Time 4 – “gleich, bald, später, nachher and other important words.”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another part 4 German is Easy- Learn German Online Course –  Time Mini Series.
So far we have been through some tough times together in our Time mini series…  (hahaha … what a joke).
The first post was all about the big picture and we learned what different categories of time indications there are in general (not just in German). This kind of was the road map for the whole mini series and I strongly recommend that you read that theoretical monst… uhm article.
The 2nd part was dedicated to the time of day. And that was soooo lame. No, seriously… you have no idea how lame that was. If you want to read something really lame, then that is your post… read it.
Then we had the 3rd part and that was tough. We looked at all those “names” for times like Monday, June, morning, last week and so forth and of course we had to deal with the corresponding prepositions… and man oh man, were there many exceptions there…. so many.
So while all pretty different in subject the three parts had something in common: they are incredibly long.
So the burning question is:
will part 4 live up to its predecessors and be as long, as complicated and as bestrewn with exceptions? 


Here is what we’ll do. We’ll look at some words.
You will say some things 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. So on the agenda for today are what in grammar jargon are called tempura roll adverts… oh wait.. that was sushi jargon.
Anyway… I use different categories here and just call them “names”. Now we already know some names for time… for instance today or yesterday. The defining feature of a “name” is, that it can answer the question when? all by itself. So… any word, that you can use to answer the following question is a name for a point in time.

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

Words like now, soon, later, earlier, sometimes, shortly, immediately also do the job but unlike tomorrow or Monday, they are rather vague. And those are the words we’ll look at today. So let’s start in the present and move along the time line, first to the future and then back to the past. And our starting point is of course now, which is jetzt in German.

  • Ich muss jetzt gehen.
  • I have to go now.

Now and jetzt are pretty clear and there are no traps where translating one to the other doesn’t work.

  • So, what now?
  • Und, was jetzt?

So let’s move on to the adjoi… oh bad dictionary, stop it! Bad bad dictionary, suggesting those words no one knows… the very close future… and that is sofort.

  • 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.

How long does sofort last? Well, generally sofort really sounds pretty immediate, but sometimes people use it just more loosely. A kid playing X-Box might very well use sofort as an answer to “Start doing your homework!” only to keep playing for another 10 hours. The kid just said it to satisfy mom by using the closest word to now.
Also a waiter might say sofort, when you ask for the check, although he knows that it will take him 5 minutes as there is a cigarette to be smok… other customers to rendered happy first.
I think neither immediately nor right away can be used in that let’s say Einsteinian-way (… I am referring to the relativity of time here) but sofort can. Anyway… generally sofort is the closest to now there is in the future.

Pretty similar but not as immediate as sofort is the word gleich (read the WotD on gleich here). The temporal range of gleich is roughly from about in 5 minutes to in 2 hours. If a waitress says:

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

that means that she will probably come within 5 minutes. If you are on the phone with a friend and you’ll see each other one hour later in the park

  • Bis gleich.

is the best choice. Of course gleich doesn’t stop right at the 2 hour mark but it starts to feel more and more weird  and saying bis gleich on the phone to someone you’ll see 5 hours later for dinner might already be confusing.

  • “Ok also dann sehen wir uns heute Abend zum Diner.”
    “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?”

So in this situation we need a word that is a bit further in the future.
There are 2 possibilities here: nachher and später.

Now später is the literal translation of  later so it is really undefined by default. However, if used as a name for time in German, I’d say it is somewhere between 1 hour and 5 hours. 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 could say später, but you could also say heute abend (tonight) and that would sound better.
The best use for später is an indication of some point within the next hours, and it is not clear when exactly. So you go shopping and your friend goes to the library and you will call and see when to meet… that is perfect for

  • Bis später.
  • Later.

One thing which is REALLY important to know is that später always means the same day. You should not say “Bis später” to someone when you mean the next day. If someone did that, I would be incredibly confused.

The other word which used for about the same range of time (1 – 6 hours) is nachher. Many times nachher and später are interchangeable but I think nachher is a bit more specific. So if you know the exact time when you will meet, nachher sounds a bit more “aware of the appointment”. So if asked when you will do something, and you don’t really know yet, but you want to give an answer, nachher sounds a little less reluctant maybe.

  • “Thomas, wann machst du die Küche sauber?”
    Nachher Schatz.” (Thomas acknowledges that he 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, I would say. Here are 2 more examples in which später works just as fine.

  • Bis nachher.
  • Later.
  • Ach mist, ich muss nachher noch zur Uni. Ich habe keine Lust.
  • Oh crap, I have to go university later.

One word I feel like I need to say here: danach does NOT mean the same as später or nachher. Danach is a pointer, not a name. We will talk about those in part 6, but don’t use danach if you have nothing to point at.

Ok…so far we have learned words, that can be applied for the same day. Now let’s go further into the future and there we have another pair of words: bald and demnächst.

Just as später and nachher, bald and demnächst are interchangeable oftentimes.
Both words can mean any point  in the future between hmmm 4 days and 4 weeks maybe… yes, they are that vague. They CANNOT be used for the same day, and the shouldn’t be used for the 2 or 3 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 3 days from now you should not say:

  • Bis bald /demnächst.
  • Till soon.

And not only because 3 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… just some when within the next few weeks.  Now that I talk about it, I think bald actually sounds less soon, than soon does. Bald sounds a bit less urgent.But maybe I am wrong… (bilinguals … help me with your powers!!!!)
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.

I just realized that in the last 2 examples, demnächst wouldn’t really sound right. I think demnächst has kind of a technocratic touch to it. Bald is the heart, demnächst is the artificial intelligence. Where would that sound appropriate?

  • 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, and if I do, I think it is because I deem bald to sound too soon, although both words stand for roughly the same range. 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… hey John man, how is it going?… WHAT? … No way!… Are you serious? … … and the donkey said what again?…. Oh wow… that is the most amazing story I have heard in a long time, anyway what do you have for me here man… 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 refers to some times between 5 days till 4 weeks from now. That is correct for all the examples above and most importantly if you say for instance “Bis bald.” That does NOT mean 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 we have 2 balds and which one it is dependent on the context…

  • Wir sollten bald mal 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.

what is important to remember, I said it already but I’ll say it again, is that “Bis bald.” does NOT mean the same day… never. And if you use bald as an indication of time for something that you will do and the context doesn’t make it perfectly clear that we are talking about the same day… it will sounds like the further bald.

  • Mein Bruder kommt bald nach Berlin.
  • My brother will come to Berlin soon/in the near future.

If your brother is coming the same day, then use gleich, nachher, später or heute, but not bald.

I think I will make bald a Word of the Day at some point, because there is more to it than what we have discussed so far but I think for today it was actually enough info so we’ll make a break here.
We’ve learned undefined time words 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 – sofort – gleich – bald – später/nachher (all same day)– bald /demnächst (till 1 month or more into the future)

And to wrap this up, here is the ultimate word that can stand for ANY point in time and is thus often used in good bye phrases:


It is a pointer so it will be part of another lecture but it means basically then and you can use it in any occasion.

  • “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 have questions or suggestions please leave me a comment, I hope you liked it and
Bis dann.