progression.
Today is gonna be one of those episodes because we’ll take a look at the meaning of

mit

 

Okay, of course I don’t mean it’s going to be boring.
But mit just isn’t all that difficult.
I think all of you know that it means with.

  • Ich komme mit dem Fahrrad.
  • I’ll come by bike.

Okay… I… I guess that examples was kind of a fail. So mit CAN have other translations from time to time, but that’s just normal and overall the idea of with is pretty clear.
And case-wise mit goes with Dative which is also easy to remember because mit starts with m and Dative kind of ends with it… I mean, the article dem does… you know what I mean.

But yeah, the reason we’re even doing an episode about mit are the prefix verbs. Because there are quite a few colloquial ones that textbooks miss out on and people sometimes struggle to pin down.
So, today we’ll basically explore mit as a prefix so if you’re ready, then let’s jump right in :)

Now, if we take a prefix verb with mit and just try to translate it as with, that’s going to sound a bit odd. But it gets much clearer if we think of it as along(side).
That perfectly fits the different themes that mit-verbs can have. I mean… they’re not that different, but still.
And one of the things that can is often expressed through mit-verbs is the idea of  joining.

joining

Adding mit to a verb can express that you do whatever the verb is alongside with others. And the most generic example for it is mitmachen. Which basically means… to join.

And while mitmachen can be found for all kinds of activities, we can of course also use a more specific verb.

Oh, and 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 sometimes called blackheads, just like on the 2020 expansion pack of COD – Warzone: Blackheads – Mission nasal wing.”
Anyway, the “official” name for those things is comedo and guess where that comes from: the Latin word for eating. Because it was believed that those black things are in fact little worms that live off of us. And now guess what they’re called in German… exactly Mitesser.
We eat, they join right in.

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

 

Cool :).
Now, the theme of joining is pretty clear, I think, so let’s move on to the next one.
And that is the idea of … well… along in a sense of with you.
Yeah… as I said in the intro… it’s really not all that difficult :)

along with you

And the best example for this one is probably the verb mitbringen.

In English, you wouldn’t even necessarily translate the mit but in German, the sentence feels weird without it.
For one thing, without mit it sounds like I come ONLY to bring you the book. The mit makes it clear, that the bringing is a “side effect” of the fact that I am coming anyway. And also, it gives the sentences this nice prefix at the end, that German loves so much.
Here’s another example…

And here’s the same idea but with nehmen

Without the mit, the sentence would sound incomplete. Just like in English actually, if you take out “with you”.
Oh and another REALLY common verb is mithaben, which is about the idea of having something with you. 

This mithaben is definitely one of those verbs that’ll make you sound super native so you should definitely add it to your active vocabulary.
Cool.
Now, if we wanted to, I guess we could make up a couple of more somewhat distinct themes for usage but honestly…. we might as well just look over a few more examples.

it’s all the same stuff

Actually, the distinctions we’ve made might be more limiting than they’re helpful. Like… we already had mitmachen and mitessen with the sense of joining. But they can show up in other contexts as well.

Here, the idea of mit is a sense of as well, but the core idea is still very much a sense of along.
And that goes for all mit-verbs… some are a bit abstract and the translations might seem a little odd at first glance, but with the sense of along in mind, they make perfect sense.

  • Die Erklärung war zu schnell. Ich bin nicht mitgekommen.
  • The explanation was too fast. I couldn’t follow/keep up.

The most abstract ones I could think of are mitkriegen and mitbekommen … which are the same, essentially, because kriegen and bekommen are synonyms
So yeah, mitkriegen and mitbekommen are a colloquial option for noticing or realizing, and the idea is that you, as well, get a share of the information.

But that’s really about as abstract as it gets with mit.
Not much mind yoga needed for once.
Still, mit-verbs are pretty common in colloquial daily German, and there are also some really nice nouns.
Like das Mitleid for example, which is the German noun for pity. Or the very famous Mitbewohner, which roughly translates to person who never cleans up the kitchen after cooking.

There are plenty more but I think you can understand all of them from context.
There is one thing about mit, though, that does confuse students. And that’s the infamous da-word… damit.

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, um zu is not an option and damit is what we need.

And speaking of what we need… I don’t know about you, but I need a nice cold beer now. And it’s well deserved because we’re done for today :). Hooray.
This was our look at the meaning and use of the preposition mit,in particular as a prefix. And even though it wasn’t all that mind blowing, I hope you learned a few useful things.
At least verbs like mithaben or mitmachen are really worth adding to your active vocabulary.

As usual, if you have any questions about today, 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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