Word of the Day – “gönnen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. Roughly 100 years ago, Wilhelm Busch (a hyper famous German poet) wrote this.

Wir mögen keinem gerne gönnen,
dass er was kann, was wir nicht können.

 

It’s a nice rhyme, but also a bit of truth about human nature.
Today we’ll find out why, because we’ll have a look at the meaning of

gönnen

 

And as similar as it looks and sounds to können – being able to gönnen can be REAL challenge because it means overcoming one of the strongest adversaries out there … and no nerds, I don’t mean Thanos.
I’m talking about our ego.

When you look up gönnen in a dictionary you get stuff like to grant or to not begrudge but they don’t really capture the core of it. Gönnen is essentially the super opposite to to envy. To “anti-envy”.
So it’s not  just saying  “I don’t mind that someone has this and that.”  
It’s more like ““It’s GOOD/FAIR that the person has that, even if I don’t.” 
Here’s an example

  • Ich gönne meinem Kollegen die Gehaltserhöhung.
  • I‘m fully okay with my colleagues pay raise. /My colleague’s pay raise is well deserved.

This sounds super genuine and giving, even if you didn’t get a raise. Like… you would have given him the raise, had it been up to you.
Maybe you can tell… I’m really struggling to capture gönnen in English but I hope you got an idea. And if not, maybe the negative helps.

  • Ich gönne dem Schauspieler den Erfolg nicht.
  • In my opinion, the actor doesn’t deserve this success. I wish he didn’t have it.

As you can see, the negative doesn’t sound as strong as flat out saying “I’m envious”, just as the non negated version is not as strong as “I feel happy for”. But Germans are a bit more “neutral” about expressing their feelings anyway, so (nicht) gönnen is used a lot to express how you feel about someone else getting something. And sometimes actually also for actively giving … usually in contexts of permission. 

  • Der Trainer gönnt den Spielern eine Pause.
  • The trainer gives the players a break.

And this brings us to gönnen with a self reference. Because gönnen yourself  is always about giving yourself something. It works for any kind of treat, material and non-material and it is supper common… uh… I mean super common :).

  • Der Athlet gönnt sich keine Trainingspause.
  • The athlete doesn’t give/allow himself a work-out break.
  • Ich hab’ mir heute mal Sushi gegönnt.
  • I treated myself to/indulged in  some Sushi today.
  • Nach dem Erfolg des Romans gönnt sich der Autor erst mal eine Auszeit.
  • After the success of the novel, the author treats himself to/allows himself/takes a time-out.

Now some of you might be wondering where the word comes from and if there are any relative in the English language. Well,  it used to exist in old English but that has disappeared long ago. It does have a brother in Swedish (unna) but overall, not much is known about the origin of the word.
Either way, Germans always have been quite fond of it. In fact it has even made it’s way into slang and… and I know this will sound crazy…  a German meme.
But before we get to that, let’s look at the related words.
Now you’re like “Oh… prefix versions, here they come.”
But no, not this time.
The only prefix version gönnen has is vergönnen and we can’t talk about this unless we want to get fined by the who-cares-police.

The word that does matter is the noun die Gunst.  In practice, the most common translation is favor but the core idea is basically the feeling someone has who gönnen you something – some sort of goodwill or something.

  • Der Ritter des schwarzen Einhorns steht in der Gunst des Königs.
  • The knight of the black unicorn is in favor with the king.
  • Das Gericht hat zu seinen Gunsten entschieden.
  • The court ruled in his favor.
  • Ich habe die Gunst der Stunde genutzt und sie geküsst. (common idiom)
  • I seized the moment and kissed her.
    Lit.: “the favor/goodwill of the hour”
  • Missgunst ist ein Synonym für Neid.
  • Missgunst is a synonym for envy.

Now, all these examples were more or less fixed phrasings and the noun Gunst itself isn’t all that common in daily life anymore.  Still, you’ll see it everyday dozens of times – as part of the very very common adjective günstig.
Yup, I was surprised, too, when I found out about this connection :)
If you’ve been to Germany or you’ve watched German ads, you most certainly know that günstig means cheap.
Now, that makes sense. Something that is günstig is that something “means us well”.  And günstig is not limited to money but can also express the idea of convenient or favorable.

  • Wo kann man in Berlin gut und günstig essen?
  • Where can you eat well for a reasonable price in Berlin?
  • Das günstigste Angebot ist nicht immer das beste.
  • The cheapest offer is not always the best.
  • “Hey, können wir kurz telefonieren?”
    “Grad ist (es) ungünstig. Bin im Meeting.”
  • “Hey can I call you real quick?”
    “It’s inconvenient right now. I’m at a meeting.”
  • Weil der Wind günstig steht, kommt der Pirat pünktlich nach Hause.
  • Because the winds are in his favor, the pirate makes it home on time.

There’s also a bunch of word that are based on günstig so let’s look at a few examples for those, too. They probably seem a bit all over the place, but I think with the idea of favorable, meaning well in mind they all make sense.

  • Aschenputtels Stiefschwestern sind missgünstige Biester.
  • Cinderella’s step sisters are envious beasts.
  • Mit der Berlin Card erhalten Sie zahlreiche Vergünstigungen in Museen und anderen Sehenswürdigkeiten.
  • With the Berlin Welcome card, you get plenty of discounts in museums and other sights.
  • Hohe Luftfeuchtigkeit in der Wohnung begünstigt die Bildung von Schimmel.
  • High humidity at home promotes/facilitates the formation of mold.

But I think I hear the sirens of the wo cares police in the distance again so let’s get to what you’re all waiting for… the slang :).
And that is simply the phrase

  • Gönn dir!

It’s obviously the sich gönnen that we learned earlier, only that the object is missing.  If I had to come up with a translation I’d say it’s “Indulge bro’/sis’, because YOLO.” … that’s kind of the vibe.
But I think examples will make it more clear :)

  • “Ich glaub’ ich trink heute mal einen Cocktail.”
    “Ja Mann… gönn dir. “
  • “I think I’ll actually have a cocktail today.”
    “Yeah, dude… YOLO/you deserve it.”
  • “Morgen hab’ ich Geburtstag.”
    “Echt? Feierst du?”
    “Ja klar, mit Limousine und so.”
    “Korrekt. Gönn dir hart.”
  • “Tomorrow’s my birthday.”
    “Really? You partying?”
    “Yeah, with a limo/sedan and all.”
    “Hell yeah. Go all out, man.”

Okay, this last one, Gönn dir hart,  has a REALLY STRONG teenage-y ring to it and unless your under 20 you should stay away from it.
But compared to other slang tropes, Gönn dir is pretty big and broadly accepted at the moment. There are whole songs with that title and it’s mainstream enough for ad agencies to start using it. Media Markt, a big electronics retailer, has a “Gönn-dir-Dienstag” for their online store (click here to check that out) and the Sparkasse  posted the this  on their Facebook page a year ago

“Ein Leben lang Gönnung für jeden”
(here’s the direct link)

It means something along the lines of

  • “YOLO is easy – if you have a good bank, like pension/provision-wise”
  • “Life-long indulging/YOLO for everyone…”

And in case you’re wondering … “Gönnung” is not a word and “vong” CERTAINLY isn’t. They’re clearly trying hard here to get street cred. Ugh… when the cringe gets too strong :).
Anyway, so yeah… “Gönn dir” still is clearly identifiable as teenage slang, but it’s mainstream enough to use it with your buddies even if you’re past 25 (30 in Berlin ;).

And I think that’s it for today. This was our look at the German word gönnen.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. Oh and if you want you can give it a shot and try to translate the poem from the beginning. Here it is again:

Wir mögen keinem gerne gönnen,
dass er was kann, was wir nicht können. 

And if you’re like Nah, I’ve done enough learning for the day.” … well, then just do what Leo says :)

(Click here for variations of the “Gönn dir”-meme on image search)

Perfect picture for the phrase.
(Click here for variations of the “Gönn dir”-meme on image search)
I hope you liked it and see you next week.

** vocab **

gönnen – to anti-envy, unemotional version of “being happy for someone”
die Gunst – the favor (in sense of a person or situation being well meaning toward you)
die Missgunst – the envy (synonym for der Neid)
günstig – cheap, favorable
ungünstig – inconvenient
die Vergünstigung – the discount
die Begünstigung – being favorable for someone/something

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weslee
weslee
1 year ago

Hat “gönn dir” auch negative Bedeutung?wie z. B. “A: ich trug gar keinen Mundschutz, und steckte mich nämlich mit Corona-Virus an.“ B: Gönn dir! (You deserve it) oder A: Mr. D trug niemals Mundschutz, deswegen steckte er sich mit Corona-Virus an. B: Gönn ihm! (he really deserves it)

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thank you so much for the rapid response! Ich drücke dir die Daumen dafür.
Übrigens, darf ich noch eine Frage stellen: wie sag man „you deserve it“ in einem Kontext vom Sarkasmus“ auf Deutsch?
LG

weslee
weslee
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen Dank und noch einen schönen Montag:)

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

Just read the comment below explaining my question. Cheers

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

btw, where are you from, Emanuel?

Matt
Matt
1 year ago

Hello friends,
“Ich gönne meinem Kollegen die Gehaltserhöhung.”
I believe it should be meinen Kollegen the right declination. ??

Capital_ Ash_
Capital_ Ash_
2 years ago

great article! I learned a ton to say the least… I’m having problems with importing the CSV into my anki though. i have no idea why

dors
dors
4 years ago

Hi!! I would have one question the following sentence: Ich gönne meinem Kollegen die Gehaltserhöhung.

I’m a little bit confused and don’t understand why you have used the form ‘meinem Kollegen’ instead of ‘meinen Kollegen’. I’m sure there must be some grammatical explanation which I’m not aware of.

Thank you in advance for your help :)

Rob
Rob
4 years ago

Gibt es einen Untershied zwischen “günstig” und “billig”?

berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Beides bedeutet “kostet nicht viel” aber “günstig” ist immer positiv gemeint, “billig” meistens negativ.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago

An idiom I think gets close to the meaning of “jmdm. etwas gönnen” is “my hat’s off to _____”. It conveys respect and acknowledgement that somebody deserves the credit or praise they get for something.

Alp
Alp
4 years ago

I really thank you donators who is helping me to learn german.I hope I get better ^^

skypod
skypod
4 years ago

The difficulty with gönnen for English speakers is the we express the same idea using the verb ‘to begrudge’ but exactly the other way round:
‘Ich gönne ihr den Erfolg’ ‘I don’t begrudge her the success’
whereas if we were envious we would say,
‘I begrudge her the success’ (‘Ich gönne ihr den Erfolg nicht’).

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I wouldn’t say it’s super-common, but it’s not a rare curiosity either. You also see/hear it as just “to grudge.”

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Seldom heard without negation. Even then it competes with better known alternatives but it’s still a good stock phrase to equivocate over someone’s success. That is to say, it’s frequently followed by a “but”. “I don’t begrudge (him) his promotion but…”

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Hi, can I interpreted “Gönn dir” as “enjoy yourself”?
and, Are these two below express the same meaning (differnce between dürfen and gönnen)?

Der Athlet darf sich keine Traningspause.
Der Athlet gönnt sich keine Trainingspause.

Ahmad Mezher
Ahmad Mezher
4 years ago

Vielen dank for all donators I was registered for 1 year membership by the admin of the page. Honestly Im happy right now.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Heey! Psst! I think I’ve found a safe place here, who-care cops will never find us. So, think you can tell us more about “vergönnen”?

person243
person243
4 years ago

Hi,

“Gunst”, that word reminded me of one song in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” when Faramir attacks in a suicide mission Osgiliath while Denethor eats grapes or tomatoes, I don’t remember, in the safest place of Minas Tirith. Pippin sings it. I only watched the movie in German, so I don’t know the song in English. But every time Denethor crunches one of those fruits and sprays red juice around while doing so, Pippin sings in a very sad voice: “…Gunst.” (There is of course more text to it, but the last time I watched this is years ago, so cut me some slack.)
And that is the word the moment is about. The younger son Faramir is trying to get his father to accept him. In German, you would say: “Er buhlt um seine Gunst.” But Denethor is completely ignorant about it.
.:
By the way, “gönnen” can be really hard. But at other times, it is rather easy. For example, when you are up ahead. Like: your team is leading by a big margin and the other team is scoring a late consolation goal (I’m talking soccer of course.) It is not hard to say that they deserved that. But when saying that, you will sound “gönnerhaft” = “patronizing”.

“der Gönner” of somebody is somebody who has no obligation to but gives them money or supports them strongly in another way. Like a sugar daddy. Or a businessman who supports a young athlete.

Shreyas
Shreyas
4 years ago

“We don’t like to treat,
Those whose skills we can’t meet.”

Hat es ein bisschen eingestellt, aber wirklich nutzlicher Begriff. Mein Lieblingsmeme davon ich gesehen habe ist ‘Mahatma Gönndir’

Wer denkt dies uberhaupt!?

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I meant to say that I adjusted the meaning a little. Thought that einstellen could be used, didn’t want to use verändern, because, well, reasons?

And yeah, the ausdenken bit too. Mein Deutsch ist ganz durcheinander.

Und anschließlich nein, war mein erstes Mal, dass ich Mahatma Gönndir gesehen habe. Wer denkt sich dieses überhaupt aus ;) ? XD

Adam
Adam
4 years ago

Treat yo’self!

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

The very best translation, if you ask me.

comment image

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’m sure I have. I’ve definitely seen it in advertising (including from Sparkasse). Honestly, I probably used it more than most people I knew because I figured it was the obvious translation for “treat yo’self” :D

formaneka
formaneka
4 years ago

PS — did not know what YOLO was. had to look it up! but I’m over (way) 25 so…. yeah, not hep to the latest slang. Was also thinking American slang for gönn dir might be “go for it!”

aoind
aoind
4 years ago

“We do not like to give due credit to he that can (do) what we cannot” or, less literally, “We do not like to acknowledge those more talented than ourselves”. I think Übungmachtdenmeister above has captured the literal translation most accurately and succinctly already.

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  aoind

And rhyming:

Credit we don’t like to grant
To he that does things that we can’t

aoind
aoind
4 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Haha cheers

formaneka
formaneka
4 years ago

Ich gönne Deutsch das Wort gönnen. Nein… das stimmt nicht. Wirklich bin ich sehr eifersuchtig denn das sooo ein nutzliches Wort ist. Wah : (
Ich freue mich sehr dass du dieses Wort erklärt hat. Ich sehe es sehr oft and habe die Bedeutung nie genau verstanden. Danke!

Auch hier ist mein (eher freie) Übersetzung des Dichtes:
Whatever dude, you’re not so hot
just ’cause you can do what I cannot

barratt
barratt
4 years ago

Auch würde ich dir gerne “Happy Thanksgiving” wünschen! Das wär’s!